Playworld Systems featured in article on perceived risk

Perceived risk leaps onto school playgrounds
Outside challenges have inside benefits for students, experts say
By: Matt Zalaznick
District Administration

Standing high on the platform of the school playground’s zip line, a student imagines a wild jungle across a craggy, bottomless canyon. Behind, the pack of imaginary tigers leaping from the wall mural is getting so close, the child can see the animals’ fangs. The student grabs the handle and zooms through the air like Indiana Jones, reaching the other side with a massive boost in confidence that will pay off for the rest of the school day and beyond.

The teacher supervising recess has a clear view of a child who’s not really that high, gliding safely over a soft, rubber surface. And it is one of many playgrounds being built on elementary school grounds across the nation.

Elements of perceived risk were built into the new playground at St. Clairsville Elementary School in the St. Clairsville-Richland (Ohio) School District, says Principal Jim Rocchi. The playground opened April 1 with, among other features, a few “not very steep” climbing walls and a geodome that Rocchi says “looks like really heavy rope that they can climb inside and on top of. It was a little intimidating. The kids love it.”

The playground was designed by Pennsylvania-based Playworld Systems. Ian Proud, the company’s research manager, says products such as Playworld’s “DropZone” and LiveWire Zip Line give kids a sense of risk. “As the tendency to litigate has caught on, we’ve found the challenge level on playgrounds goes down,” he adds. “I tend to think the pendulum is swinging back. There’s an increased interest in activities that have been verboten.”

DropZone looks like a fire-pole combined with a open-air elevator. Students climb a ladder, then step on a small platform, which drops as they hold onto the pole. The zip line runs 60 feet from a platform to the ground. “It creates a sense of speed, creates a sense of flying over enough of a distance that a sense of excitement grows,” Proud says of the zip line. “These kinds of activities have only been in theme parks and jungles in South America—these are the kinds of activities we are looking to bring into a playground.”

 

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