For nearly four decades, parks and schools have relied on a standardized view of playgrounds—one consisting mostly of post-and-platform style play structures. Despite attempts by play advocates and manufacturers to think outside the platform, it remains the most popular playground solution, primarily because of its integration with traditional components like slides and its ability to be accessible when ramps are added.
However, studies have shown that one of the key factors for the decline of playgrounds is a lack of challenging activity. The linear path and prescribed play of post-and-platform structures has grown stale and boring for many kids. While ramps and platforms are an accessible advantage for many, they tend to lose some of their appeal for another group of kids. The question everyone is left asking: can one play structure satisfy the needs and desires of every child?
A Design Journey
Playworld says yes! And we’ve set out on a journey to disrupt the status quo to create a “new norm” that offers more play value and more challenge for kids at every level. It might not be an easy road or a quick solution, but it’s something we have to do—something we truly believe in.
Our first step on this journey led to the creation of our latest product, infiNET™. This hybrid “netform” solution proposes a new topography of play that replaces traditional platforms and ramps with terraced net rings to increase the challenge and perceived risk. This design removes the barriers characteristic of post-and-platform structures and allows children to approach the system from all angles (up, over, under, and through), creating nearly infinite possibilities for play. Open sightlines enhance the aesthetic quality of these play structures, while making nets more inclusive/accessible so parents and caregivers can join in or assist kids when necessary. These wide expanses of net enable more children to play at once, promoting socialization and encouraging cooperation.
The Continuum of Challenge
Instead of creating a product with a black and white intention (either the child can do it too easily or they can’t at all), infiNET introduces a graduated approach. Depending upon the net configuration of the particular infiNET model, the structure can offer a continuum of challenge that lets kids push their personal limits a little bit at a time. Post-and-platform is binary—you’re either on the ground or six feet off of it. With infiNET, it’s the child’s choice; they can choose their own adventure.
There is play on every level, starting on the ground. Simply playing under the nets—looking up to peers, hanging underneath, exploring the intricate shadows—provides a rich experience post-and-platform structures do not always offer. On the smallest, horizontal transfer net, kids can test the waters or simply rest on the perforated steel stage. As they get bolder, they can venture up higher nets with or without assistance, following the red rope or resting on flex treads. For the highest challenge, a tightrope-style bridge pushes climbing skills to the extreme.
Portals at the edges of nets create a gateway to the play events. The portals link to traditional components, giving kids a fun way to access the ground or net zones. The portals also serve as a destination and a place to rest or think about your next steps. Additionally, smaller features like built-in Sensory Cues and Babble-On talk tubes are placed within ADA range of the support posts to elicit visual, tactile, and auditory investigation. In these ways, infiNET adds play value that is similar to post-and-platform systems.
Time for a Change
With fewer kids playing outside than ever before, we need to shake things up on the playground and make it an exciting place to be again! By creating play structures that challenge a variety of kids at their own level, we can ensure that nobody is bored and that everybody can play. It might seem impossible to please everyone, but we’ve seen a glimmer of hope with infiNET. The system makes an excellent substitution for post-and-platform structures on an inclusively designed play space because it offers a continuum of play—from ground level events and transfer-height horizontal nets to high, angled netforms and bridges. Because the nets are so expansive and the activities are not prescribed, these structures invite imaginations to go wild and invent new ways to play—and the more ways there are to play, the more kids we can accommodate and retain. While it can be an intimidating change to venture out of the norm of post-and-platform, we believe it’s vital to the mission of saving play. infiNET is just the first stop on that journey.
See it in Person!
Want to see and experience the new topography of play for yourself? infiNET will make appearances at the NRPA Annual Conference (Booth #2627) in New Orleans on September 26 & 27, as well as the 2017 ASLA EXPO (Booth #1301) in Los Angeles on October 20-23. Stop by and let’s discuss the infinite possibilities for your play space!
To learn more about infiNET and see available predesigns, click here.