In the early 1970's I worked in the catchily named 'Social Research Branch' of the Housing Development Directorate in the Department of the Environment. [The SRB of the HDD in the DoE as we called ourselves]
We were set up to study the success of new designs for public housing and housing estates. The project I did most work on looked at how the children played in 18 different areas. Most were modern housing estates and tower blocks in London and Sheffield but we looked at an area of old housing in Oldham too.
We spent a year or so recording exactly where children played, what playgound equipment they liked and what sort of games they played. We also interviewed the children and their parents.
At the time 'Architectural' play areas were very popular [with the architects] and they built some play areas with hideous brutalist structures. Our research was very clear. The children hated these 'architectural' playscapes and loved traditional playground equipment - swings, roundabouts and Wicksteed rocking horses were particular favourites.
The saddest place was an estate in Wandsworth called Winstanley Road where they only put in architectural monstrosities. We calculated that only 1 in 25 of the local children were ever seen playing there. The rest presumably went down the local 'rec' to find a decent playground.
The report on our study was published as 'Children at Play' (Department of the Environment .1973. Published by HMSO). A couple of photographs from the report can be seen in the photo-gallery.
Update: Rocking Horse. Wicksteed engineer attended site on 4.3.2010. Damper and impact surface not in place. Entrapment danger under rocking horse. Recommends removal. Approximate repair (damper system for this model may not be available) 1,000 pounds and condition of the rocking horse body is poor so investment of 1,000 pounds not recommended.
More recent news suggests that soldiers from the local Army base may volunteer to restore the horse.
In a study published in the BMJ 8th November 1975 Illingworth & Brennan et al studied 200 children who had suffered playground accidents and attended A&E over an 18 month period in Sheffield. Climbing frames and slides were associated with the most severe injuries, but swings were the most frequent cause of injuries. Only 4% of playground accidents occured on rocking horses and none of them were serious. Of the 8 accidents on horses 6 were caused to younger children when older children made the horse go faster causing them to fall of or bump themselves. Their general conclusion seems to be that parents need to help children manage everyday risks in order to develop their independence and to learn from their mishaps.
Other more recent research has talked about how important it is for children to have the chance to take risks - doing so allows them to be safer in the long run as they learn how to manage challenges. These two recent reports show that while both parents and child care workers agree that young children should have the chance to do exciting and risky things in a playground, the design of some modern playgrounds doesnt give them that opportunity.
Risk, challenge and safety: implications for play quality and playground design by Helen Little & David Eager European Early Childhood Education Research Journal Volume 18, Issue 4, December 2010, pages 497-513
D Ball and K King (1991) ‘Playground Injuries: A Scientific Appraisal of Popular Concerns’. Perspectives in Public Health vol. 111 no. 4 134-137
Abstract: The widespread public concern in
25th November 2010.
"A historic rocking horse at Yatton's Rock Road play area was removed by the parish council this month after residents became concerned about its condition"
From Babies in the City website: