Playground Equipment Then and Now | All Inclusive Rec
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Old yellow metal slide.

Playground Equipment Then and Now

Do you ever think about how your grandparents may have used the cliché “back in my day . . .” and find yourself attaching this to your own childhood experiences? Well, a lot has changed since our formative years, and this is especially true when it comes to playground equipment!

If you grew up playing on steep, hot metal slides and rickety old tire swings, take a trip down memory lane to see how some of your favorite playground equipment has changed over the years. While playground safety and engineering have improved dramatically, the best news is that today’s play equipment is just as FUN as ever! 

Before and After Pictures of Your 10 Favorite pieced of Playground Equipment:

1. Slides

Old metal playground slide

Then: Hot, metal slide.

Early slides were made of metal and typically featured a high incline with shallow side railings. This construction resulted in a much higher risk of children tipping over or falling off the slide. And of course, when exposed to sunlight, these metal slides could reach temperatures high enough to cause serious burns in a matter of seconds — not ideal for youngsters or for summer play dates!

Children sliding down a double red slide.

Now: Slide with better materials and support!

Nowadays, there are standards in place to ensure metal slides have appropriate shading from the sun’s rays. It has become more common to see slides made of durable colored plastic, which helps to reduce surface temperature. The degree of a slide’s incline is also determined by age group recommendations and supported with higher side railings built into the design. Wee!

2. Climbing Structures

Old metal jungle gym
Image Credit: Nels Olsen/Flickr

Then: Jungle Gym made of metal pipes.

Many climbing structures of the past were no more than a collection of metal pipes situated into a cube or grid. These sturdy pipes were often laced within the structure and could result in painful bumps and bruises after a fall or misstep.

Red crawler web on a new playground.

Now: Flexible, colorful crawler webs!

Today’s climbing structures mimic the feel of an old school jungle gym, with metal pipes substituted for thick rope or stretched cables. These flexible climbers are cooler to the touch in direct sunlight and much gentler on bumps and falls than their metal predecessor! Climbers are also an important way to help children develop balance and hand-eye coordination and learn through play about cause and effect.

3. Seesaws

Old yellow metal seesaw.

Then: Don’t dismount this seesaw too quickly!

If you ever played on a seesaw in the 20th century, you understand the perils of dismounting too quickly! Back then, a seesaw was fixed to a center pole and could sink directly into the asphalt or grass below it. Any time one rider hopped off, the other could experience a hard thud. This design was also heavily dependent on having two riders of a similar size and stature, or otherwise it would not evenly bounce from side to side.

Two girls playing on a modern seesaw.

Now: Seesaw fun for everyone, including solo riders.

New seesaws have been designed so the seats and centering device can help prevent abrupt contact with the ground. They also do not require riders to coordinate their movements in order to play. This Dragonfly model from our corporate partner, Little Tikes Commercial, is a favorite on many of our playground projects!

4. Merry-go-rounds

Old metal merry-go-round on a playground.
Photo Credit: Nels Olsen/Flickr

Then: A fast spinning metal merry-go-round.

With a wood or metal base and slim metal handrails, early merry-go-rounds had little to no constraint on the number of riders or how fast they could spin around the center pole. As you can imagine, falls were frequent, and the metal railing could also become quite hot in the sun.

Kids happily playing on a new plastic merry-go-round.

Now: Less metal and more seating for riders of all abilities!

Seating on a merry-go-round is much improved! New mechanisms help keep riders from reaching dizzying high speeds and have a modified base, to prevent falling or crawling under the equipment. Most importantly, these spinners have evolved to incorporate inclusive play for children with special needs, with models that are flush to the ground for wheelchair users and seating that includes a buckled safety belt. We are so passionate about accessible playgrounds!

5. Swings

Old swing set with three swings.

Then: Swing sets with closely packed seats.

The very earliest swing sets had seats made of wood or metal, and gradually evolved to a wood or metal base with rubber seats. There were fewer restrictions on the number of seats that could be hung from each structure and the distance required between each swing. In the early 1900s, there were even longer narrow seats designed to be used by multiple riders at once!

Little Tikes swingset with kids swinging.

Now: Swings with a little extra leg room.

