Can you imagine your childhood without some form of playground? Children prior to the late 1800s had never experienced such a thing, until “sand gardens” appeared in Germany in the 1880s.
It was several years after “sand gardens,” into the early 1900s, before playgrounds became a more common public feature to promote physical health and creativity for children. It was decided during this time that play was as important as education to a child, and President Theodore Roosevelt even pushed for the idea of public playgrounds in one of his speeches in 1907:
City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children … since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools.
Playgrounds still provide that same outlet for children today, but equipment and surfacing has evolved significantly with safer and more innovative designs. International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) has helped to play a role over the years in this transformation to a safer play environment.
Playgrounds were originally made out of galvanized steel with ladders and chains, which certainly does not sound the most kid-friendly. It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s when pointier edges were rounded out, steel changed to wood and plastic, and grass and stone was replaced with artificial turf, engineered wood fiber and rubber mulch.
Because of the safety regulations in place today, it is tough to locate a historic playground; however, their legacy lives on within the creative versions of playgrounds that are constructed today.
A piece of playground equipment, called the Giant Stride, around the year 1910– Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A modern-day, IPEMA certified playground—Photo courtesy of IPEMA.