The science and art of crafting the perfect playground - Education Matters Magazine
Beyond the Classroom, Outdoor Education, Physical Education

The science and art of crafting the perfect playground

Playgrounds are often seen as hallowed grounds of joy, learning, and social development for children. But not all playgrounds are created equal. The design, materials, and location of manufacture often determines their quality, longevity, environmental impact, and not to mention, the sheer fun they promise.

A top-notch playground should display an assortment of suitable play elements for all age groups. From swings and slides to climbing structures, every feature should stimulate engagement and elation for children.

The layout too should encourage independent play or socialising, letting young minds explore freely.

Ms Emma Prout from Zone Landscape Architecture says playground design is a complex process taking into account budgets, available space, the natural environment and detailed consultation with the client and the equipment manufacturer.

Good playground equipment marries safety with durability. The choice of materials – plastic, metal, or wood – offer their unique advantages, each playing a crucial role in shaping the playground’s quality.

For instance, plastic components are durable with low maintenance needs, but wooden ones, while eco-friendly, need regular maintenance. Selecting premium materials like aluminium and stainless steel adds longevity and safety to the playground.

Mr Nathan Lee, general manager of WillPlay, explains the manufacturer’s choice of materials.

“Our structural elements are all aluminium and stainless steel, eliminating the problems of rust and the need for expensive maintenance on timber elements,” he says.

WillPlay’s structural elements are made from aluminium and stainless steel, eliminating the need for expensive maintenance. Image: WillPlay

An all-embracing playground not only reflects the age of its users, but also their different abilities. It’s critical to introduce elements that appeal to children across a variety of developmental stages and physical capabilities.

Inclusion and accessibility should be at the heart of the playground design. Considerations for older children might include higher access points, taller climbing structures, and more challenging play areas. For younger children, lower access points, more activity-based play, and sensory and musical elements might be appropriate.

Importantly, playgrounds should also be mindful of children with varying physical and cognitive abilities. Ramps for wheelchair users, sensory play equipment for children with sensory processing disorders, and safe, quiet spaces for those who might become overwhelmed offer an inclusive play experience.

This approach ensures every child, regardless of age or ability, will find the playground inviting, engaging, and most importantly, fun.

WillPlay’s playground in the prep area at a school in Bundaberg East, Queensland. Image: WillPlay

The origin of playground equipment plays a pivotal role in its quality and safety standards.

Lee from WillPlay says that while some imported products may be inviting due to their design or price point, not all imported systems meet the Australian standards, and spare parts may not be available in Australia causing expensive and time-consuming equipment closures. He says it’s equally important to assess the manufacturer’s reputation for quality and safety.

“Choosing Australian manufactured playground equipment holds a significant advantage – not only are you assured of compliance with domestic safety standards, but you’re also actively supporting local businesses,” he says.

“Purchasing from Australian manufacturers means you’re contributing directly to the Australian economy, supporting the livelihoods of the individuals and families who work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring joy to our children.”

Lee continues: “Moreover, choosing local suppliers could save time and money as sourcing replacement parts can be much quicker and more straight forward compared to dealing with offshore suppliers.”

He says opting for Australian-made promises a trifecta of benefits – superior quality, local economic support, and robust after-sales service.

Eco-friendly designs and materials can help playgrounds strike a balance with the environment. Using strategies like natural shade structures and selecting materials that are recyclable ensures sustainability.

“As a manufacturer, WillPlay uses recycled plastic and timber/plastic composites where possible, ensuring that our play and fitness equipment is sustainable and every material used is recyclable at end of life,” Lee says.

Designing a playground is both art and science, and meticulously considering a multitude of factors can make the difference between a run-of-the-mill playground and a standout one. It’s not merely play – it’s about crafting an enchanting world of exploration and growth, where not all playgrounds are created equal.

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