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How To Create Successful Playgrounds: 10 Design Principles for Play

By February 14, 2020 February 17th, 2020 No Comments

What is the key to a successful playground? We believe designers should take a holistic perspective and ensure that play opportunities are integral to the space. Today we want to share what we believe to be the top 10 principles when it comes to designing for play. Let’s go!

Successful playgrounds:
1. are well located
2. are bespoke
3. make use of natural elements
4. provide a wide range of play experiences
5. are accessible to both disabled and non-disabled children
6. meet community needs
7. allow children of different ages to play together
8. build in opportunities to experience risk and challenge
9. are sustainable and appropriately maintained
10. allow for change and evolution

1. Select the best possible location

Children need places to play close to their homes and schools, and one way of filling gaps in play provision in built-up areas is to create more doorstep spaces. When it comes to successful facilities for older children and young people, choosing a central location is key. Try to ensure good transport links and plenty of people around.

2. Adapt the design to the setting

Use natural contours of the landscape. Use colours found in the natural surroundings. Choose equipment carefully to fit the setting. Using rocks, grasses and plants already found naturally in the area will provide play opportunities and an enjoyable environment for everyone. Designers should aim for a playground to blend seamlessly with its setting. Use good quality materials and colors that complement the existing architecture.

3. Blend with the surrounding nature

Rural playgrounds can be transformed by using playable and playful arrangements of mounds, ditches and hollows, inspired by local surroundings. Variation in levels can provide opportunities for exploring, climbing, hiding and chasing. Planting can create opportunities for sensory stimulation and play, as well as encouraging involvement not just from children but the whole community. Just imagine an outdoor space that changes with the seasons! This principle can truly transform playgrounds, particularly in urban areas, creating a space that appeals to all ages.

4. Provide a wide range of play experiences

Providing a range of play opportunities for different age ranges is key – think one structure, multiple uses. Installations should be playable, attractive and suit the theme. Try to combine a variety of play equipment and surfaces; different types of surfacing can really enhance equipment and provide additional play opportunities. Combine water with sand, throw in some planting and you’ve got yourself an urban jungle!

5. Make your playground inclusive

Children with different abilities should be able to play together at well designed playgrounds. There are many different types of disability or special need so try to choose non-prescriptive equipment that can be used in different ways.

6. Consider the community

Designers should work closely with the community to develop imaginative designs where different elements can be used in different ways. For example, a designated ball game space might also offer the opportunity for cycling, climbing and/or seating. An area designed with teenagers in mind could also work as a space for the community as a whole. The final design should be attractive for everyone.

7. Ensure all ages can play together

Something like a tire swing can be used by children of all ages, from older teenagers to very young children (with assistance from their parents, of course). A sandpit might be used by younger children and older ones too – just to hang out and chat. A successful playground should be enjoyable to walk through and sit in for people of all ages.

8. Build in opportunities for challenge and risk

Children and young people need opportunities to experience challenge and excitement in their play. With the appropriate risk assessment carried out throughout the design process, designers should create a variety of opportunities for children to stretch themselves and conquer new challenges.

9. Commit to regular maintenance

A commitment to maintenance is absolutely essential in increasing the range of play opportunities on offer; for example, designing and maintaining features such as a splash pad. Don’t be scared of the extra work that might come from adding in these additional features and equipment – a bit of wear and tear is perfectly acceptable, particularly in the context of a well looked after playground as a whole.

10. Design a playground that evolves as children do

Evolution and change is an inevitable part of life. By building space for it into the initial design of a playground, designers can extend its lifespan significantly. A flexible layout makes it relatively straightforward to add to and extend. Equipment should be integrated with its setting and can be added over time. Children should be able to move easily from one part of the park to another. When there is no sense of where a play space begins and ends, it becomes more inviting to explore.

The golden rule to remember is: successfully designed play spaces are good for all of the community. This is something we know because this is something we do. If you would like to consult one of our expert design team about your next play project, don’t hesitate to give us a call.