From Sand Lots to Play Dates Trends in Play and Playgrounds

For condominium communities with families, an outdoor area that includes a playground with swings, slides and other features can be a major amenity. Many parents have fond memories of their own childhoods, with hours spent testing physical prowess and burning up energy with peers on a neighborhood or schoolyard “jungle gym.”

For condominium communities, the popularity of on-site playground equipment may vary considerably from one association to another, however, regardless of the presence or number of children. Ideas about the design and manufacture of play sets keep changing, along with attitudes of managers, board members and trends in the population of community residents. All these factors will determine how long a set of play equipment may remain as a prominent feature on any given community’s grounds.

Today’s play equipment can be designed to visually enhance open space, with elements that look sculptural, architectural—or whimsical. Dedicated play centers serve as a social magnet and provide a sense of neighborhood. Current designs include theme-inspired playsets, such as a pirate ship or firehouse, which encourage interactive play.

The firm M.E. O’Brien & Sons of Medfield, Massachusetts specializes in landscape features and playset installations. Company president Megan O’Brien Taylor describes the latest trend in playgrounds as, “sensory play that engages all the senses. For instance, there is a line of products from [Colorado-based] Freenotes Harmony Park that involves musical instruments such as xylophones, chimes, bells and percussion devices,” as permanently installed fixtures. These can be designed as attractive sculptures and invite individuals or groups of any age to experiment with notes and rhythms.

“Educators are promoting sensory-rich experiences with playground components,” she continues. “This approach is especially effective for kids who have learning or developmental challenges, such as ADHD, Asperger’s or some types of autism. These children respond well to features that move and spin… It helps them get centered. We are using features with ropes that are very popular, designed as webs or nets that move and let kids interact.”

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