Indoor Playgrounds
for big kids

I   
used to take my grandkids to McDonald's to eat and play on their mouse-tubes & slides, etc. They are too big now. That kind of setup is for kids under about age six or seven. Now there is no place to take them on a cold, rainy, windy or extremely hot day which covers almost any weekend in Texas.

For the past year or so I've been eyeballing a local abandoned WalMart-Sam's building (they moved to a more lucrative location on the freeway). This building is big enough for my purposes and not too expensive (for anyone with that kind of cash). I would make that into an indoor playground for kids aged 6-13 ... you know ... the beefier ones who just sit all day in front of the TV and play video games or watch cartoons.

The major trouble with such an idea is that it cannot make money. If you charged enough to make a tidy profit, mothers could not afford to bring their kids. It would have to be a local government / philanthropic endeavor. Imagine you're open for business from 2PM to 10PM ... just eight hours per day during school days and there are 400 kids playing inside and each is charged 2 bucks to stay as long as they want (what I think a mother would readily part with). You'd only gross about $1000 dollars per day. That might just pay for operating expenses ... maybe. As for profit ... forget about it.

With that in mind, let me proceed to design the thing for your perusal.

First, what have we got to work with?

I'm looking at a property that's minimum 200'x500'= 20,000 square feet. If the density of kids is one per 10x10 square ... you can accommodate 200 screaming kids ... hmmmm ... let's pack 'em tighter down to a 7x7 square and we get our 400 kids. (actually the property might be twice as big as I thought area-wise). You can see here there is a limitation. Too many kids and you will get collision injuries.

There is already a huge parking lot though it won't be used for cars because most parents will drop off and pick up only ... like an iceskating rink in Michigan (I remember it well). Maybe some outdoor activities could be constructed there ... but that's not the subject here.

It's a non-residential place so the neighbors won't complain about the noise and traffic ... they will be glad to have the local "monsters" go somewhere else instead of within earshot.

Parts of the building are as much as 25 feet high so there are climbing possibilities as well as running and jumping. We have air-conditioning and heating and a roof so we're set for all weather.

General Charter

To provide physical exercise and decent, safe fun for the big kids and ... babysit for mom and dad whilst they do shopping, house cleaning, car repair, visit sick relatives, etc. ... you get the picture.

The place is monitored mostly by paid teenagers under a couple of adult supervisors who work full time who have some emergency medical expertise for the inevitable broken bone, cut, bruise, etc. I envision a row of seated teen girls waiting for kids whose mom's want them personally attended to, i.e. babysat all the while they are there. (Parents make a deal for a babysitter to sit with the kid instead of at their homes ... for kids who will be there several hours ... who need food, naptime, discipline monitoring, etc.)

Kids may also ride their bikes there and just go in for as long as they want ... just like any outdoor playground.

Security issues

There are cameras all around inside that tape everything that goes on so that in the event of an EVENT ... they can see who did what to whom. If no problems ... then ... use the tape over. I think day care centers do this a lot. Outside there are cameras taking still pictures to show who picked up what kid and when ... just in case of trouble on that end. These tapes would be kept a little longer.

There are inevitable discipline problems. Who is the bully? How do you kick out a troublemaker ... or ... temporarily discipline one? One of the adult supervisors should be familiar with child psychology and the rules of discipline have to be worked out by these people so that the system is fair but effective at maintaining a proper environment for play.

Logging in

Initially, there would be no charge to play here. Anybody can go anytime but they should be photographed on entry so that the time of arrival is documented. A parent would be required to do some sort of initial registration and provide a phone number to call in emergency or to have their "bad" kid picked up for breaking the rules or some other kid's bones. Some rule about what to do about leftover kids needs to be made as well. If no one picks up their tot by closing time some financial penalty would accrue and if past a certain time ... child protective services would need to be called (this is really bad - like calling the boogeyman to babysit).

Kids must go through a metal detector, sad to say, to make sure they have no knives or sharp tools to cut up the equipment ... and ... no magic markers. This means that it would be necessary to have some sort of baskets to put loose articles in like jackets, cell phones (they can keep their cell phone on their belt in case mom calls), lunch?, knives, guns, etc., i.e. "Check your guns at the door". They can wear tennis shoes or go with socks or barefoot ... whatever ... just no street shoes or football cleats. Pants & shirt required of course.

