Keeping kids happy on the road with a park pit stop

Kath Heiman — 9 October 2015

Given the size of this great continent, big road trips inevitably involve at least some extended periods in the vehicle with the occasional driver reviver stop. So we have a family rule. If we know we’re facing long periods of time confined in our vehicle, we always plan to stop at public playgrounds along the way.

After all, we know that the sight of a swing will guarantee a squeal of delight from our five-year-old as we rumble into a regional town. And once she’s seen it, there’s no way that further progress will be acceptable to her until she’s made full use of the equipment.

I have to say that the quality of the playgrounds we discover on our journeys can be pretty mixed. It’s not uncommon to find hard surfaces under equipment, excessive fall heights, inadequate impact absorption material, platforms without guard rails, lack of age differentiated equipment, as well as plenty of pinch, trap and trip hazards.

All of these features run contrary to the Australian industry standards that cover installation, inspection, maintenance and operation of playgrounds (see your local Kidsafe websites for details).  In many places we visit, it’s clear that these standards were either not in place when the equipment was erected, or the relevant authorities have chosen to ignore them. So there’s a degree of risk involved in letting our daughter loose.

But I’m okay with that. 

I accept my obligation to identify obvious hazards and to provide sufficient supervision, while allowing our daughter to enjoy the equipment’s challenges. Even so, it’s possible that – ultimately – she’ll take a fall and hurt herself. After all, Kidsafe Queensland statistics indicate that around one third of children who attend Queensland hospital emergency departments have injuries related to monkey bars, climbing equipment, swings and slides. And it’s the five to nine-year-old age bracket that’s most at risk. 

But that’s a calculated risk I’m prepared to take in the interests of her enjoyment and self-development. I’m sure I played on worse equipment in the ’70s – and I survived.

There is, however, one thing I simply won’t accept in a public playground. And that’s the presence of glass and rubbish with the underlying menace of syringes. There’s nothing worse than having to turn on our heels and walk away from a playground because it’s been spoiled.

Happily, these experiences are the exception rather than the rule. And there’s plenty of times that we’ve been very impressed by the care that local councils and charity groups have taken with playgrounds in some of the most unexpected places. So with a 3000 kilometre circumnavigation of South Australia planned for this summer’s break, I’m looking forward to seeing our daughter road-test a whole new range of parks, playgrounds and open spaces. And we’ll plan ahead to check sites like (a user-generated guide to public play spaces) to make sure we don’t miss gems along our route.

While I don’t expect every driver-reviver stop to be memorable, I’m hopeful that many of them will be. Memorable because of the smiles that playgrounds can generate on the faces of the kids using them, even if the equipment is badly designed, old and weather-beaten.

As long as there’s a swing, I don’t think our daughter will even notice.

Check out the full feature in issue #94 November 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.


kids camping children family travel kid friendly travel with kids