17 Things That Have Disappeared From Playgrounds

Happy girl hanging from a jungle gym in a summer garden


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Happy girl hanging from a jungle gym in a summer garden

Attack of the Fun Police

Trips to the park are still a treasured part of childhood, but today's playgrounds have changed a lot since you were a kid. Safety concerns have made a lot of old favorites, from merry-go-rounds to monkey bars, an increasingly rare sight. Find out which vintage playground staples from your childhood are slowly becoming extinct.

Related: 25 Amusement Parks Then and Now

A Row of Yellow and Red Seesaws As Viewed From the Side in the Sandbox of a Park, a Red Climbing Playground Toy on the Right in the Distance


Getting smacked in the head by a seesaw used to be a childhood rite of passage at the classic American playground, but no longer. There used to be classic wooden seesaws at more than 600 New York City playgrounds, but there was just one left in 2016, according to city park officials. The same thing has happened all over the country because of updated federal guidelines requiring significant design changes and specifying that seesaws are not as safe for smaller kids as other equipment. 

An Abandoned and Rusted Merry-Go-Round in a Park, an Old Rusted Slide in the Behind


You might have fond memories of spinning so much on the merry-go-round that you felt a little sick, but chances are your kids or grandkids won't be able to say the same. While there are a few merry-go-rounds still to be found on older public playgrounds, most have been ripped out in favor of safer, less rust-prone alternatives. Lawsuits in New Jersey and elsewhere have made officials too skittish to keep this classic piece of soon-to-be-forgotten playground equipment. 

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Closeup of a Jungle Gym Dome on Mulch, Diagonal, in a Playground
Metal Slide As Viewed From Above Looking Down It, Metal Handrails on Both Sides, Sand on the Bottom, on a Playground
Elena Kalashnik/istockphoto

Metal Slides

Just about any kid used to know that a trip down a metal slide on a hot summer day could be a recipe for a painful burn. Today, most of those metal slides have been deep-sixed in favor of plastic slides, or slides that are at least covered with a special kind of heat-reducing paint. Kids should still be careful, though. As the CPSC notes, plastic can still get hot enough to cause burns.

Four Kids in Motion Playing on a Giant Wooden Stride, on Mulch, Surrounded By a Canopy of Many Trees
Four Kids in Motion Playing on a Giant Wooden Stride, on Mulch, Surrounded By a Canopy of Many Trees by Mike Prince (CC BY)

Giant Strides

This truly old-school playground delight, deemed "the most notorious piece of playground equipment in history," dates to the turn of the last century. Kids would fling themselves around a central pole by holding onto dear life to dangling trapeze-like bars, chains, or ropes. 

Sound unsafe? Yep. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission expressly recommends against them for modern playgrounds, making any that remain a rare sight, indeed.

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Metal Witch's Hat Playground Toy, with Sand Underneath It, in a Playground
Metal Witch's Hat Playground Toy, with Sand Underneath It, in a Playground by carlfbagge (CC BY-SA)

Witch's Hat

A witch's hat wasn't as common as a merry-go-round, but it was an incredibly fun way to make yourself dizzy, with a wooden bench or metal platform that you had to hop onto as it spun around a central pole. Sadly, it was also one of the most dangerous pieces of playground equipment — in Britain, there were once five Witch's Hat deaths in one year, according to The Financial Times. Suffice it to say that new playgrounds forgo this one.

Little Boy Playing in a Sandbox, Selective Focus, He Is Pouring Sand From a Shovel While Squatting, in a Playground


Many of us spent the summer tracking in shoes full of sand after an afternoon at the park, but even innocent sandboxes are getting the heave-ho. San Francisco has banned them, and officials elsewhere are following suit because they're just too much work to keep clean, especially when neighborhood cats want to use them as a giant litterbox. One study even found that they harbored "2,000 times more bacteria, yeast, and mold per square inch than the door handles of public restrooms." Ick.

