Designing children’s playgrounds can be fun and highly fulfilling. You help provide spaces that encourage young ones to engage in physical activity, socialization, and creative play. All of these things can improve a child’s developmental health and combat the effects of excessive screen time.

Whether you’re participating in the design of a local neighborhood park or elementary school playground, there is much to consider. The space needs to be safe, fun, and appealing for children of various ages and physical abilities. Here are five tips for designing exceptional play spaces for kids.

1. Put Safety and Regulations First

Safety should be at the forefront of your mind when designing any type of children’s play space. Careful playground design can help minimize injuries and give parents peace of mind when taking their kids to the park. It can also reduce liability risk, so you or your client are less likely to be held financially accountable for playground accidents. There are many things to consider when designing safety-conscious play areas. 

You’ll need to ensure swing sets are far enough away from all other play areas. Make sure that all play equipment is properly anchored to the ground to prevent tipping or movement during use. Providing adequate cushioning material, such as wood chips or rubber mulch, underneath play equipment can help minimize the risk of injury from falls as well. 

Refer to the American Society for Testing and Materials International for playground surfacing rules. The Americans with Disabilities Act also has regulations that prohibit discriminatory playground design. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission lists voluntary playground safety measures you can follow as well. Don’t forget to check all local and state playground regulations very carefully before finalizing your design plans.

2. Ensure Good Flow of Spaces

The way a playground is laid out can impact its user-friendliness. Playgrounds that flow well help enhance physical activity and enjoyment. It’s important to have various play areas so kids don’t feel crowded in one space. But it’s also important to connect the various play areas somehow so kids can easily move from one portion of the playground to the next. This will help ensure optimal use of every inch of space.

One of the best ways to maintain easy movement between spaces is to create pathways that connect all parts of the playground. You can section off parts of different spaces within the playground with fencing and other safety features. This will help keep kids reigned in, so they don’t escape the playground without their parents’ notice. But if you do this, make sure there are large enough openings from one area to the next to accommodate a free flow of movement.

3. Incorporate Natural Elements

Some of the best parks in the world incorporate natural elements into their play spaces. Nature is soothing, educational, and adds to the beauty of any space. Additionally, studies show that children tend to engage in more creative play behaviors on playgrounds that incorporate natural elements. If you’re designing an outdoor playground, consider the natural elements that are already in the space. See if there’s a way to include some of them in your design plans rather than demolishing them.

For example, large trees can naturally shade benches and other seating areas. Flower gardens can enhance quiet pathways or sensory playgrounds for children with autism or other special needs. You can even use the natural topography of a space to create gradual elevation changes in your playground. If you’re designing an indoor playground, consider bringing in live plants and trees to help oxygenate and enliven the space.  

4. Carefully Select Material for Play Areas

In addition to selecting playground materials that meet local regulations, it’s also important to consider materials that enhance play. For example, ground surfaces should be durable, safe, and comfortable. In areas where kids are likely to jump from playground equipment, take care to install the most shock-absorbing surface possible. Some good options include shredded rubber, wood chips, and synthetic turf.

When selecting playground material, consider the environment, as well. You would never want to place a metal side in direct sunlight. However, if you’re creating an all-inclusive indoor playground, metal slides might be a good option. Because they generate less static, metal slides don’t interfere with cochlear implants as much as plastic slides do. These are just a few of the possible factors you might consider when selecting material for play areas.  

5. Create an Inclusive Space

Creating an inclusive space is one of the most important things you can do for playground participation. Families want spaces where their children of all ages and abilities can play effortlessly together. To create a play area like this, you’ll need to include games and structures that appeal to all children. There are many ways to do this, from installing wheelchair-friendly equipment to creating age-specific play spaces near each other.  

Don’t forget to include a wide variety of play attractions to allow for creative freedom. You might dedicate one section to educational games and learning opportunities. Another section could include durable outdoor chimes and other musical features. A few hidden tunnels or passageways here or there can engage children’s imaginations and spark creative play as well.

Playgrounds are natural gathering places that spark creativity, excitement, and self-esteem. A well-designed playground can help children develop socially, physically, and emotionally. Use these design tips to create fun and appealing play spaces for kids of all ages and abilities.