Children’s Playgrounds and Outdoor Gyms


empty playground

What happens?  When our children are small toddlers, pre-school and perhaps up to the age of 5/6 we spend hours with them in the local playgrounds.  They are regular venues, with picnics on summer days and winter visits when the weather is dry.  Once they start school and weekday time is pre-allocated the family trips to playground start to decrease. 

We do in fact use our local playground mainly as it is conveniently right outside the school and a quick ½ hour play at pick up helps to release all that pent up energy.  There is no afternoon play time in my son’s junior school so at 3.30pm he will have been indoors for 2 ½ hours.
A recent weekend trip with my son and his 10 year old cousin got me thinking about how we utilise playground for ‘older’ kids.  Most local authorities state that their playgrounds are for children aged 3 – 13.  However I’m sure that any survey of usage would show that they are predominately used by children from 1 year to 5 years.
There are many great things about UK playgrounds.  The following bonuses come to mind:-
  • Can be found in most villages and urban settings.
  • Open all year. 
  •  Free. 
  • Safe – regularly inspected.
  • Often with parking nearby.
  • Can be great fun.

Why then do families with older children begin to stop using them?   Based on my own experiences here are my suggestions:-

You just get out of the habit of going out to the playground.

  • It is difficult to find a playground that holds their attention.
  • As there begins to be more demands on a child’s spare time with clubs, activities and dare I say additional coaching, playground time slips to the bottom of the to do list.
  • Some older children may not venture outdoors as much as they did – the lure of the computer, TV and Nintendo is great.
  • Perhaps some parents think that as their children play on equipment in the school playground there is no need for family time at the playground.
  • Finally maybe playgrounds are not so cool, whereas a skate park or BMX track is.
child gripping bar in playground
Child spinning in playground

This weekend trip to the playground was actually at the children’s request, so i knew i was onto a winner.  It is one we have to drive to and therefore had not visited for almost a year.  We did use to go there quite often as it has a range of equipment, some natural play areas and for some reason it is never very busy.  Sure enough when we arrived mid- morning on a sunny Sunday it was empty.

There are 3 pieces of play equipment that they really love in this playground, 2 of which I have not seen elsewhere.  I think, for them, that is the main appeal of the playground.  The first piece of equipment needs true gripping power as you have to jump to hang from a bar from which you can then spin your whole body around.  Great for upper body strength.  I quite like to have a go as it helps to stretch out the back.  You do however have to be quite tall to reach the bar and  I have to lift my son to it.  Obviously made for older kids then.


Children in playground
The other is a novel version of a see-saw, where you have to really work with your legs and you can to some extent control the speed and intensity of the movement.   At least half their time was spent on these two pieces of equipment.  I’m sure it was more than novelty value, they seemed to have provided them with just the right level of interest and excitement.
child on stepping stones in playground
A couple of years ago the playground received some natural play items, a wooden dugout canoe, natural stage and stepping stones.  All great stuff, however for some reason children never seem to spend much time in this area.  Possibly because it is located away from the main play rather than parallel to the existing equipment.
children using green gym


We stayed quite a while that morning and eventually a couple of families with toddlers did arrive.  There was quite a contrast between the noise levels and boisterousness of my two and the instability and smallness of the little ones. 

On our journey that morning, and in fact just around the corner from the playground is an outdoor gym.  On popular demand we stopped off to have a go en route home.  I was slightly nervous at letting the children use what I considered to be adult equipment.  However I needn’t have worried on two counts.  Firstly the signage stated that it was for use from the age of seven.  Well maybe, but they did need very close supervision.  There was real potential for harm on some of those pieces of equipment.  Secondly they loved it.  The amount of pleasure they had really did equal that of the playground. It was though a very static form of exercise and there was certainly no possiblity for the run around the other playground provided. 

I can’t help thinking that there must be some potential in converting some of this equipment to meet the needs of an older child.  I am also pleading for playground manufacturers to design more exciting and interesting playground equipment for the 7+ child.  The few pieces of equipment used by the children today proves that it can be done.

Let’s get our junior children back into the playgrounds.  Where do you go and play with your family?  Is it a local Playground?

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