October 4, 2004
Tandy Taylor remembers the day her sister broke an arm playing tag two decades ago in Mesa.
A time when she and her classmates took the game of running after one another to new heights: Chasing each other as they climbed a tall jungl e gym on the school playground.
That’s where the young girl got her arm stuck — and fell.
"It was where everyone broke their arm," Taylor said. "No matter what, someone would get hurt every recess."
She admits the game was fun. So was spinning on merrygo-rounds and sliding down tall metal slides.
But those days and equipment are gone. Federal regulations have deemed them unsafe.
Taylor, now the mother of four children who attend Jack Barnes Elementary School in Queen Creek, says that’s a good thing.
"I think the equipment is much safer than it used to be," Taylor said. "I think kids still have just as much fun."
Public schools throughout the East Valley are bidding farewell to old-fashioned playground equipment considered too daring, too dangerous. Much of that is due to the federal government passing the first law on playground safety four years ago.
Tall metal slides, seesaws and other high equipment are being replaced with plastic, lower-level toys, surrounded by larger areas of sand or soft synthetic material.
FUN VERSUS SAFE
The new law comes as groups, including the National Safe Kids Campaign, lobby to prevent what has nationally been a high level of serious accidents or deaths resulting from play — from playgrounds to bike riding and swimming. The campaign reports that every year more than 211,000 children nationwide ages 14 and younger are treated in a hospital emergency room for playground equipment-related injuries.
According to the campaign, 70 percent of all playgroundrelated injuries are falls to the ground, and 12 percent are falls on the equipment. Head injuries are the cause of threefourths of all falls that result in death, the campaign reports.
The Mesa Unified School District has spent as much as $250,000 every year since the law passed, replacing a variety of playground equipment.
"In the late ’70s and early ’80s — back then it was all right to build your own equipment," said David Petersen, Mesa’s director of facilities. "So our guys built a heck of a lot of equipment. Unfortunately, there have been accidents, where kids got their sweat shirt hoods caught and choked."
Some parents, though, want their children to be able to slip down a slide or whirl on a dizzying merry-go-round — just like they did when they were kids, school officials said.
But the new equipment is made to be exciting in its own way, Petersen said. For example, the modern jungle gym, while not as high as past monkey bars, is created based on research into what would attract children to crawl, climb and slide.
The new equipment is created to avert common injuries such as pinched fingers, burns from hot metal slides and falls. No equipment is taller than 6 feet.
"I would say injuries have gone down quite a bit," Petersen said.
NO MORE TAG
The noon aides at Scottsdale’s Zuni Elementary School still see their share of injuries — but say the modern equipment helps them avoid serious problems when the inevitable fall happens.
As the four aides spent two hours watching children at play, it was primarily tussling and distractions that sent children to the nurse’s office. One boy got into a fight. A girl was sent to the nurse after another boy tripped her during soccer. And another girl cried after a boy pushed her into a fence.
Aide Diana Hare said many of the accidents that occur are caused by kids not watching where they’re running, rather than falls on equipment.
Bill Salisbury, principal at Gilbert’s Pioneer Elementary School, said that while the changes may look dramatic, the safety just gives kids the freedom to play and release energy without getting hurt.
Most districts said they forbid or discourage students from bringing their own jump-ropes, baseball bats or other toys to recess. The schools provide safer versions of those toys, such as a thicker jump-rope.
At Pioneer, even games of tag are banned — so children won’t run into each other. Running in games such as soccer or kickball, however, is still allowed.
"Kids are pretty creative, and there are lots of things they can still do on playgrounds," Salisbury said.
Tips for preventing common playground accidents:
• Check the playground’s surface to ensure any falls would be cushioned by soft material such as sand or synthetics — and not a hard grassy ground or concrete.
• Ensure equipment is maintained, anchored well and kept six feet apart to avoid collisions.
• Remove any hazardous parts such as protruding bolts or sharp corners.
• Watch for moving swings.
• Avoid clothing with drawstrings, necklaces, scarves or other loose parts that could get caught.
Source: National Safe Kids Campaign