How to Pick the Perfect Playground Theme

Picking the best playground theme for your new setup can be a long process if you don’t know where to start. Whether designing a themed indoor playground or outdoor space, you can encourage playfulness and exercise with a fun and refreshing playground theme. Kids in your community will enjoy playing in a space designed with natural elements, fantastical parts or skill-focused and educational themes. Here are 12 ideas to consider when choosing the perfect playground theme.


Read the full article or jump to a specific section:

  1. Think Local
  2. Spark a Memory
  3. Dream it Up
  4. Choose a Story
  5. Pick a Song
  6. Inspire with Artwork
  7. Go with Nature
  8. Try Transportation
  9.  Provide a Stage
  10. Focus on Skill
  11. Surround with Science
  12. Reinvent a Popular Theme

1. Think Local

Consider your local area and what kind of myths, characters, animals or wildlife you can draw on. You can also take inspiration from nature and plants that grow in your area. Perhaps your town has a specific flower that you could plant around the playground or local trees you could incorporate into its setup. You could also use your playground theme to inspire curiosity about local heroes or stories. Build a few pieces that look like local landmarks, or create statues or educational areas that tell visitors about local heroes and their impact on the community.

Your locally themed playground could also be inspired by different parts of the city or town, with names and educational landmarks based on your area’s unique history. If your site doesn’t have any specific heroes you could name, try basing your design on organizations that have positively impacted the community, possibly including the police force, firefighters or emergency responders.

However you incorporate local flair into your playground theme, the community will enjoy connecting to their hometown and learning more about its history while playing and exercising. A locally themed playground will also build community pride. When others from inside or outside of town visit the playground, they will enjoy learning about your area while being encouraged to visit again, increasing their interactions with your community.

Spark a memory

2. Spark a Memory

Many designers are inspired by memories of playgrounds they enjoyed as a kid. Think back to the good old days when playgrounds were made out of wood and you enjoyed the slides, seesaws or sliding bars. While many playgrounds might have been more rickety back then, you can still take inspiration from old or traditional designs and update them with modern materials to create an enjoyable environment for the local kids.

You may also incorporate ideas from trips you’ve taken. For example, perhaps you took a trip to Europe and became inspired by local wildlife or architecture in different countries. Maybe you’ve become inspired by artwork or stories that you saw and read while vacationing in countries in Asia or South America. Wherever you find inspiration, you can incorporate playground elements, structures, colors and designs into your new theme, sparking that memory in yourself and others in your community.

Even if you don’t have any particular memories from a trip or a specific playground, taking elements from your childhood memories can still appeal to kids who use your playground today. Many designers have special or happy childhood memories of playing outside or spending time at the park. Perhaps you remember camping, climbing trees, eating picnics beside a lake or swimming in a pool. If you enjoyed the outdoors as a kid, you can emulate that energy in your current playground theme. Incorporate natural designs and themes with traditional playground materials and styles.

Dream it up

3. Dream It Up

Many kids love to explore and discover new things during playtime. Think back to your childhood and consider what you always wanted to explore as a kid. Was it a fantastical castle with dragons and magic? What about a treehouse with wooden furniture and animal friends? Or perhaps you wanted to explore a spaceship with exciting parts and buttons. Whatever you loved as a kid, many kids today are sure to love exploring too.

Space-Themed Playground Ideas

Kids who love space or the solar system will enjoy a space-themed playground. Consider turning climbing structures into a rocket with fins and windows for kids to play on. Kids can pretend to be astronauts or aliens from another world visiting earth for the first time.

You could also use traditional playground parts and turn them into space elements. For example, round swings can become flying saucers. The jungle gym could be shaped like a meteor or crater on the moon. Spinners can act as spaceships allowing kids to “go into orbit.”

Fantasy-Themed Playground Ideas

Other kids may enjoy fantasy-themed playgrounds that include elements like castles, pirate ships, or superhero-themed play areas. Let kids feel like princesses or princes in a playground designed like a castle, or encourage them to become superheroes with special powers with colorful playground designs and superhero elements.

Adding fantasy elements can encourage active role-play and stimulate kids’ imaginations. They’ll be inspired to make up stories and invite friends to play with them. If you don’t know where to start, think about popular books, shows and movies with fantasy figures or styles you might want to emulate. You can create a theme with a similar style and feel without copying the story.

Choose a story

4. Choose a Story

Another great way to choose a playground theme is to find a story you liked as a kid or still love today. You can base different playground areas on the original story and recreate the book or movie as you see fit. Remember that you will have to consider copyright, as many stories may not be in the public domain, meaning you can’t use their namesake or design freely.

Fairy Tale Design Ideas

While some fairy tales may remain in the public domain, you’ll have to double-check if you can use direct namesakes or designs from the original text. Whatever the case, using techniques and styles from famous fairy tales is a great way to encourage imagination and active play with kids.

