Playgrounds are essential spaces for schools, and children’s development, socialisation, and enjoyment. However, not all playgrounds are created equally. In this article from the Education Matters March edition, Willplay’s Nathan Lee explains the ins and outs of what makes a playground great.
“A well-designed playground should have a variety of age-appropriate play elements and should include swings, slides, climbing structures and other activities that engage and entertain children,” says Mr Nathan Lee, General Manager of WillPlay. “It should also include an accessible layout, with plenty of circulation space for children to move freely while playing independently or with friends.”
Playgrounds vary widely in their design, material, and manufacturing location, which has a significant impact on their play value, environmental impact, and overall quality.
A quote from Ms Emma Prout from Zone Landscape Architecture expresses this well: “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 is not only safe, but also durable and long-lasting, according to Mr Lee.
“The material used to make it is one of the essential factors that influence the quality of a playground. Playgrounds are commonly made of plastic, metal, or wood, and each material has its pros and cons. For example, play equipment with plastic components tends to be more durable and requires minimal maintenance,” he explains.
“On the other hand, wooden playgrounds can be eco-friendly and have a natural aesthetic, but they’re more susceptible to wear and tear, and usually require expensive annual maintenance.”
Furthermore, he notes that aluminium and stainless steel are preferred materials over mild steel, as manufacturers can offer longer warranties when premium materials are used.
“When it comes to choosing equipment that is suitable for the age and ability of the children who will be using it, a playground for older children should have higher access, taller climbing structures and more challenging play areas. While a playground for younger children may have lower access, more activity-based play and sensory and musical elements,” says Mr Lee.
The impact on the environment and designing a play area to suit the local environmental conditions are other essential considerations when designing and building playgrounds, he adds.
“The materials used to construct the playground should be eco-friendly and sustainable. Playgrounds made of recycled materials, such as plastic and timber/plastic composites, can reduce waste and help protect the environment. Additionally, playgrounds should be designed with the local environmental factors in mind, such as using natural shade or well-planned tree planting to ensure sun safety and keep surfaces cool.”
Recyclability is another crucial factor to consider, according to Mr Lee.
“Playgrounds should be designed with the end of their useful life in mind, and the materials should be easily recyclable. This can reduce waste and make it easier to dispose of the playground once it’s no longer in use.”
As an example, Mr Lee explains that WillPlay uses recycled plastic and timber/ plastic composites, wherever possible, and every material used is recyclable at end of life.
He concludes that the play value of a playground is perhaps the most critical factor in determining its success.
“A playground that is engaging and fun will be more likely to attract and engage children. Whereas poorly designed, one-off, custom designed play elements can often look great on paper but can lack actual play value. Remember, not all playgrounds are created equally, but the greatest test is what the kids think. Play is for kids and they usually know what they like.”
To learn more, visit: https://www.willplay.com.au/
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