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A Natural Trend

Natural Environment Enhances Playground Designs

By Dawn Klingensmith

Not only does the electronic play system develop players' agility, coordination, strength and stamina, Hare said, but it also builds teamwork. "It attracts all ages and brings out kids' social interaction skills. Kids who don't even know each other will spontaneously team up to devise game strategies."

Meanwhile, in Parr Park in Grapevine, Texas, kids work up a sweat on a huge play system designed so it's possible to explore the entire structure without ever touching the ground. The design was inspired by kids' tendency to play games with an objective to not touch the ground, lest alligators or quicksand swallow them alive, according to the manufacturer.

"To give you a visual, it kind of looks like a big geodome with a bunch of spider webs in the middle of it," said Assistant Parks Director Kevin Mitchell. "My vision was to get kids climbing horizontally as well as vertically, which works a different set of muscles. They're using their legs, balance and upper body, engaging in exercise without really knowing they're exercising. There was a conscious decision to try to have them use different muscles than just climbing a ladder and sliding down a slide. And that's all part of a deliberate effort to address childhood obesity, and a very deliberate effort to make sure what we put in is fun."

Cook, whose company designed both the electronic and the climbing devices featured here, said their popularity points to a playground imperative: "The greatest, overshadowing need facing the industry is to create products that get people moving. We have to address health and wellness issues with our young people."

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