The world of commercial playground equipment has grown immensely in the past ten years. Gone are the days of playgrounds with one or two slides, something to spin on and a simple jungle gym. Modern playground equipment is made of a dizzying array of materials, comes in hundreds of shapes and colors, and provides every sort of stimulus imaginable.
A commercial playground begins with the structure of the ground. Classically, substances such as wood chips or mulch were used to provide a somewhat soft landing for children. These materials could cut and gouge, however, and might contain splinters. Many modern playgrounds now use soft synthetics such as PermaLife as a base. With these rubberized floors, children can fall without risking scratches or bruises.
While most commercial playground equipment was at one time made out of either metal or wood, plastics are becoming more and more common in the modern playground. Not only are plastics softer, resulting in fewer injuries, but they also allow for easier installation and come in a wide assortment of colors. Commercial playgrounds can now captivate children's visual sense as they provide physical entertainment.
Commercial playground equipment can be divided into five main types: sliding, spinning, balancing, hanging, and climbing.
Slides may be covered or uncovered, made of steel or plastic, bumpy or smooth, curving or straight, and with or without a jump at the end. They range from short four foot (1.2m) to tall twelve foot (3.6m) models, and may be stand-alone with a ladder or attached to a larger play structure.
When most people think of spinning playground equipment, they think of the classic roundabout, a large metal disc children can sit on while it is spun. A more modern variant of the spinning toy features a straight pole with a curve at the top and a small standing platform at the base; by standing on the platform, starting oneself spinning, and pulling one's center of gravity in, greater speed can be achieved than with the classic roundabout. As more and more commercial playgrounds remove older roundabouts due to safety concerns, these modern spinning toys are replacing them.
Balance beams, log rolls, and stepping stones are just some of the many pieces of commercial playground equipment that aid in the development of a good balance sense. These offer good ground-level activities for a playground while helping to build important dexterity skills.
There are many different pieces of equipment for hanging activities. From traditional monkey bars, to rolling bars, to strange shapes and twists, to hanging trapezes, there are enough options to challenge a wide range of ages and skill levels.
Climbing activities are one of the newer areas of commercial playground equipment. These come in one of three main configurations: a large flat plane with bubbles to hold on to and climb, similar to a climbing wall; cargo net configurations; or bar lattices akin to angled monkey bars.
A relatively new area of innovation in commercial playground equipment is a focus on activity panels, such as alphabet boards, large mirrors, or spinning blocks with images and words. With more developmental psychologists being brought on board for the major creators of playground equipment, it is likely that new and exciting pieces of playground equipment will continue to emerge in the years to come.