For example, you could design a candy-themed play area based on Hansel and Gretel. Build a gingerbread house full of lots of fun candy treats and play parts to explore. Or maybe kids would enjoy a tall structure resembling Rapunzel’s tower. Create slides and rope structures along the building to encourage exercise and interactive play. Some may enjoy a castle structure based on stories like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. This is your chance to incorporate fun animal friends or dragon elements into your play area, enticing kids to play for long periods or imagine themselves as prince or princess.

Fantasy Story Design Ideas

When thinking about your favorite childhood fantasy stories, a few might come to mind. Consider books and movies like “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit” or even “Harry Potter.” While you most likely will not be allowed to use direct designs or names from the series, you can incorporate similar elements you enjoyed as a kid. For example, maybe kids in your area would like a wizard-themed playground or a play area with fantastical creatures like dragons or elves.

Famous Writers Design Ideas

Many kids enjoyed books by famous children’s book authors, like Roald Dahl or Dr. Suess. While considering copyright is just as important with these stories, you could take inspiration from your favorite stories, like the candy room in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” or the colorful designs and abstract styles of Dr. Suess’s books.

Pick a song

5. Pick a Song

If you want to base your playground theme on a favorite childhood song or rhyme, you will have to consider copyright again. Many lullabies or hopscotch songs may be public domain, but it is always good practice to double-check before basing your entire theme on the song.

You could also include musical elements in your style. For example, try painting steps to look like piano keys or adding interactive elements that make music. Some engaging nursery rhymes, lullabies or songs to base your design on include the following:

  • “Mary Had a Little Lamb”: Consider adding sheep designs or colorful elements based on the original story.
  • “Baa Baa Black Sheep”: Besides adding sheep designs, you could incorporate different musical elements to balance out the theme.
  • “Bingo”: Try using many different animal designs and play parts if you feel inspired by this song.
  • “Rockabye Baby”: A baby or sleep-themed playground might fit right in with this kind of nursery song.
  • “Little Teapot”: A tea-themed playground might be unique and refreshing for your local community.
  • “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”: If inspired by this song, you could design a star- or space-themed playground.

6. Inspire With Artwork

If you love art, you could choose a specific painting or famous artist you enjoy and base your design on their pieces. Consider a theme surrounding the artwork’s setting, objects or color schemes. For example, those who love Vincent Van Gogh may be inspired by his “Starry Night” painting and incorporate deep blues and spiraled yellow stars in their design. Or perhaps you prefer his “Sunflowers” paintings and want to include bright yellow colors and flower designs in your play area.

Whichever artist you enjoy, make the inspiration evident so parents can enjoy the theme with their kids. You could even consider including educational elements so families can learn about the artist while playing together.

Go with nature

7. Go With Nature

One of the best themes you can choose for your new playground is one that incorporates natural elements, possibly including the following:

  • Zoo: An animal-themed playground allows you to take inspiration from zebras, elephants, giraffes, lions and tigers.
  • Countries: Create a theme inspired by the nature found in a specific country or famous cities, such as London, France, South Korea, Japan, Italy or Hong Kong.
  • Jungle: Create a jungle-themed playground with green roofs and vine ropes for climbing — incorporate animals like toucans, sloths, tigers or frogs.
  • Farmyard: A farm-inspired playground can have structures that look like barns or hay bales, with animal play areas and features based on pigs, cows, horses or sheep.
  • Ocean: With an ocean-themed playground, the designer could build structures inspired by underwater fish and animals like sharks, jellyfish or octopuses.

Kids who haven’t yet visited these locations or enjoy the zoo or beach a lot will find the area fascinating. Another way to incorporate nature is to include the natural foliage and plant life in your community. Because many playgrounds are outdoors, you can combine the space with nature by using bushes, landscapes and trees in your area. Some like to build a playground around existing trees and plants, which is an excellent option should budgeting be a concern.

Other designers might consider creating nature-like play parts, such as leaf rooftops, panels with wood-grain designs or rock climbers. Encourage kids to climb mountains and trees or include interactive elements like maps and animals to encourage imaginative play.

8. Try Transportation

Kids can’t experience the feeling of driving or flying, so building a playground with transportation elements, such as cars, trains, boats, spaceships or planes might appeal to them.

Some transportation designs may include the following:

  • Panels: Consider unique paneling depending on your transportation theme. For example, you could use railroad wheels or window panels for a train or futuristic panels to emulate a space station. Wood grain panels give the impression of a boat or a pirate ship, with paneling that allows for windows or portholes. You could even incorporate anchors into the paneling to create a unique boat design.
  • Climbers: Climbers in train or boat designs help kids explore the transportation features while imagining themselves as drivers.
  • Roofs: Create roofs with unique features to emulate a space station, train, car or boat sails. However you choose to use roofs, kids will feel fully immersed in the transportation structure.
  • Flags: Flags can create an immersive feeling, especially on boat designs, where sails and draping can create an authentic experience.

