Making Play Possible
Playground equipment typically receives little notice unless you are a kid, but it is an integral part of city planning. We should all realize new solutions exist to create the best park and play spaces for our communities. PlayPower Canada has been making playground dreams come true for seventy years and is providing the technology, equipment and out-of-the-box thinking needed to enhance our lives and foster healthy living.
When PlayPower Canada started in 1947 as Paris Playground Equipment, play equipment mainly consisted of swings, teeter totters and sandboxes. Now, communities across Canada have access to the latest in inclusive, developmentally appropriate play equipment to promote healthy outdoor activity that benefits children. Plus, there is a network of expert representatives across Canada to help guide customers.
What started in Paris, Ontario, quickly grew to serve the world. PlayPower is now the world’s largest fully-integrated manufacturer of commercial playground equipment, shade systems, site furnishings, and floating dock systems for boats and personal watercraft. PlayPower brands include Little Tikes Commercial Play Systems, Miracle Recreation Equipment, Playworld, and Wabash Valley site furnishing, as well as fitness, shelter and shade brands.
PlayPower is working with many communities across Canada to transform neighbourhood parks and public spaces into cherished parts of a community. The government’s Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program and Canada 150 fund are helping many communities improve play areas and parks.
“We are also innovators in using digital technology to increase engagement by bringing gamification techniques to motivate kids to get the active, physical and imaginative play they need with our Biba games,” says Brian Jenkins, General Manager of PlayPower Canada.
Vancouver, Canada-based app maker Biba has joined with PlayPower in creating free mobile game applications, so children get more outdoor exercise and play. Children follow a cartoon robot character and engage in real-world physical activity like running or sliding as they explore imaginary spacecraft wreckage. Different experiences are available in every playground, encouraging exploration of neighbourhoods.
The collaboration has produced a novel way to combine outdoor play and the use of screen time. Since the games are targeted toward children nine and under, the device will remain mainly in the hands of the parents, limiting damage and allowing the parent to join in the fun with their child.
Simon Fraser University’s department of cognitive psychology is completing a study that documents how children engage in more moderate to vigorous physical activity when using Biba games on playgrounds. PlayPower can even provide a customized report showing peak usage times, which pieces of equipment are most used and other data that can be enormously helpful to parks districts, school districts and other playground owners in their planning and justification processes.
Brian remembers working on Canada’s first, fully ramped, accessible playground in 1989, for Unwin Park in British Columbia. He witnessed the happiness that these solutions brought to children and families.
“It’s just as much a thrill today to see families delighting in our latest innovations, like the very popular Generation Swing that allows caregivers to share the fun of swinging with their tots. We continue to combine child development experts and top play equipment designers and engineers to meet and exceed industry standards and deliver the best products for users,” says Brian.
The push for inclusiveness and accessibility has worked to upgrade many parks. People are very conscious of this, and that aids PlayPower since the company can spend less time explaining accessibility and more time helping communities realize it.
It is an exciting world in which to be. Landscape artists and urban planners are now working with park and recreational professionals to create beautiful spaces for their communities.
“So much of it depends on money and budgets, but if there is enough critical mass in the area that cares about the space, you can get the resources to really come up with something that enhances the space and the life of everyone that uses it,” says Brian.
Best practices vary across Canada. The company has to understand the local needs, environment and desires. What part of the population needs focus? What ages will be using the space? Does the area need a gathering place like a gazebo for events or a shaded structure to protect families in the middle of the summer? What combination of natural elements and play structures should be used?
PlayPower representatives look for opportunities to maximize inclusion, accessibility, socialization and sensory play. More than ever, children need meaningful, unstructured play experiences that empower them, build friendships and encourage health. Of course, it also has to be fun.
What is produced by PlayPower is in no way uniform. The company’s catalogues provide some set models to start from, but nearly every playground is designed for a specific location. Plus, innovative custom playgrounds can be created by its design studio.
Technology certainly comes into play, and there are some good tools for innovation. “Our design tools are good enough now with computers that we can pretty quickly put together the product, once we understand what the needs are,” says Brian.
Part of what PlayPower does is guide clients in choosing what will best suit their needs. Sometimes it is a group with vision that wants to create a memorial and has come with some pre-set ideas. This is where the custom design studio will take that input and give creative solutions on how to accomplish it. People may have preconceived ideas but are not familiar with all of the safety standards, checks and measures that need to be in place.
“We have to consider that a child is using that piece of equipment. There are all sorts of very fine details that just wouldn’t occur to someone unless they worked in the industry,” says Brian.
In the early days of Paris Playground Equipment, the company was one of the founding members of the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) and worked diligently to establish standards for play equipment, surfacing and a product certification process so play equipment manufacturers can prove that equipment meets applicable standards.
However, buyers must still beware. “You can be a member of IPEMA and not actually have the documentation that you have tested and proven all of your equipment. Certificates are needed. Just because you see an IPEMA logo, does not mean that it is certified,” says Brian.
From October sixteenth to the twentieth, the World Design Summit & Expo will be held in Montreal, Canada. Brian will be discussing how inclusiveness is at the core of play equipment design. “Inclusive design permeates the solutions that allow children of different abilities to come together and joyfully play.”
Over the years, many park and recreation professionals with municipalities, park districts, schools and childcare centres have turned to PlayPower for solutions. Increasingly, requests are coming from landscape architects, urban planners, developers and apartment and condominium owners.
Furthermore, as the desire to embrace gamification and provide effective fitness solutions increases, PlayPower is fielding requests from more non-traditional customers such as places of worship, family entertainment centres, restaurants, art galleries and museums.
“We have really focused on delighting our customers with innovative solutions, which has resulted in our growing into the world’s largest supplier. We intend to keep that focus and continue to make sure Canada has the best solutions available for our communities. It is an increasingly competitive world, and delivering value for our customers, communities and children has to be the basis for future growth and expansion,” says Brian.