“Play is so integral to childhood that a child who does not have the opportunities to play is cut off from a major portion of childhood.” – Caroline Ramsey Musselwhite
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” -Kay Redfield Jamison
No one who has ever been a child would dispute the joy and gratification of play. But part of the continuing inspiration of playing is novelty. And this means the need to introduce variety and newness to play.
Many playground designers and manufacturers strive to develop new and innovative changes and additions to playground equipment. Some of the more popular recent trends have included technology, sustainability and musical elements.
Along with a growing emphasis on inclusivity, new playground design encourages discovery, imagination and community.
Five Ideas and Trends for Playground Design
A great strategy for actively-used playgrounds is to change things up a bit periodically. This not only gives an ongoing sense of freshness to your facility, but it encourages more play and more interest among your guests.
Here are some ideas and trends to consider:
Inclusive Playground Environments
We’ve explored this topic in previous articles here and the trend of incorporating inclusive elements in playground environments is growing. Much of this effort is based on the requirements of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public places.
Modern playground concepts incorporate inclusive components and design that enable and encourage all children to play and discover. The basis for much of this innovation comes from the Universal Design movement. In 2012, The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access expanded the definition of the principles of universal design to include social participation and health and wellness.
What this looks like in actual practice is avoiding separate sections for special needs or handicapped children and adults. In addition, play equipment is designed to equally challenge and engage all visitors.
The standard principles of inclusive playground design:
- Be fair. Play environments are designed to allow everyone to participate equally.
- Be included. Everyone is included, regardless of diverse abilities.
- Be smart. The play environment is easy to understand.
- Be independent. All children can play independently and at their own level.
- Be safe. Playgrounds meet current safety standards, while remaining challenging.
- Be active. The environment supports physical activities.
- Be comfortable. The playground is usable for people with all needs, including sensory, size, and mobility needs.
These seven principles of inclusive design enable children of all backgrounds and ability levels to enjoy themselves equally.
Musical sound-producing elements are being incorporated into playground equipment design. The idea behind this trend is that these features help to stimulate motor and cognitive development in children. The types of “instruments” include fire alarm-style bells, percussion instruments and various types of chimes.
These components can also be large, stand-alone equipment such as musical sculptures or play walls with various instruments built into them.
According to one source,
“Just as taste, textures and colours aid a child’s sensory development, so does music. Exposing your child to different types of music can help create more pathways between the cells in their brains. This effect increases even more when you link music to different activities such as dancing.”
Musical instruments, even those that are part of a playground, can help children develop social, physical, and mental capabilities. Playing with musical elements in a playground can stimulate tactile, visual, and auditory processes in children.
Bluetooth beacons are simple devices that have been around for a while but became more widespread after Apple released its iBeacon protocol in 2013. Afterwards, their use has increased as businesses and developers continued to develop new ways to use the technology.
The beacons can be mounted in parks and playgrounds at different locations. The beacons use Bluetooth technology to connect with visitor’s cell phones and relay location-based information back to them.
An article from NovelBits.io notes that,
“Disneyland Resort uses Bluetooth beacons to help guests navigate and use the theme parks and its resorts. This gives users the ability to use an interactive map with relevant and real-time offerings that a physical map cannot replicate.
When the app is downloaded and BLE access is granted on the user’s phone, the visitor’s time at the theme park is customized based on personal preferences and any additional data given to Disneyland.
Many airports, museums, sports stadiums, and shopping malls are also utilizing Bluetooth beacons for this same purpose.”
The possibilities for playgrounds are exciting and the potential uses are still being explored.
Green, or Sustainable Play Areas
As one company in New Zealand states,
“Play spaces and green spaces often go hand in hand. However, as we continue our quest for a cleaner, greener environment for the next generation, there are even higher expectations regarding the incorporation of green spaces into urban planning and design. This flows over into playground design, placing nature-based play and equipment made from sustainably sourced and even recycled materials on the ‘must have’ list.”
Sustainability can include a focus on eco-friendly playground equipment, surfacing options, and materials. Because both sustainable and recycled materials are popular materials for playground equipment, this promises to be a growing trend. These products often use high-density polyethylene, or HDPE for playground equipment.
Where does the plastic come from?
“Today, playground equipment can be made from recycled milk jugs. The jugs are cleaned, flattened, and shredded. This material is then heated to bond the plastic, and a coloring agent is added in order to provide uniformity and create a fun, dynamic piece of playground equipment. After that, a machine cuts the recycled plastic using specifications for playground equipment, ejecting plastic in various post sizes that can then be cut to length and used to construct swing sets and other equipment as part of a plastic playground.”
In addition, the use of recycled rubber products and natural, sustainable wood is increasing.
Also known as theme-based designs, destination playgrounds are not actually new, but incorporating elements into smaller, neighborhood or school and church playgrounds is a growing trend.
[photo credit: 510families.com]
This can be as simple as adopting an overall theme such as an Old West town or a jungle location. The themed elements in the playgrounds can inspire pretend play and keep children engaged for hours. The Play and Playground Encyclopedia notes that,
“Many destination playgrounds are custom-designed to incorporate features from the natural environment or to highlight local history or culture.”
At Playgrounds Etc we are experts at innovative playground installation and design and offer a wide range of inclusive playground equipment. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to discuss more or call us on 1-866-461-2814.