When I was kid in the ’60s, my mom would take my sisters and me to a place called Penn Park near our home in Whittier, Calif. It was a beautiful old hillside city park with towering trees, winding paths and a very popular watershape.
It was called a wading pool; at least that’s what my mom called it. It was little more than a circular slab of concrete that sloped gently to a depth of about 10 inches of water at the center. In the middle was a single standpipe that rose about eight feet. Mounted at the top was sort of upside-down showerhead that sprayed a ragged curtain of water in all directions.
Using today’s parlance, I guess you’d say the wading pool was an early interactive watershape with a 360-degree, zero-depth entry. I remember my mom saying that she thought it was California’s answer to the open fire hydrants used to cool off neighborhood kids in cities back east.
All my sisters and I knew or cared about was that this was the place to be in the summertime. I can still hear the peals of laughter and see the scores of suntanned kids frolicking in the summer heat. I’ll always remember the warm smile on my mom’s face as she would sit by the side of the pool and watch us splash the day away.
Thirty-plus years later, my own family goes to aquatic theme parks where the single standpipe with a spray nozzle has evolved into a truly mind-bending array of fantastic interactive watershapes. Unlike the wading pool at Penn Park (which was free to everyone), it can cost a day’s wages to get the kids in on this modern-day water play. But when you hear the laughter and see the smiles, I know my family is getting something good in return for the price of admission.
In this issue, you’ll find a fascinating article, “Invitations to Play,” by Pam Pasotti of SCS Interactive, a manufacturer of interactive watershapes for waterparks (click here). In it, she defines the surprisingly sophisticated behavioral psychology that drives the design of interactive waterfeatures and how these systems are currently being scaled down for use in a variety of community pools.
According to Pasotti and others working in the interactive water business, much of what can be found in big waterparks is now being transferred to a variety of settings, adding interest and value to traditional swimming pools and public play areas. The result is a powerful arsenal of fun-inducing contraptions that any watershaper can incorporate as part of larger designs or use as stand-alone attractions.
As I worked at preparing her article for print, I found myself envying kids these days, imagining how fantastic Penn Park would have been had it been equipped with a modern interactive system. Yet for all of the refinement of thought and innovation that goes into water play these days, it occurred to me that the sound of the laughter is just the same.
I think it may be time to turn on the sprinklers . . .