Designing Playgrounds That Stimulate Child Development: Insights From Architects

When designing a playground or play area, you’ll naturally consider the entertainment value it adds to your or your client’s organization. Whether that’s a restaurant, park or recreation center, place of worship, school, or daycare, you want your playground to be a highlight for kids that keeps them busy for endless hours.

However, playgrounds are also organic learning tools that impact kids in the most positive ways. You can design a playground that stimulates child development in a holistic way, creating a beneficial space for both learning and play.

Table of Contents:

The Role of Playgrounds in Child Development

Playgrounds give kids a place where they can be daring, social, independent, creative and free. Having fun benefits kids, but the impact playgrounds have on child development is even more impactful than one may think. Playgrounds can influence a child’s physical development, social skills, cognitive development and emotional capacity.

The Benefits of Play

Play-based learning is highly beneficial to kids in a variety of ways:

  • Encourages independence: Playgrounds foster independence and boost confidence by allowing kids to explore, take on obstacles and be daring.
  • Builds gross motor skills: Gross motor skills are the foundations of everyday functions such as core strength, coordination and balance. A well-designed playground encourages the use of gross motor skills through using monkey bars, climbing and rope structures and crawling areas.
  • Develops fine motor skills: Fine motor skills are those involving the dexterity of the hand. Writing, assembling puzzles and playing with beads build fine motor skills. Playgrounds improve fine motor skills by building hand strength and agility through grip and coordination.
  • Increases social interactions: Playgrounds are social areas and ideal spaces for kids to engage with one another.
  • Allows for physical activity: Physical play for children helps keep them healthy and strong as they navigate different equipment and experience various kinds of play.
  • Improves emotional awareness: Kids develop emotional awareness through cognitive play as they learn to share and face their own feelings of fear, excitement and joy.

What to Consider When Designing a Playground

Apart from factors like budget, materials and timeframe, you should consider these aspects of designing and building a playground:

  • Safety: Safety is always at the top of the list. Consider safety in every step, including the design, materials and equipment, construction, and facilities. Children and guardians of all abilities should be able to navigate the playground properly and safely.
  • Movement and options: How one part of the play area flows into another is critical to an intuitive design. A sound plan will allow interconnected movements from one structure to another while maintaining negative space and practicality.
  • Purpose: Ask yourself about the primary purpose of your design. Is your playground solely a fun distraction with standard features, or are you aiming to provide a full-on sensory experience for kids? Would you like a simple design or a memorable structure? Consider the elements you can add to your plan to achieve your playground’s purpose.

How to Successfully Design a Stimulating Playground

Design a stimulating playground by following these principles:

Have an Essentials Checklist

Start with a simple checklist so you’re sure you have the fundamentals down:

  • A secure fence
  • Accessibility features
  • Shaded areas
  • An engaging theme (optional)
  • Seating areas
  • Garbage cans

Make It Sensory

Playgrounds with sensory elements encourage kids to experience the world in colors and textures. An effective way of making your playground sensory-oriented is to incorporate suitable loose parts that kids can move stack, take apart or alter according to their interpretations. In playground designs, loose parts can be anything from balls and hoops to rocks and sand. You can also implement parts with auditory stimuli like bells or musical equipment.

Designate Separate Spaces for Separate Uses

Kids are undoubtedly all different, but even one child’s energy levels will vary day by day. Having separate spaces for separate uses helps accommodate kids, whether they are feeling low or high energy. Do you have a quiet place where children can read, color, meditate or chat quietly? Is there enough space between quiet areas and the busy, noisy zones?

Allow for Unstructured Play

Designs that encourage open-ended play break the rules and allow children to take safe risks. Such strategies can positively impact spatial cognition, depth perception and social development. Consider including open-ended spaces where children can play according to their own rules and imaginations.

Add Magical Details

Kids love exploring and discovering hidden gems and surprises. Playgrounds are the backgrounds of rich fantasy worlds, so be intentional in making your design fantastical and exciting with magical little details:

  • Add hidden nooks and crannies.
  • Incorporate eyeholes.
  • Have hiding places.
  • Include levers or handles.
  • Plant hidden paintings or secret messages.
  • Build textured pathways.

View Our Products

Harmonize With the Environment

Children need contact with nature for their well-being. Harmonizing your playground with the natural environment or incorporating elements of nature is a positive way to enhance your design and benefit kids. Adding existing natural features to your plan is a fun undertaking.

You can build around and include trees, logs, stumps, rocks, gardens and hills. Working with existing natural features also benefits your design by:

  • Providing shade and/or shelter.
  • Adding a dimension of sensory elements.
  • Adding extra obstacles and props.

Be Inclusive

Inclusivity is paramount to a successful and innovative design. You want kids of all abilities to enjoy your play area, and you can do so by considering these design aspects:

  • Safety: Safety is important for your business, for parents, and most importantly, for kids. A safe design makes your playground more accessible and enjoyable for kids of all abilities. You may prioritize using soft playground materials and fencing the area off so kids can’t sneak away.
  • Space: Be mindful of kids who may experience sensory overload and create quiet spaces that provide opportunities for independent play.
  • Accessibility: How accessible is your design? Do you have ramps for children who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices? Find creative ways for all children to access your playground and even incorporate fun designs into your access points.

Expert Design Consultation and Playground Services With Soft Play

At Soft Play, we’re a team of experts who strive for excellence, empowering you to give your guests and their kids a positive and memorable experience. With our help, you can create customized interactive play areas to fit your business and its patrons.

We work with you every step of the way to design areas kids of all abilities and ages can enjoy. We offer a wide range of services and products, including ADA-compliant equipment. Start creating your custom playground with play sculptures by requesting a quote now!

Start typing and press Enter to search