Playgrounds are a great way for children to exercise their growing muscles and stretch their limbs. There's no reason they can't do the same for adults. Unfortunately it appears that no-one has tapped into the market for adult-sized versions of the swings, roundabouts and slides. Are there ways for adults to join in too?
‘Mummy, can we go to the playground?’ Everyone has fond memories of the swings and slides from their childhood. If you are bringing up a new generation, playgrounds are just as much fun as they always were. Most people without children probably don’t register the presence of a playground, unless the happy sound of children at play is bothering them or the site is being used by people who should not be there. Once there are children in the house playgrounds suddenly become very important. Any toddler worthy of the name will make a determined beeline for the bright coloured equipment. They will be equally determined to get up things that should not be climbed, and into things that are beyond their current competence.
Despite the odd bump and scrape, and the need for supervision, playgrounds are excellent for getting kids active. They also show that children want to be active – try steering a toddler away from the playground before they are ready and see what happens! Playgrounds give children the chance to climb to test their limits, to play with gravity in reasonable safety and to get lots of fresh air and exercise. They also develop motor skills from using the equipment and reasoning skills from learning physical cause and effect. Finally, their social skills also improve from learning to share.
Parents may worry about the dangers, but with common sense use playgrounds are much safer than they used to be. Slides are now built on mounds so there is no big drop over the side, equipment is mounted on soft-landing material rather than solid concrete, and new materials mean less chance of sharp rusty spots or holes to trap little fingers. Of course supervision is always needed – every child needs to be taught not to walk behind a swing that is in use, not to jump off fast-moving roundabouts and to wait their turn at the top of the slide. It is all a useful lesson in learning to deal with danger.
Playgrounds provide an excellent all-round workout for children. They can improve their balance on the walkways, develop arm strength on the monkey bars and get pleasantly ‘puffed out’ running through tunnels, climbing the slides and rushing from one piece of equipment to another.
Playgrounds are lots of fun, and most people in charge of small children will jump at the chance to sneak on to the swing or be the other end of the see-saw. What happens once the children are too old for the playground, and your excuse to be there has gone?
Why is it that playgrounds are the reserve of children when there are benefits to be reaped - and fun to be had - for adults? Why can't we build adult-sized climbing frames and swings so that we can get exercise alongside the next generation? The reasons are not clear - perhaps it is due to the ever-growing concerns about litigation, or due to fears that children would end up on equipment that is too big for them. Fortunately most adults can fit on to the bigger playground equipment, although you may need to borrow a child to take you to the park if yours are now too old to be interested.
Happily there are other ways to climb, swing and get some exercise on things in the park - these are in the new areas known as ‘outdoor gyms’. Those who are less keen on fitness should not be put off by this term – there is plenty of fun to be had!
With money available to councils for fitness, there has been a recent explosion in the number of outdoor gyms in the UK. Equipment may be designed for fitness, but it is tremendous fun. ‘Stations’ include exercise bikes, pull up bars, ski-simulators, air walkers and all sorts of other entertaining devices. An outdoor gym looks rather different from the usual versions; equipment is solid, robust and firmly fixed down! There will be nothing loose to be removed, but there will be signs to show how to use the equipment and to give some suggested workouts.
There is no need to make appointments or be restricted by opening times – outdoor gyms are available whenever the park is open, which is usually throughout daylight hours. The gyms are there for anyone to use on a first-come, first-served basis. Outdoor gyms are designed to provide cardiovascular workouts, increase strength and improve flexibility, with circuits modelled on standard gym equipment.
Still craving that return to childhood? Have a look in your area for ‘adventure zones’ which provide zip lines, tree climbing and other activities to provide a challenging but safe ‘assault course’ for all the family. If you enjoy swimming, see if your local pool provides water slides and inflatables – these are often available in the school holidays and
If anyone reading this knows of adult-sized seesaws and roundabouts, please let us know. There appears to be a definite gap in the market!