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A great many cities are now putting equipment into their school yards without consulting anyone of experience; and it must be said that the apparatus so purchased is often temporary in character, ugly in appearance, and dangerous in use. It is often set in the wrong places and sometimes costs two or three times as much as it should. Very much of this, although of recent installation, should be taken out at once and replaced by equipment that is safe and suited to the needs of the school. It must be remembered always that free play is more important than the best possible use of play equipment, such as swings, and the open spaces must not be destroyed for any kind of apparatus.
THE SAND BIN.
The sand bin is the mother of the playground movement, and out of it have grown the other developments. From the time he is 1 year old until he is 10 or 12 the sand will furnish any child entertainment and delight. As the sand bin is for the little children, it should be placed in the most retired part of the yard, where it will be out of the way of the older children. It must have shade, or the sand will get too hot in the summer time. It is well to place it under or around a tree. It should have a molding board or seat around the edge, so that the children can mold the sand upon it. This is often used also as a seat when the teacher wishes to tell a story or to give instruction. The sand should be, if possible, the fine white sand of the seaside, as this is pleasant to work with and does not soil the clothes; but any building sand, such as that used in making plaster, will do. The carpenter of the school board can make the bin. The sand will gradually work out upon the playground, where it will often greatly improve the surface. As it is necessary for the sand to be renewed occasionally to keep it in a sanitary condition, this leakage is a good thing in any case. The sand bin does not require a bottom if the ground is level and hard.
The bin should be made either of cement or of 12-inch planks, with a molding board 8 or 10 inches wide around the edge. It should usually be painted the color of the ground, so that it may not be conspicuous.
The seesaw is much used in the school yard, but not much can be said in its favor. The children who are using the seesaw are not getting either physical, intellectual, or social training. It is the frequent source of accidents and disputes. If a-short seesaw board is placed on a high standard, it is very dangerous, because it then makes an acute angle when the child goes down to the ground. The long seesaw is safer than the short one, because the angle of the plank in its descent is not so great; but it must be remembered that there will often be five or six children on each end of the seesaw, and there may be danger of it breaking if it is made long and not well strengthened. The principal danger is that the child who is down on the seesaw may slide off and let the other child down with a bang. I have known of half a dozen broken arms resulting in a week from a new set of poorly made seesaws. Another danger appears when the children stand up on the seesaw. One end comes down suddenly and the other child is thrown off on his head. The seesaw ought to have a handle. It should be made so it can be taken in at night and in the winter. It should be placed near the fence in some retired part of the yard. It is best to set it on a steel support anchored in concrete.
The slide is one of the most popular pieces of apparatus, and will be used almost continuously by a large number of children. There are apt to be disputes and quarrels over the swing, but the slide offers a natural rotation in office. Sliding represents a universal interest of children, for they have slid down banisters and cellar doors from time immemorial. Almost every place that offers a natural incline in the cities will be found to be used by them. People generally have the idea that the slide is dangerous on account of its height, but in an experience of 13 years I have never known of a single serious accident from the slide, except from slivers in the early days when slides were made of pine. Railings at the top prevent the children from falling off there, and after they sit down on the slide they can not well fall unless they try to. There is a general feeling also that the slide is very hard on clothes. I doubt if this is so, if the slide is in good condition. The amount of the friction and wear of course depends on the smoothness. Even in the schoolroom the child wriggles around constantly in his seat, and the seat or the cushion is not usually very smooth. The children tend to run up the slide if they are not watched at first, and also to slide down standing up. If a slide is scratched and marked with nails, it is much more destructive of clothes. The crucial thing about it is the condition of the incline itself. In the early days these slides were often made of pine. The pine could be made very smooth and safe, but after a rain the grain was likely to come up so that a child might be impaled on the slivers as he slid down. Most of the machine companies now make a steel slide. This is well galvanized, but the galvanizing is apt to wear through where the children place their feet, causing the metal to rust. A rusty slide both soils and wears the clothes very rapidly. The steel slide is too cold in winter and too hot in summer for much comfort. It is also too expensive to be generally purchased. W. S. Tothill, of Chicago, makes a maple slide that answers all requirements very well. It does not rust or splinter. It is not too hot nor too cold; it sometimes warps, but never seriously. The 9-foot slide is sold by Marshall Field & Co. for $15; the 15-foot slide for $30. The slide needs to be waxed occasionally or dressed with raw linseed oil. It is well to have a carpet mat or two to sit on after rains or after oiling, and it is desirable that the apparatus should be made so that the sliding board is detachable, allowing it to be turned over or taken in so as to protect it from the rain. It is difficult to take the slide in at night, and a board may be chained in the slide or a chain may be put around it to prevent its use at night