Provide a stage

9. Provide a Stage

One of the best ways to get kids excited about playgrounds is to give them a place to role-play. Giving them a specific setting and props can immerse them in playtime while encouraging them to interact with their peers and friends.

From fantastical castles to mythical heroes and pirate ships, kids enjoy playing in areas where they can set the stage and create their own stories. Here are some unique playground themes to inspire imagination within the kids in your community:

  • A wrecked pirate ship: Inspire kids to explore the wreckage and climb over buried structures. Use interesting designs like skulls and crossbones or anchors and mermaids.
  • A treasure-inspired theme: Along with a pirate ship design, you could include designs based on a treasure chest with gold and silver colors.
  • A castle with a moat: Encourage kids to pretend to storm the castle, ride horses or travel over the moat.
  • A magical forest and treehouse: Build a treehouse in a whimsical shape or create forest structures with fairy tale elements.
  • Food-inspired designs: Make a slide shaped like a banana or climbing structures in the shape of apples, burgers or pears.

10. Focus on Skill

Creating a playground that helps encourage interactions with structures and moving parts can be good for kids. Many studies show that interacting with climbing structures or moving features can improve a kid’s skills and growth. According to the CDC, it encourages healthy development and activity when kids practice moderate or vigorous physical exercise for an hour each day.

Playing at a playground can give kids a full-body workout that strengthens the arms, torso and legs. Even the cardiovascular and circulatory systems may benefit from playgrounds, as the blood flow improves with increased activity.

When you focus your playground structures on physical skill development, you may also improve the following:

  • Flexibility: Improve flexibility and balance with features like climbers.
  • Motor skills: Encourage kids to develop their dexterity, hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
  • Control: Teach kids to control their movements with interactive play features and challenging structures.
  • Heart and lungs: The heart and lung functions will strengthen with increased activity.
  • Muscles: Build stronger muscles by working out the legs, arms and core.
  • Immune system: Improve kids’ immune systems and functions.
  • Obesity and diabetes: Exercise can lower the risk of childhood diabetes or obesity.

With these areas improved, kids in your community will likely become happier and healthier. Use features like slides, climbers and swings to encourage healthy and active play. Kids can develop speed, strength, balance or coordination while enjoying a fun play structure with interactive features.

Surround with science

11. Surround With Science

Surrounding your local community with playgrounds based on science can help kids learn about different scientific terms and experiences. For example, you could create a botany, chemistry or physics-inspired play area. Choose other play structures that help educate kids through immersive and interactive experiences.

For example, kids might learn about the following scientific terms and languages:

  • Motion and force: Teach kids about motion and force through moving structures, slides or seesaws.
  • Ramps: Ramps allow kids to teach themselves about balance and flexibility.
  • Animal life: Creating an animal-themed playground lets you educate kids about local wildlife or animals worldwide.
  • Gravity: Kids can learn about gravity when climbing tall structures or walls.
  • Momentum: Swings and moving structures teach kids about momentum and speed.
  • Balance: Teach kids about balance through climbers, ropes, ramps or bars.
  • Light: Some play designs may allow you to teach kids about lights and shadows through uniquely placed holes or windows.

Reinvent a popular theme

If any of those ideas don’t interest you, you could always recreate popular playground designs to your liking. Kids will still enjoy your design, even if you weren’t the first to develop the idea. Reinventing old themes gives you the freedom to add elements that are uniquely your contribution.

Some of the most popular playground themes include the following:

  • Tropical: Incorporate palm trees or recreate a tropical rainforest with animals and plants. You could also make a cabana. Tropical pieces may fit well in naturally warmer areas close to the beach.
  • Underwater: Many kids enjoy an underwater-themed playground. Use blue turf and structures that resemble seaweed or coral. You can also include animal designs like fish, octopuses, turtles, whales and more. To make the area more unique, include a climbing structure that resembles a shipwreck.
  • Farmyard: For rural areas, kids may enjoy a play structure that appears as a barn or tractor. You can also include animal designs like cows, chickens, horses and pigs.
  • City: A miniature city will encourage kids to role-play and interact with peers and friends. You can build structures in the shape of a fire station, post office or hospital. To add local flair, include designs inspired by local landmarks to inspire community pride.

Create a themed playground with Soft Play

Create a Themed Playground With Soft Play®

Soft Play® is the global leader in manufacturing contained playground products and equipment. Since 1984, we’ve dedicated ourselves to providing fun forms of play through our innovative designs and installations. With structures in over 60 countries, Soft Play offers reliable and accessible equipment to create an inclusive and diverse community. Contact us today to speak to a representative.

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