They need to be photo'd when they leave too so ... make 'em walk through a door by the camera.

Type of exercise

Aerobic ... that's what kids need. Run, jump, climb ... make up games in which running and jumping are a big part. Burn calories ... get tired ... go home ... sleep well ... go to school next day.

Running means collisions. Whenever kids build up an energy potential ... they fail to estimate correctly stopping distances and their own turning abilities. Not much can be done about this ... but most of the falls can be ameliorated with soft floors like they have in the mall where little kids play. The surfaces look hard but are actually soft with a tough vinyl coating.

Ruled out are swing apparatus which results in the inevitable kid hit in the head while not paying attention to where he was walking. Head injuries are absolutely to be avoided to the greatest extent possible.

My designs for aerobic play apparatus

I've been watching my grandkids (both boys) for some years and have some idea of what they like to do ... or would like to do if someone would only design and build it. So here goes.

Climbing

They have walls in the mall in some stores now where the kid puts on a harness and climbs up a 30 foot wall. If he falls, he's tethered to the attendant who lowers him down harmlessly. I want them to be able to do this but without the attendant. So, some sort of failsafe mechanism needs to be made where they can climb freestyle yet be unhurt when they fall.

indrpla1.gif - 10kb

Basically you have a standard climbing wall as high as the building will accommodate with hand and foot holds. There are two sides and the kids can climb around or over the top. There are multiple pathways ... in fact hundreds of different ways to go.

A skeleton of metal support pipes hold up a net pathway so that no matter how the kid goes ... if he falls ... he falls into the net path only two feet under him. the pipes are isolated from the kids by another net covering the entire apparatus like a web so that no one can climb on the pipes. They have to be made so that no one can start climbing on the outside either (they have real fine netting in McD's and elsewhere that kids can't climb on because they can't grip anything.

This is as completely safe a design as can be made. Kids would love it. Guaranteed.

Running

Very important for kids to run ... fast ... safely. For if they run, they stay trim ... and ... a fully exercised child goes to sleep reeeeeeal goooooood.

The big danger here is collision and they are inevitable. Collisions with other children can only be somewhat countered by "one-way" courses. Collisions with floors and apparatus can be greatly mitigated by rubberization. New play areas in malls have smooth finish, very durable (and colorful) padding that's probably 2" thick. This stuff would be just about everywhere in an indoor playground.

I would lay out tracks to run with lots of high banked curves so that the faster the runner went the higher he would go on the bank ... and ... if there is a severe enough curve, some kids will be able to run, momentarily, parallel to the ground ... toooooo coooool. That would be a new thing for them.

Sliding

There are some huge, squarish, flower pot thingies at a mall here. They are about five feet high and the sides are made of very smooth brick. Kids have a real good time running up the side and sliding back down. It's really not high enough to provide the most enjoyable slide but the idea is right.

indrpla2.gif - 6kb
No big metal slides. People fall off and there's a waiting line to go on it. This is much better because if you fall ... you just slide easily to the ground level without trauma and no waiting in line ... plenty of room if it's made big enough.

Swinging

No regular swings are acceptable. Too many injuries from kicked heads and seats hitting heads. There is another form of swing which would serve to build arm strength. This is the sliding swing where a line hangs from a track along which it moves. It is "self-damping" so that if you release it swinging it will rapidly catch its own swing and hang straight because it is not fixed at the top. The kid hangs on the padded triangle and pushes off to the other side of the "hot lava" (pretend hot lava of course). Kids like hot lava better than simple imaginary water obstacles.

indrpla3.jpg - 31kb

Resting, Eating & Drinking

There would be a quiet room with a big TV playing cartoon movies continuously ... NO VIDEO GAMES ... and lots of bean bag chairs so little "Tommy" can take a nap when he gets toooooo tired. There are no candy machines or soda machines or on-site MickeyD's ... just generally approved fruit juices, water and maybe some kind of wholesome snack food dispensers. Basically, this is an exercise deal ... not a restaurant ... but kids will get hungry for ... something ... anything for quick energy. You come here after eating, not before or during. Make that awhile after eating so it doesn't come right back up.

I think that's enough for you to get the picture. I would very much like to see a free indoor park similar to this. Any dying millionaires out there who want to do something constructive?? ... put your name on a facility to be remembered by ??? Come on ... you can't take it with you ...



Ebtx Home Page