Smiling Little Girl Hanging Upside Down From the Side of a Rope Jungle Gym Over Concrete

Concrete Surfaces

If you didn't break a bone from a fall at the playground, chances are you knew a kid who did. After all, you were probably plummeting from the jungle gym or swing set onto rock-hard concrete or blacktop, or if you were lucky, dirt or grass. Today's kids have a much softer place to land. Poured rubber, turf, rubber mats or tiles, wood chips, and shredded rubber are required under playground equipment these days.

Metal and Wooden Rocket Climber with a Metal Slide on a Playground
Metal and Wooden Rocket Climber with a Metal Slide on a Playground by Nels Olsen (CC BY-SA)

Rocket Climbers

If you grew up during the Cold War, giant metal rockets with twisting steps and slides jutting out were a popular sight on the playground. They're truly a relic of a different era, and they were meant to get kids excited about rocket ships and the space age. Today, the few that are left are mostly abandoned, rusting hulks that officials have ditched for the same reasons they've replaced other old metal equipment: Plastic is safer and easier to maintain.

Smiling Child Looking Up From a Ball Pit with Colorful Plastic Balls

Ball Pits

If you were lucky enough to get a trip to an indoor playground at a fast-food restaurant or a place like Chuck E. Cheese — just one of many places kids love but parents hate — one of the highlights was doing cannonballs into the ball pit. Of course, everyone knew that ball pits were ground zero for germs (and maybe even feces, or an uneaten Happy Meal or two). As companies wised up to the health risks, ball pits started to disappear.

Young Girl Walking Across a Wooden Bridge, As Seen From the Other Side of It

Wooden Equipment

Remember those massive, maze-like wooden playgrounds with steps, bridges, and turrets galore? Fewer and fewer kids are getting to play king of the castle these days, as most wooden playground equipment is giving way to colorful plastic that won't leave splinters in little hands or require as much upkeep.

Two Metal Animal Swings
Two Metal Animal Swings by Ulleskelf (CC BY-NC-ND)

Animal Swings

Colorful plastic animal swings used to be a whimsical playground staple, but you won't find any new ones being installed today. Instead, they're viewed as playground hazards. That's because the heavy swinging plastic contraptions, which could weigh as much as 80 pounds, have caused serious head injuries in more than 40 reported cases, causing the CPSC to crusade for their removal and replacement to prevent injuries.

Dilapidated Basketball Hoop with a Cement Area in the Foreground

Basketball Hoops

Even basketball hoops are fewer and farther between on playgrounds these days. ESPN blames a myriad of factors, including kids who'd rather be indoors, playing organized hoops instead of pickup games. And some schools say their basketball hoops were vandalized, or worse, attracted gangs and drugs.

A Tire Swing, As Seen From Above Looking Down, on a Bed of Mulch

Real Tires

If there's a tire swing at your local park, chances are the "tire" is made of molded plastic instead of rubber. And you'll be hard pressed to find climbers or pyramids made from real tires in play areas anymore. That's because real tires can be a breeding ground for mold and insects, and rubber mulch made from tires has even come under fire for potentially harboring toxic chemicals.

Little Girl Smiling While on a Red Metal Swinging Gate, on Grass, She Is Facing Towards the Left, Vintage
BCI Burke Playground Equipment

Swinging Gates

Unassuming swinging gates were never the star of the playground, but they sure were fun as kids crowded on to spin and dangle. If you were lucky, there was a platform to stand on — if you weren't, you just crammed your feet in between the bars and held on for dear life. Unfortunately, these have also ended up on the CPSC's no-no list, probably because it's no fun to be whacked in the head or chest with metal bars.

Little Girl Sitting in the Air While Playing on an Indoor Trampoline, Surrounded By a Robe Fence, As Seen From Outside


More common at indoor playgrounds, trampolines used to be a reliable source of fun near that banished ball pit. Now you'll rarely see them outside of a dedicated trampoline park or someone's back yard because of staggeringly high child injury rates — the American Academy of Pediatrics even says kids should steer clear entirely. Unsurprisingly, the CPSC also says they're not ideal for playgrounds.