Ask anyone about their childhood memories and invariably they will conjure up images of summer days spent on the playground. It has become such an integral part of our lives that we can’t imagine a world where playgrounds didn’t exist. However, they are a relatively new addition to the urban landscape and only really became common through the course of the 20th century.
Early playgrounds looked very different to what we’ve become used to today. Let’s take a trip through history and find out where it all began. We’ll start at by looking at the humble beginnings of the playground and follow its evolution through to the modern day.
The idea of creating a playground was first introduced in Germany, essentially as a platform to teach children the correct way to play. However, it wasn’t until 1859 that the first children’s playground was built in a Park in Manchester.
The idea of building playgrounds for children spread to the United States and in 1886 the first playgrounds started appearing in Boston. These early playgrounds were very crude by modern standards and definitely wouldn’t comply with health and safety regulations today. When playgrounds first emerged, they usually consisted of roughly built structures, made from iron, with sharp edges that could do a lot of damage if they weren’t used properly.
Slow to Catch On
During these early days, playgrounds did not grow too much in popularity. It took until 1907 when US President Roosevelt properly introduced them. This brought about a new enthusiasm and propelled the idea further. Playgrounds became seen as a way to keep children off busy city streets, allowing them to develop their physical, mental and social skills through play.
Early playgrounds were segregated by gender, with separate play areas for boys and girls. Children were supervised on the playground and taught how to play correctly.
Throughout the early 20th century, playgrounds continued to increase in popularity. The practice of splitting children up by gender fell away and so did many of the regulations about supervision, as it became clear that children actually benefitted from playing on their own terms without adult instruction.
A Recovering Land
After World War II London saw the introduction of “junk playgrounds”. These were the brainchild of landscape architect and children’s rights activist Lady Allen of Hurtwood. In 1953 she changed the name to Adventure Playground and established the National Playing Fields Association – today this is known as the Fields in Trust. The idea was to build playgrounds from recycled material or “junk” – hence the original name. While this was initially a way to make use of the wastage left behind after the extensive bombing of London, these exciting playgrounds gained momentum and spread throughout the rest of the country.
As playgrounds have become more commonplace, regulatory bodies have been called in by governing bodies to manage health and safety standards and ensure that children are playing in a safe environment. New materials have since been introduced such plastics and concrete. In addition to this, there has been developments in playground surfaces to make them safer and reduce maintenance. Modern play equipment uses bright colours and many exciting and original shapes to enthuse young minds.
Along with improved safety, playground equipment has become much more imaginative. Designers of playground equipment are constantly challenged to come up with new ideas that are aesthetically pleasing and provide children greater challenges and new fun ideas.
The playground has been evolving for over a century and will continue to do so in the future. What we can be sure of, is that the fun and creative stimulation provided by the playground will continue to excite children for generations to come.