Designing Urban Playgrounds for Kids
Playgrounds increase children’s desire to run and play. They support physical activity and contribute to healthier and stronger lives. They help grow children’s developmental, social, and interpersonal skills, as play allows them to engage with the environment and with other kids in the community. It also enables children to explore new ideas and different ways of behaving, which tests their boundaries and creates healthy habits for them in the process, which they will carry into adulthood. When designing an urban playground for kids, landscape designers and architects’ primary goal is to create a design that connects communities and displays the features and attractions of the local area. Creating innovative themes and concepts will create, in return, an exciting experience for kids, helping the playground become a place that kids will visit to play over and over again.
Here are some key elements that make a great and successful playground:
1- Accessibility: Accessibility is one of the most important elements that contribute to the success of a playground. A playground should be able to grant children of all ages and abilities the chance to play together on the same playground. One way to achieve accessibility for all is to provide safe and accessible walkways, platforms, spaces and equipment that can be used by children of all abilities, such as ramps and inclusive slides and swings.
2- Visibility: Visibility is an important factor in enhancing parents’ feelings of comfort and security in a playground. It’s important for adults to be able to supervise their children at a playground to help prevent injuries. To increase visibility, designers try to ensure that adults are able to see ahead and around them by placing seating places for suitable surveillance. Clear sightlines allow adults to check for persons whom they might find threatening for their children. Minimizing the presence of shrubbery, high walls, sharp corners, or buildings can increase visibility and thus increase the feeling of comfort and security in a playground.
3- Safety: When designing urban playgrounds for kids, the first element that designers need to consider is their safety. Designers will first choose to secure the playground with good fencing or protective boundaries if the playground is located near road traffic. On the other hand, designers are also required to provide easy access to emergency exits for fires and accidents. To increase safety, it is vital to separate different areas in the playground according to age to minimize the risks of accidents. It is also important to prevent the risk of flooding, crime, and natural disasters by installing the necessary infrastructure, as this will increase the number of visitors to the playground.
4- Active and challenging play: Playing is a need for children. Normally, children seek playgrounds that offer a wide variety of physical activity. Successful playgrounds encourage active play by providing various activities that include the ability to run, jump, throw, slide, swing, climb and move and many more. An active lifestyle helps children live healthy lives and is crucial for physical and emotional wellbeing. On the other hand, challenging play is crucial for creativity. Children are often drawn to challenging experiences when seeking play because it helps them increase their self-esteem and improve their physical and motor skills. Play in which children are also required to step outside their comfort zone is associated with greater social health and fewer injuries, with the ability to control fear and self-judge risks. One example of challenging play is providing materials that allow children to create or destroy built constructions. These include logs, playhouses, ropes, wood and climbing apparatus.
5- Nature: A successful playground embraces the natural world around it. Green spaces in playgrounds are key for activity, where some elements, such as sand, water, stones, and greenery provide a dynamic environment for kids, allowing them to use their manipulative skills. In fact, nature is the perfect learning environment for children to play with. Natural components encourage physical and imaginative play. For example, sandboxes around small water ponds can help children create interesting shapes and forms, such as sand castles. Hillsides can create an interesting and fun experience for kids, from rolling down the hill to going down slides, while boulders can also work as climbing tools.
6- Themes: Themed playgrounds can offer a gateway to the imagination. Generally, kids love being creative and imaginative during play time. This is why themed playgrounds often tend to be more successful, as they feature components and elements that provide a fresh and out-of-this-world experience for children. For instance, themed structures, such as slide structures in the form of pirate ships, spaceships, trains, forests, or castles, will help encourage imagination and fantasy, giving children an easy time pretending to be sailing the seas in search for treasures, travelling in space, or running through forests searching for animals. Sports themed play structures can also provide an inspiration for children that are more drawn towards sports instead of fantasy. A themed playground also has to have fitting design elements, with colors, logos, and graphics that match and bring the themed playground more to life.
7- Adventure routes and mazes: Children have an inborn desire to explore and go on adventures. This is why designers and architects are now required to create interesting and mystery puzzles that could fulfill the kids need to search out new places, find their ways to places, and go treasure hunting. In order to meet this interest and need, landscape designers and architects often choose to incorporate natural materials in the playground, choosing different surfaces and textures in order to create an environment for children that allows them to collect leaves, stones, and sticks, and to solve riddles and puzzles on their own.
8- Equipment: Successful and inclusive playgrounds include equipment that are equally suitable for all children and all types of play. The equipment in a playground play a major role in the growth and development of a child. In risky play, for example, a child needs to climb and crawl. Monkey bars, boulders, climbing walls, and slides are some of the elements that could help fulfil this need. On the other hand, sensory play involves sand, music, water, and many more elements related to senses. A sandbox, a few small ponds, and music instruments could help fulfil that need and contribute to the development of kids’ cognitive skills. Constructive play involves building things with materials and tools. This means the ability of stacking, assembling, disassembling, sorting or molding materials into creative shapes. A sandbox can also contribute to constructive play, with stones and pebbles being the main tools in this kind of play in an outdoor playground. Other playground equipment could also include a seesaw, merry-go-round, swings, slides, playhouses, and mazes.
A visit to the playground is more than fun for kids, as it lets them exercise their bodies, brains, and social skills while giving them the chance to play for healthy development. The ongoing evolution of playgrounds is a proof that they play an indispensable role in childhood, while functioning as public gathering places at the same time. They were initially invented to provide safe and social places for kids. Interactivity provides a variability in game scenarios, giving children opportunities for research, experiments and education, enabling them to develop their skills, to make their own decisions and to assess different situations.