While the swing set remains a playground staple, today’s version looks a bit different! Safety specifications require swings to be placed farther apart, to help prevent collision with riders who swing sideways — whether accidentally or on purpose! We love swings because they can be used independently and with a friend or caregiver, and because they help encourage motion.

6. Maypole

Children hold on to ropes and swing around a maypole in a black and white photo.
Photo Credit: Flickr

Then: Gather ‘round the Maypole!

Gathering around the Maypole is a European folk tradition, typically celebrated on May Day, where festival-goers dance in a circle around the Maypole while spinning a colored ribbon around it. The playground version was essentially the same, but children were much more likely to jump and spin around the center pole at high speeds than they were to dance!

A group of kids swing around a modern maypole by hanging on to the rim.

Now: A new Maypole without ropes or ribbons.

Maypoles on a modern playground more closely represent a tilted wheel. With one central spinner instead of separate ropes or ribbons, children can play together at the same speed. There are also handholds to help encourage appropriate spacing and allow for more comfortable movement. Take flight together with this Maypole from our corporate partner, Little Tikes Commercial!

7. Witch’s Hat

Old wooden witches hat playground equipment.
Photo Credit: carlfbagge/Flickr

Then: A cross between a Maypole and a merry-go-round.

The Witch’s Hat is somewhat of a hybrid of two pieces of equipment you’ve already seen: the Maypole and the merry-go-round. Children would stand on the structure or run outside it while spinning around the central pole. This particular piece of playground equipment needed to be improved to address safety concerns, after riders were injured by falling into the center.

A boy spins in circles while riding a spinaround.

Now: A safe and supportive new spinneround.

New versions of the Witch’s Hat use a frame of sturdy, flexible braided cables to prevent contact with the center pole. The redesigned structure is more balanced, moves at a controlled speed, and has a durable base. This particular model of the Spinneround Pyramid Mini ERN820D from our partner, Elephant Play, is perfect for spinning, crawling and climbing!

8. Tire Swings

Tire swing on an old playground with a young child ready to play.
Photo Credit: Svante Adermark/Flickr

Then: Upcycling that old spare tire.

This beloved adaptation of a multi-person swing seat was also a great lesson in upcycling — and not every innovation is a successful one. Tire swings were infamous for collecting rainwater inside the flaps, which often resulted in mold or mildew, insects and unpleasant smells.

Two saucer swings on a new playground.

Now: Multi-Person flying saucers!

Friends can ride together on a flying saucer! These swings offer a large comfortable seat and controlled heights to better accommodate multiple riders. Like the classic swing sets we mentioned above, these are also spaced out generously to prevent accidental bumps and bruises.

9. Accessible Swings

Blue metal accessible swing.

Then: Remember trying not to fall out of this seat?

Not everyone can use a traditional, backless swing with a rubber seat. And while this early take on an adapted swing seat offered some additional lumbar support, the slick surfaces and lack of seat belt actually made it very challenging to avoid slipping out!

Kids playing on an accessible swing.

Now: Adapted swing seats offer support for those who need it.

All Inclusive Rec and our corporate partner, Little Tikes Commercial, are passionate about accessible play and designing with inclusivity in mind. Now, there are several adapted swing seats to choose from that can better accommodate children with unique challenges and different abilities. On the far left is the Inclusive Seat, and on the far right is the Generation Swing Seat!

10. Monkey Bars

Old metal monkey bars
Photo Credit: David Kessler/Flickr

Then: Climbing high on the Monkey Bars.

Monkey bars were designed to help promote upper body strength. In the past, there were few regulations on the height of these bars, making older variations more prone to fall-related injuries.

Playground with modern monkey bar rings.

Now: Taking it to a new height.   

Newer sets use monkey bars in the shape of a loop, which provide an easier grip. These are also significantly lower to the ground, compared to their predecessors, and often feature an “on” or “off” deck onto another part of the playground.

All Inclusive Rec Can Bring Your Playground into the 21st Century

Playground equipment has changed a lot over the years to promote safe fun for everyone. Whether your school or community group playground is stuck in the past, or you are looking to add inclusive play equipment for children with special needs, All Inclusive Rec is your one stop shop for the best in playground equipment and furnishings!

Tell us about your project so we can get the conversation started. Submit a request online or call our office at (573) 701-9787.

Searching for some fresh ideas for your playground project? Take a look at the photo galleries on our inspiration page.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nels Olson/Flickr