For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about ways to get kids moving. While good options for fitness are nearly endless, playgrounds are still at the top of the list. Studies have shown that those who exercise outdoors tend to do so more often than those who primarily work out indoors. And it seems intuitively true: fresh air and sunlight are good for the soul.
Last Saturday, at the children’s play area at Mary Bartelme Park in Chicago’s West Loop, is a case in point. My son was ecstatic, eyes beaming as he climbed angular poured-in-place landforms, zipped down tunnel slides, and tested his balance on webbed cable spires. We tackled some of the steeper hills as a duo, and my calves and quads were definitely feeling the burn. After an hour or so, he collapsed near the entrance and dared to say, “I’m tired.”
He has probably uttered that phrase twice his entire life.
In addition to tiring my son out and precipitating his willing eight o’ clock bedtime, the trip brought to mind all the equipment Goric has to challenge children and make fitness fun and engaging. Here’s a look at some of the best.
The Wallholla is one of those whimsical pieces of playground equipment that just looks fun. The original version was developed when the city council of Purmerend, in the Netherlands, invited Carve to design a new schoolyard area. Among the list of requirements were climbing and play activities to accommodate 60 children at a time and a large soccer field.
What’s ingenious about the system is that the modular structure, a wire mesh frame on a small footprint, provides room for all sorts of physically challenging activities. Curving ribbon-like climbing platforms contained within the structure can be traversed in all sorts of ways. Component options such as slides, sliding poles, and climbing nets and ropes give children different ways to navigate the space and exert themselves.
Another thing that’s cool about the Wallholla is that the frame itself defines a boundary for an athletic space. It’s nice to be able to play soccer. But, in a high-density city, where? The Wallholla can serve as a stand-in fence for a basketball court or a goal for a soccer field. By making the play structure a part of the field, the system minimizes space use. It also makes it easy for kids to switch activities, so they can stay engaged longer and move from team-based cardiovascular workouts to independent climbing activities focused on building muscle strength and endurance.
Imagine the centrifugal thrill of a merry-go-round elevated to a suspended ring about seven feet off the ground. The result is the Icarus, an exciting, spinning ride for children aged five and older. Kids can work together, rocking and swinging on the tilted ring, while engaging the upper body muscles and using their core muscles to steady themselves against weight shifts. This is another piece of equipment that almost begs to be tested.
The Viking Swing
When I first saw the Viking Swing, I thought of the ubiquitous amusement park ride, commonly known as “The Pirate Ship.” Unlike the Pirate Ship, however, the Viking Swing is manually operated. While still inducing that wonderful butterflies-in-the-stomach sensation of rocking along a fulcrum, the Viking Swing allows a team of children to do the heavy lifting. Seated on a long strip of heavy-duty rope with multiple connections, children can work together to swing back and forth, while imagining themselves on the high seas. Like any piece of playground equipment that encourages creative exploration, the Viking Ship offers more than exercise, promoting social interaction and cognitive development.
Whatever fitness goals you have for you and your child, remember that staying healthy requires enthusiasm and commitment. Keep it interesting. And keep it fun. Your local playground is a great place to start. I will undoubtedly return to Mary Bartelme Park for new adventures with my son. It was a magical day spent feeling young and alive. But part of our enjoyment owed to the fact that it was our first time to the park. It was new and fresh. Habits are good; habits that evolve are better.