Why older-adult playgrounds present a world of possibilities
These playgrounds promote wellness and provide a solution for keeping older populations healthy and engaged
by Marilynn Larkin, MA
The Journal on Active Aging
At first glance, the words older-adult playground may seem like an oxymoron. Aren’t playgrounds for children? Well, yes and no. Most existing playgrounds were built with children in mind. But a new wave of playgrounds—born of an understanding of the value of play and conceived with older adults, or older adults and children, in mind—are moving off the drawing boards and into communities in the United States and beyond.
Although playgrounds for older adults generally are outdoors, until recently they consisted mainly of walking trails and equipment that enabled participants to do various types of exercises. “We tend to assume that the only purpose for getting older adults outdoors is to burn calories or stay fit, but that’s not the whole picture,” says Ian Proud, research manager for Playworld Systems, a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of commercial play and fitness equipment. Proud points to Europe and other parts of the world where “people are doing things outdoors—whether it’s playing golf or playing chess—because they want to be outdoors, not because they want to burn calories.
“We have to turn that corner in North America, and start looking at the outdoors as a living room for people in appropriate climates and with appropriate shelters,” Proud continues. “If we get people outdoors, they will grow spiritually. They will have better connections to nature and all the resulting benefits. It’s about connections, community, building relationships and creating memories,” he observes—“for example, you went with your grandson to this place where you were both together, but not necessarily going down the slide together. It’s the notion of wellness, rather than just fitness.”
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