Tips for Designing Socially Distanced Play Areas

These days, the term “social distancing” has become part of our regular vocabulary. It’s what we’ve used to describe the physical distance we’ve kept from one another to maintain health and safety during a pandemic. But how can this term apply to playgrounds and other play areas?

Social distancing is possible to achieve in a playground design and can make for some creative new ideas for play areas. Playtime is incredibly important to children. If you want to create a play area that still follows social distancing guidelines, discover useful tips on socially distanced play area designs below.

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What Are Socially Distanced Playgrounds?

In a world where everything is socially distanced, we can and should include play spaces in the conversation. After all, playgrounds have been gathering places for kids and families for decades, offering an opportunity for kids to interact socially, learn and play together. With the way kids naturally play, a socially distanced playground may sound more like an oxymoron. In fact, many parents, educators and experts originally thought the best solution would be to avoid playgrounds altogether.

But playgrounds are key to kids’ health and development in so many ways. Kids need to be able to play and just be kids as much as possible. Play offers benefits for physical health and development, as well as mental, social and emotional health. Playtime can also relieve kids’ stress during a pandemic and allows them to process emotions and develop coping mechanisms.

Play spaces are the perfect place for all of this to happen. So it’s quite clear that kids need access to play areas to enjoy. Luckily, playground time is possible with a few safety precautions, like social distancing and hand-washing.

You may still be wondering just how social distancing is possible at a play area or what a socially distanced playground is. Even with the way playgrounds are designed and the way kids play, social distancing is possible. Play equipment manufacturers and designers have been incredibly creative and thoughtful about new playground designs that incorporate elements of social distancing and provide new ways for playing safely.

Socially distanced playgrounds utilize specialized elements that promote safe distancing in a way that still allows kids to play. Several play elements encourage creative and fun playtime while kids are still able to maintain their distance. Some even allow for interactions and collaborative play while still at a distance.

How to Design Socially Distanced Playgrounds

Many industries have gotten creative about providing products and services that meet the needs for health and safety, including ways to encourage social distancing. Playgrounds are no exception to this idea. Designers have come up with all sorts of unique and creative ideas for making new play areas and updating existing ones to fit in with social distancing guidelines while still allowing kids to play.

There are so many amazing solutions for making playgrounds safe for social distancing. Let’s take a closer look at some of these great ideas.

Pop-Up Mini Playgrounds

Pop up mini playgrounds

One way some cities are encouraging social distancing is with smaller playgrounds placed in more locations rather than having fewer, centralized locations with larger playgrounds. It may not be feasible to simply create brand-new areas all over a city suddenly or to dismantle larger playgrounds. But there are some creative solutions that offer compromises to encourage social distancing.

One of these solutions is to utilize a small pop-up play area. These mini playgrounds move to different neighborhoods each week or month or are temporarily set up during a pandemic. Smaller playground pods can be set up, distanced from other play areas in parks, on other areas of public land or in public buildings.

The city of Oakland, California, has even closed down some low-traffic city streets to car traffic to allow citizens more room for recreation. They can use these closed-down streets for walking, biking, running and playing while maintaining a safe distance. Some of these closed streets also feature small playground areas, spaced appropriately for safe play.

Similar small playground pods can be placed on small areas of land throughout any city to spread out the play equipment and provide little bits of fun and recreation to more people. Families can enjoy finding all of the different play structures in their neighborhood while out on walks. Public buildings with enough indoor space can also host these small play spaces.

To implement pop-up socially distanced playgrounds in your area, you can consider placing play equipment components throughout a public area. Even after a pandemic, these components will draw visitors in to these public locations and offer something fun for kids to enjoy.

Individual Play Concept

Another solution to creating socially distanced playgrounds involves a brand-new concept, thought up by two German designers. These creative designers, Martin Binder and Claudio Rimmele, came up with the idea to re-imagine play spaces for these unique times. Their concept creates spaces where children are easily separated from one another for social distancing practices, but the playgrounds can still be interactive, beautiful and engaging.

This innovative playground concept features have separate areas for play that look like giant lily pads, each having its own gated entrance to control the flow of children. The pads or platforms are spaced at a safe distance from one another. But they contain elements that offer interactive opportunities with other pads so kids can still socialize and collaborate with one another. These elements include fun ideas like voice tubes, seesaws and other unique interactive games.

To achieve a similar design concept for your socially distanced play area, use modular installations spaced out appropriately with paths and individual entrances to various components.

Qualities of a Socially Distanced Playground

It’s easy to see that there are many different ways to provide fun, creative playground time to kids while still maintaining social distance. What all socially distanced play spaces have in common are a few core concepts, some of which can be interpreted differently and customized for each play area solution. Here are some of the basic qualities of a good socially distanced playground:

Easy-To-Maintain Safe Distances

Easy-to-maintain safe distances

One of the most important concepts is that the playground makes it easy for kids and families to maintain a safe distance from others. You can accomplish this goal in a variety of ways, whether the play space itself is divided into smaller sections or with certain modifications. Make careful adjustments to existing play spaces or considerations for a new design to make staying socially distant possible and simple.

