Children’s gardens and playgrounds constantly change and need upgrades. They take a tremendous amount of abuse, because children are just learning boundaries of behavior and physical skill.
If a child can find a way to get hurt on a playground, they will certainly do it! You incur a great deal of liability by providing an “attractive nuisance”. That is what playgrounds are labeled by the insurance industry. Don’t be surprised when your insurance rates go up and the playground equipment suppliers require you to sign a “hold harmless” clause on delivery. Fence playgrounds.
Falls from a height greater than three or four feet can result in permanent affliction. Heads are bumped by low walls. Wood splinters impale little fingers. Swings knock people down. Seesaws crash to the ground, especially when one member of the team is irresponsible. Slides heat to frying pan temperatures in the sun. Knees are scraped on rough pavement. Wheelchairs get bogged down in loose sand. Older children bully younger kids. Exploitive predators are drawn to an area with vulnerable youth. If you think about it, why would anyone build a playground?
Playground design is for the courageous. Community backing for playground spaces is for the heroic. People do it for the children. Children need places to play. If you are dedicated to providing safe playgrounds, you must meet many challenges, both legal and design-related. When a community takes on the risks, they gain the benefits. The enrichment of lives can outweigh all the problems.
Create circulation paths with paving that is ADA compliant. Carpet play areas around playground equipment where falls can happen with soft mulch. Mulch the landing pads of slides, and keep it replaced and fresh every week. Play structures need a soft surface to buffer falls. I like large pine bark nuggets over epoxy-filled rubber in areas beyond turf. It’s organic. I have never seen children eat the nuggets, but this is often suggested by people who object to nugget mulch. Be prepared with supporting arguments.
Avoid planting shrubs with berries or flowers that are poisonous or that have sharp thorns in playgrounds. Keep the landscape simple and don’t plant anything that requires pesticides.
I like using wood rather than plastic for playground equipment structures, in spite of the splinters. Wood can be sanded smooth. It looks better longer. A wood structure usually requires a custom design and personal liability responsibility for the designer, though.
Every twenty years there will be a new craze for adventure playgrounds, where children are allowed to play with rusty metal and old tires to develop their creativity. Then all goes silent. My guess is a parent with a child hurt in an adventure playground sued. Another twenty years go by, and the craze begins anew. It’s true. Children learn from bumps and bruises, but so do lawyers. Design your playground with safety first and foremost.