When beginning a new playground project, or adding to an existing playground, it can be helpful to think about the key features in advance. Paying attention to the key elements of your playground will ensure physical, social, and emotional development. Specifically, it is beneficial to think about types of movement, opportunities for connection and inclusivity.
First, the playground is more interesting when it has a variety of playground events that result in different types of movement. Combining many of these events together leads to even greater physical development. Think about adding events that promote climbing, sliding, swinging and balance activities. In addition, there are motion events such as rocking or spinning. Finally, overhead events like monkey bars are something kids look forward to mastering in a new way each time they return to the playground. It may not be possible to include all the elements listed, but variety and challenge will keep kids engaged.
Another feature worthy of consideration is how well the playground allows for group play and social connection. In short, will the playground provide opportunities for children to play together? Are there events that directly facilitate group movement or pretend play? This can be accomplished with a rocker that allows for multiple users or a playhouse that allows kids engage in make believe. Alternatively, but no less important, see if there are any spaces on the playground that allow for kids to separate if they become overwhelmed. It can be just as useful to be able to take time out from others as it is to engage with others.
Finally, think through the inclusivity of the playground. Does it offer equipment that can be accessed by kids of ALL abilities? Imagine a user with limited mobility arriving at the playground. Where would they go and what would their experience be like? Have that experience inform the selection of events and playground pieces. Also consider how your selected events bring kids together and allow for independent play. Inclusivity refers not only to the piece of equipment but also to the ability to play alongside one’s peers.
Playgrounds are an investment in a community. Thinking through the features of a playground in advance can help ensure that the investment serves the social, emotional, and physical needs of the kids who will use it for years to come. It is an important approach being taken by today’s playground planners.