Dividers on the Ground

Often, children have a hard time visualizing that recommended 6-foot distance and may need some more concrete clues. At stores and libraries, you may see colored tape on the floor delineating safe distances while standing in line. At the playground, you can also use simple dividers to serve as visual reminders of socially distanced spaces.

These dividers can be creative and bold with color and design, as well, since they’re going in a kid-friendly area. Some parks and playgrounds are using colored tape or paint on the ground to create fun designs that also hint at individual play areas for kids or families. They can be fun designs, organic shapes or ones that change throughout the day with projected patterns from above.

Modular Play Elements

An easy way to create an adaptable play area that works during a pandemic or any other time is to choose modular playground elements. This decision allows any playground to size up or down as needed. You can have several smaller play areas or combine areas for a much larger play space. Modular play elements also make it easier to upgrade your play space later, adding on as needed.

Moveable Play Elements

While some types of playgrounds are more permanently installed, others have pieces that are more easily moved around. Including at least some moveable elements in your playground design gives you the ability to change up your play space easily. This versatility can be handy simply to create a change of scenery any time you want and to help engage kids’ creativity. But it’s also perfect for pandemic times when you need to space out the play area more to keep social distances between kids.

Easy-To-Clean Materials and Surfaces

Just as important as safe social distancing is proper hygiene and cleanliness. Any choices you can make to ensure play equipment is easier to clean is a huge plus for playground design. Choose play structures with easy-to-reach surfaces when adults clean them by hand or with sprayers. You can then implement various ways to clean a playground to benefit visitors.

If you plan on using cleaning chemicals on your playground regularly, check with your play equipment manufacturer first. Ensure the cleaning solutions you want to use are safe for the playground surfaces and won’t degrade the materials.

Sanitizer or Disinfectant Stations

Sanitizer or disinfectant stations

Consider adding in a sanitizing station with dispensers for hand sanitizer as a convenient option for families. Another option would be to provide disinfectant or sanitizing wipes so parents can easily wipe down an area of play equipment before or after use. For a larger location, consider offering multiple stations where these cleaning products are available for families. If you choose to offer sanitizing wipes, be sure to have waste bins nearby to maintain a clean playground.


One of the easiest and most affordable solutions for making a playground more conducive to social distancing is to simply add in some signage with gentle reminders. It can include reminders about staying 6 feet apart from others, staying home if you are sick and remembering to wash hands before and after playground time. You can also direct families to your sanitizing stations or any other special features with your signage. Make the signs fun and colorful to attract the eye and keep the playground enjoyable.

Supervision and Direction From Adults

Properly socially distancing can be difficult for kids, especially younger ones. They may not remember to do it correctly or may not understand what it means to socially distance or even how much 6 feet really is. Adult supervision is key for any playground situation and is even more important to maintain social distancing.

On public playgrounds, it is up to the parents to watch their own kids and help direct them in safe playtime. But at other places such as schools, places of worship or private businesses, dedicated playground monitors should be considered. Having an adult in charge can help ensure safety and facilitate playtime. Playground monitors can lead children in specific games and activities that are pre-planned to help them learn about social distancing and maintain it while playing.

How Soft Play® Can Help

For years, Soft Play has been providing creative play equipment to all sorts of businesses and organizations. Our specialized play equipment packages and modular units are customizable and scalable for any shape and size play area, making them ideal for many of the qualities listed above. Two of our most popular collections are perfect for socially distanced play area ideas:

  • Elementz: The Elementz line from Soft Play features bright colors and fun, organic shapes for young kids to explore. You can choose from individual elements or package options that are great for any sized space. These fun pieces have a modern, bold look that’s great in any setting and are endlessly customizable. The flexibility means you can choose the size of play area you want, as well as the play pieces. Flooring, seating and surrounding walls are also options.
  • Pick and Play™: If you want a fun theme for your play area featuring animals and natural elements, Pick and Play from Soft Play is the answer. This adorable play equipment collection features Toonies — Soft Play’s exclusive animal friends that kids will love! Choose from animal themes like jungle, garden, aquatic, woodland and monster and build your play area in several shapes and sizes. This option provides for lots of imaginative and engaging play for kids and can fit just about any setting.

Browse Soft Play socially distant playgrounds

Browse the Selection at Soft Play Today

If you want to add or upgrade a play area in your business or organization, Soft Play has the solutions for you. No matter your budget or the size of your space, we can find a play area that’s right for you and your guests. Our fun, creative designs are perfect for sparking the imaginations of kids and families. And our modular, movable designs are ideal for social distancing or any customizing or rearranging you need.

Browse our selection online today to see all of our amazing play equipment options, and get in touch with us to request a quote for your unique play area project.

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