Playgrounds today are vastly different than they were years ago, and some of our favourite playground equipment has been lost forever, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Back in the day, kids had a lot of fun playing on dangerous old playgrounds with tall structures, spinning rides, and other unsafe old-fashioned play equipment. Take a look at these forgotten and archived playground favourites:
A gymnastic ride made up of a pole and a colossal wheel mounted on the top of the pole having hooks or ropes at the end was called “Rotary Swing or Giant Stride.”
The children did feel like they were Superman or something, but in fact, the rotary swing itself was Kryptonite for our little superheroes.
The children would grab the rope and try to rotate the wheel. The fun was in holding on when the swing gained speed. If god forbid, a kid lost hold, the centrifugal force would send them flying away! This was a scary ride indeed and caused a lot of injuries.
There was even no place to sit. Children had to rely on their weak arm muscles to hang while spinning like crazy. Consumer Product Safety Commission has expressed its concerns regarding the safety of giant strides in its PublicPlayground Safety Handbook.
But then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum too.
The modern-day equivalent has completely changed the game. Soft-touch moulded seats attached to soft-grip ropes make it easier for the children to enjoy being their favourite superhero.
Remember when that big guy would keep pushing the merry-go-round till you and everyone on it puked? It was also possible that one of the smaller kids would just lose grip and fly off, leading to bleeding chins, skinned knees, and hard landings.
There was no stopping the supersonic spin speed that these bad boys could reach. Additionally, the slim metal handrails got blisteringly hot in the summers. Not to mention how rust made these merry-go-rounds a death wish over the years.
Like the old portable EverWear’s Merry-Go-Round, the bigger vintage ones housed a capacity of 40 children. It was 3 foot 6 inches above the ground and had a diameter of 10 feet. This 1500 pound wooden swing could hurt the little finger due to its miniature slot or even trap a toddler’s whole hand.
The modern-day equivalent is tenfold better than its predecessor. It can accommodate 12 users (4 seated and 8 standing) and has a frictionless magnetic braking system to minimize speed. The seats are more inclusive, making it easier for differently-abled children to go for a safe spin.
Sandboxes used to be the center of attention of any playground. Children had sand buckets with sifters, shovels, rakes, and whatnot. Just thinking of sandcastles brings back a lot of memories.
Unfortunately, sandboxes are the reproducing ground for infections and microbes. They are a safe haven for pinworms and roundworms.
It’s so bad that Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, says that sandboxes are swimming pools without disinfecting chlorine.
Clostridium difficile, a germ (bacterium) that can lead to severe diarrhea or inflammation of the colon, was present in nearly 53 percent of sandboxes tested in Spain.
Wait, there’s more.
Stray animals use the sandbox as a giant litter box. Even the sand used in most sandboxes may not be natural beach sand or river sand. Sometimes it comes from known carcinogens like crystalline silica or Tremolite.
Sandboxes were very popular a few years back, but today, governments consider removing them due to their high maintenance and hygiene issues. The best precautions one can take is to wash the hands of the kids and disinfect them after they have played in it. Also, covering the box is essential when it’s not in use.
Tire swings had a massive upsurge in their popularity. These non-coated tires grew mould in them. Especially in the rainy season, they proved to be the breeding place for mosquitoes, making them quite unsafe for being playground staples.
Moreover, the hanger clamp on the tire swing could become loose or rusty over time, posing a risk of a fall hazard.
Jungle Gyms were a piece of pyramid-shaped equipment fixed on concrete having a slide pole like the one used in fire departments. It had a height of about 15 feet. Some jungle gyms also featured a sem-spherical shape.
In summary, they were climbing structures held together with metal pipes. These metal pipes could become extremely hot during the scorching heat of summers.
Lose hold, and the next thing you know, you're being sprawled towards the concrete floor. Due to these safety concerns, jungle gyms have been removed from most of the playgrounds and replaced by crawler webs.
This piece of playground equipment ruled the playgrounds once. Wooden seesaws were very common in old times but are being removed from playgrounds now, especially in New York.
This wooden log could hit you in the head, causing spinal damage. These seesaws were designed for kids who have similar weights. If one got off from the seesaw too quickly, the other unfortunate kid would experience crash landing.