The swing is probably the commonest piece of apparatus for the play of small children everywhere. It is also one of the most dangerous, and, as generally made, one of the most unsightly. It probably causes more quarrels than any other one piece of apparatus and more criticism from its use at night than anything else about the playground. In unfenced school grounds the swings should be made so that they can be taken down or chained at night. It is best as a rule to make the swing frame of 3-inch gas pipe, if threaded; or of 2-inch uprights and 3-inch horizontals, if unthreaded. Two-inch galvanized pipe will cost about 16 cents a foot, and the 3-inch pipe about 32 cents a foot. Black pipe will cost about two-thirds as much. The swing should! be well braced and set in concrete about 3^ or 4 feet deep. The swings for a school yard should not be over 8 or 10 feet high. The tall swing takes up too much room, is preempted by the large children, and is too dangerous. The swings should be placed in the most retired corner of the yard and parallel with the fence, where children will not be struck by them. People are apt to fear that the children will be hurt by falling out of the swing. This rarely happens. The real danger is to the child who is running by. If two children are standing up in a swing and swinging hard and another child runs by and is struck in the side of the head, he will certainly be seriously injured and may be killed. In some places the swings are fenced off so as to prevent this. A piece of rubber hose is sometimes nailed to the side of the swing board so as to deaden the blow if a child is struck. For the school yard it is best to have as light a swing as possible, because its momentum is not so great in that case, and it is easier to put out and take in. A wooden board and ropes are to be preferred to an iron seat and chains or links. The steel hook that supports the swing is a crucial point, as it is apt to wear through. It should be made of hardened steel and should wear on a steel thimble around which the rope is spliced. Girls should not be allowed to stand up in swings, as their dresses tend to fly up. Boys should not be allowed to swing girls for still more obvious reasons. It is best for children to swing themselves in any case, as that is the only way they can get any exercise out of it. The pipe fittings can be purchased of any of the machine companies. The pipe can be secured of local dealers, and all should be erected by local men. The swings can also be made satisfactorily by any ingenious carpenter. The pipe should either be galvanized or painted green. The concrete blocks should be 16 to 18 inches square. There should be about 20 swings in the yard of a good-sized city school.
THE GIANT STRIDE.
The giant stride is often put into school yards. It is always enjoyed by the children and has some value as exercise. It is a rather expensive piece of apparatus, however, and the steel ladders are rather dangerous. For the school yard I prefer the rope and wood ladder with wooden rungs. This is lighter and does not bruise where it strikes. It is also much easier to take in the ropes when that is desired. The giant stride should be placed in the corner of the yard, if possible, so that it may be out of the way of the games and that the children upon the ground may not be struck by those who are flying around upon it.
THE SCHOOL MENAGERIE.
Children are nearly always fond of animals. It is they who are the chief patrons of the zoological gardens everywhere. The opportunity to see the pigs and the cows and the chickens constitutes one of the chief charms to them of the trip to the country. It would be well if there were animals to feed and watch in every school yard. It would be still more delightful if rabbits and squirrels could run about on the playgrounds among the children and not be harmed. There is a "coon tree " in the yard of the Emerson School, at Gary, Ind. There is a house at the foot of the tree into which the raccoons may descend and where the children may go to make their acquaintance. In the yard of the Froebel School there is a large fountain that will be stocked with fish. It would be well to put bird and squirrel boxes in the trees and to encourage the children to feed the birds and squirrels if the attitude of the children makes this practicable.
CONSTRUCTION OR PURCHASE OF EQUIPMENT.
A school playground may be satisfactorily equipped for $200, if most of the equipment is made and set up by local men. The slide can probably be purchased as cheaply as it can be made. Other pieces of apparatus will cost considerably more from the machine companies.