17 Things That Have Disappeared From Playgrounds
If you've spent much time at playgrounds lately, you've probably noticed that they've changed a lot since you were a kid. While trips to the park are still a treasured part of childhood (after all, they're free, unlike some other kid favorites) many of today's playgrounds are dominated by hulking plastic play structures. Safety concerns have made a lot of old favorites, from merry-go-rounds to monkey bars, an increasingly rare sight. Find out which playground staples from your childhood are slowly becoming extinct.
Getting smacked in the head by a seesaw used to be a childhood rite of passage, but no longer. There used to be classic wooden seesaws at more than 600 New York City playgrounds, but as of 2016, there was just one left, 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 they're not as safe for smaller kids as other equipment.
Despite some experts' insistence that jungle gyms can be are a great way for kids to take risks and test their limits, the tall, metal contraptions of your childhood have been ripped from playgrounds. A combination of factors is at work: Parents have pushed for changes, federal and manufacturer safety guidelines have changed, and the specter of lawsuits stemming from injuries is greater than ever.
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 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.
This truly old-school playground delight, also known as a maypole, 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 (CPSC) expressly recommends against them for modern playgrounds.
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 still to be found on older playgrounds, most have been ripped out in favor of safer, less rust-prone alternatives. The main reasons: Lawsuits, including one in California and another one in New Jersey, that have made officials too skittish to keep this classic piece of equipment.
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.
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.
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 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 equipment these days.
Mastering the monkey bars used to be a major accomplishment for a kid — today, not so much. While monkey bars remain easier to find at your local playground than a lot of other things on this list, they're also slowly disappearing. Turns out they're a hotspot for injuries including bone fractures, according to Slate, and even traumatic brain injuries like concussions, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of federal data.
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 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.
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 always 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.
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.
Colorful plastic animal swings used to be a whimsical playground staple, but you won't find any new ones being installed today. That's because the heavy swinging plastic contraptions, which could weigh as much as 80 pounds, have led to the deaths of at least two children and caused serious head injuries in more than 40 others, causing the CPSC to crusade for their removal and replacement.
Even basketball hoops are fewer and farther between on playgrounds and in schoolyards 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.
If there's a tire swing at your local park, chances are the "tire" is made of a molded plastic instead of rubber. And you'll be hard pressed to find climbers or pyramids made from real tires 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.
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 while you used your body weight to get going. 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.
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 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.
Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.