I’ve spent a lot of time on playgrounds in my life. In fact, I’ve made a job of it. And knowing how important it is for kids to get a well-balanced, daily “diet” of movement – the right kind of movement and lots of it -- I’ve developed a view to what constitutes a great playground. And it starts with the ground itself!
TOP 10 THINGS TO LOOK FOR IN A GREAT PLAYGROUND
IMPORTANT NOTE: Local playground safety standards and legislation vary from country to country and state to state. Please consult with your local authorities before making any enhancements to your playground.
Most playgrounds are flat as a pancake, no doubt carefully leveled to insure safe installation of large scale equipment. And that’s all fine, but, if there’s room and you don’t have one already, I’d recommend adding a small, grass-covered hill or mound. For kids, there’s something irresistible about scampering to the top of just about anything. Maybe it makes them feel bigger, or maybe it’s the “because it’s there” nature of things meant to be climbed, but whatever the reason, I’ve never seen a playground “hill” fail to become the center of attention while provide great vestibular, proprioceptive, and mid-line development at the same time.
A gentle slope of about 30-40 degrees should make the uphill climb challenging and downhill return (running or rolling) enough to get up some momentum. And all you really need is some dirt and grass seed and within a few weeks, you’ll have a “hill” you can be proud of!
Playing in nature is your first, best option for developing a healthy, movement curriculum. Trees are nature’s monkeybars and if you’ve got a good climbing tree nearby, take advantage of it. For little ones, hang a swing or twing and let them have fun. For older kids, supervised climbing will build physical strength and self confidence.
3. SMART COURSES (MODULAR ELEMENTS)
While the large-scale installations on playgrounds are great for repetitive activities that build confidence through practice, it’s essential to create new challenges from time to time. And that’s where Smart Courses can make a big difference. Smaller-scale, modular play elements can be arranged in myriad ways to create exciting new experiences for kids. And you don’t need a lot to get a lot out of the pieces you have. Here are five great additions to help change up the play…
A-Frames (to make bridges and tunnels)
There is no better large-frame playground installation for developing the vestibular system (balance) and proprioceptive (spatial) sense than monkeybars. Climbing, hanging (right side up or upside down), and swinging builds upper body strength and midline coordination while challenging children to move in new and creative ways.
Swings create big sensations of movement and freedom – a child’s first true taste of flying -- while helping them fine-tune their balance and sense of rhythm and timing.
Controlled spinning is critical to children’s vestibular development so a merry-go-round or any other type of spinning apparatus should be a fixture on every playground.
A simple, sturdy board can be the source of hours of innovative movement activities. Be sure to design it to be modular so it can be raised or lowered for children at different skill levels.
Tunnels provide essential spatial awareness development (proprioception) while giving children wonderful, safe places to hide!
It takes two and it takes practice to work out how to push up and down to make the see-saw go. Sensations of weight and balance are naturally developed while children take turns giving each other rides!
Whoosh! The sense of speed a slide provides gives children a thrill, and encourages them to keep moving! And when they’re ready, try sliding in different ways to see what that feels like!
While those are my top 10, there are dozens of other great elements that can round out your playground including…
Twings (spinning bar)
Sand Boxes & Water Play Areas
Rope Ladders, Bridges, and Cargo Nets
Cubby Spaces (little spaces for little ones to be by themselves for while)
Sensory Pathways (full of different textures to explore)
And finally, whether your playground is in the middle of a city or out in the countryside, be sure to introduce as much nature as you can. Trees, grass, flowers, and shrubs all serve to create a more natural and wondrous environment for the best time of every day… playtime!
The Moving Smart team works directly with schools, preschools, swim schools, and parents to create innovative movement programmes and curricula. Moving Smart transforms indoor/outdoor play time into integrated, developmentally rich (and fun) experiences for children, ages 0-12.