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The World's a Playground

By Stephen Kelly, regional editor

My favorite. This slide/fort and swing set were built by a missionary for these children in Africa. The smile on the girl's face says it all.

This playground column is in its second year. The first article was my reflecting on the state of playgrounds when I was a tot in the mid-1950s.

The Princess of Wales (Diana) Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens has some conventional play equipment but also a fully rigged, three-tiered, hand-crafted wooden galleon, a sandy beach cove, a crocodile made of stones from a Welsh quarry, totem poles, hand-carved wooden sheep for seats, and a Movement and Musical Garden, among other notable features implemented by landscape architect Jennette Emery-Wallis of Land Use Consultants. The previous playground on site was financed by J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, who walked daily in the gardens.

Adults my age all remember the metal slides that singed your rear on a hot day and waxing the slide down to pick up maximum speed. The slide could get so slick that a kid not ready for the acceleration would hit the back of his head when whooshing down. A slide, some swings, a wood teeter-totter--and maybe a merry-go-round--that was about the extent of a playground.

Surplus tires proliferate the world and are the central focus for this Lesotho, South Africa township orphanage playground.

The latter was a truly dangerous piece of playground equipment. In fact, you still see a few around. Kids would be spinning around handing onto the metal bars when a bigger kid would approach and start spinning the merry-go-round with great force. The smaller kids would hold on for dear life, as they could not get off. The little ones could only hope the big kid would get worn out or bored before they felt dizzy and threw up. Another bit of torture was for the older kids to throw sand and small rocks at the twirlers.

These Mexican children have to be content with a rooftop playground with a single swing, dirt and curbing.

A "hairy-go-round"--a nausea-producing piece of equipment for spinning kids off into the nearby wall, or maybe cracking their heads or yanking their arms out of their sockets if they are tempted to get on the contraption while moving.

In this issue, you will see features on state-of-the-art playgrounds that us kids from the Pleistocene Age could not have imagined. The safety surfacing, the plastic slides and tubes, aluminum frames, composite components and inventive, interactive designs--kudos to all the manufactures for these wonderful gifts to children who, after all, are only children for a short time before moving on to "serious" concerns.

Did you ever notice how many "big" kids like to use playground equipment in ways they were not meant for? This curious play structure is in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

No, not a prison but a Dickensian English prep school "playground" for 9-10 year old lads, some playing soccer on the bitumen.

Not all children are fortunate enough to enjoy the best and brightest equipment. Children in parts of this country, and in many countries around the world, are playing on equipment very similar to what I played on, or even more primitive. Still, when you see these pictures, you will recognize the universal truth about kids--they play and have fun regardless of the playground equipment.

Even when kids are provided safe playgrounds (background), thoughtless acts put kids in harm's way.

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December 7, 2019, 3:50 am PDT

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