After repeated use, the seesaw could sink into the grass or asphalt. This gave the users even more range of motion, making it extremely dangerous for the smaller kids.
Its modern-day equivalent is luxurious and comfy and yet gives the feeling that you’re sitting on the wings of a dragonfly. It comes with high back seats with side rails, and most importantly, the balancing device is designed to prevent hard thuds. How cool is that!
The heavy logs and tree trunks used to make playground equipment can cause irreversible damage if they ever dislodge and fall on a kid.
Similarly, wooden swing sets might have splinters that can badly wound a kid. This was one of the main reasons seesaws and log swings were deemed inappropriate and unsafe.
The problem is that wooden equipment requires regular maintenance. Wood and canvas mould are common, not to mention how wood starts warping after just a couple of years.
However, wooden and natural playground equipment has been making a comeback in recent years. Natural playground equipment by Park N Play Design follows the CSA safety standards. The type of wood used is resistant to rot, insects, disease, and warping, make it a perfect fit for kids to enjoy multi-sensory experiences. The use of hand-crafted timber with a smooth and polished surface ensures that no injuries occur due to splinters.
What’s not to love?
A piece of terrifyingly dangerous playground equipment was Barrel-of-Fun. It was made up of a barrel that rotated about an axis two feet above the ground.
The axis passed through the barrel, and its ends were secured with concrete. The children either used to hug the barrel while it was rotating or balance themselves while standing or walking on it. Imagine how deadly the fall could have been.
Log Swing was introduced in the market by Everwear Manufacturing Company. It was a log fixed 6 feet above the ground. Children would sit at both ends of the log and enjoy.
Well, the danger was mainly for the passer-by because it could smack someone in the face while moving back and forth. A serious blow could have dislocated their jaw. Due to its resemblance with a snowboard, kids also used to stand up on the log swing like they were the Duke Kahanamoku of their era.
Racer Slides came in a 16-foot wave, 20-foot wave, and 30-foot wave chutes. Of course, the 30-foot metal slides were the deadliest ones.
Firstly, it could be extremely tiring for a young kid to climb such a distance, and a slip of foot could have resulted in his fall from a very high level above the ground, causing a severe injury. Plus, if exposed to the sun for an extended period, the metal surface could burn the kids’ skin as they were sliding over it.
How Modern Playgrounds Are Different
In the past, kids used to play with ropes without padding. They used to fall on the concrete floor. There was no supervision.
But today, various steps are being taken now and then for improved playground safety. Park inspections are being carried out to ensure the park’s compliance with the CSA standards.
The modern-day equivalents include safer, more eco-friendly materials, lots of padding, and child-friendly structural designs.
Old school playgrounds had a concrete base or pebbles underneath the equipment. This led to countless bruises and broken bones. Like the Brighton Core Park in Saskatoon, SK, modern playgrounds now have recycled tire/poured-in-place rubber padding and sand to prevent hard landings.
Wooden and natural play structures are being used without any compromise to the safety of children. All steps are being taken to avoid dangerous situations such as traumatic brain injury or irritation & rashes from rotting wood.
Playgrounds are being converted into recreational spots so that parents can supervise their kids. In this regard, benches and various places to sit are being arranged.
Park authorities are incorporating multi-generational activities. Proper age-appropriate equipment is being installed in school playgrounds for everyone to enjoy leisure time regardless of age, shape, and size.
It’s not just about kids doing random stuff in the playground. When designing a playground, inclusivity, physical benefits, communication benefits, and cognitive benefits are all kept in mind now.
Inclusivity is the epicenter of attention. Differently-abled children can now access most of the playground equipment. Every child has the right to have fun. Playgrounds now focus on child development activities and motor skills. Significant development skills such as climbing, flexible thinking, and body language understanding are included in park improvement plans.
Modern Playground Equipment Design
Luckily, we’ve come a long way in playground design and safety. Leading playground companies such as PlayCore have developed dedicated research programs to better understand the link between play and healthy communities. The research findings are then used to create playground equipment that is as safe and effective as possible.
Interested in learning what goes into planning a modern playground? Our 2022 Playground Planning Guide has all the information you need.