Find a printable version here
Guest Column - April 2016

Playgrounds

Make Your Mark With Playground Design

By Scott Roschi


Whether realized or not, design affects our perceptions and experiences. Our environment influences how we engage, learn and develop. A playground is a social space. And every child is different. It's important to design playgrounds with these differences in mind, in ways that respect and honor each pathway, while offering fun and exciting new challenges. There's nothing better than seeing a child's curiosity rewarded with the joy of discovery.

Designing a playground is not a one-size-fits-all process. Search for a playground manufacturer that will collaborate with you to create something that you'll be proud of for years to come. When you're looking for a partner to help bring your playground dreams to life, look for a commercial playground equipment manufacturer that performs all of their design, engineering and manufacturing in-house, so each step is carefully followed through under watchful eyes.

Once you've envisioned your playground, you can create a design that will meet the needs of your community. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends designing separate play areas for all age groups—ages 6 to 23 months, 2- to 5-year-olds and school-age children.

In addition to thinking through the ages of users, consider how you want your playground to look and function. Are you aiming to design a more traditional or completely customized playground? Does your community have a high population of children and families with special needs? Is your playground located in an urban environment where the introduction of nature-inspired playground equipment may benefit users? Keep these design options in mind when you begin talking with a playground designer.

It's possible to create unique playground designs at an affordable price tag. One option is to look for playground equipment that is preconfigured. Many preconfigured play structures are available with modern design aesthetics, and can be complemented with a vibrant color palette to create a truly unique destination playground. Another option in the more traditional landscape of playground equipment is freestanding play components—outdoor musical instruments, spinners, climbers and swings. These can be added to existing playground environments with playground structures or placed together to create a unique space with a variety of play experiences.

Playgrounds come in all shapes, sizes and styles. You can bring a fantasy world to life by incorporating customized playground components into your design. Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, Md., based its design on the story of L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." Kids of all ages can explore Auntie Em and Uncle Henry's Kansas farm, the poppy field, Emerald City and even Dorothy's ruby slippers, which were adapted to be playground slides.

Additionally, custom playground design allows you to celebrate the heritage of a community. The Wabun Picnic Area at Minnehaha Regional Park in Minneapolis steps back in time with a thematic nod to its origins as an auto tourist camp. The 2- to 5- year-old area features a classic car with a finger maze on the grill, plus a glider that's been outfitted with a custom surround to make it look like a camper trailer. Even more, the play structure for kids ages 5 to 12 has wood-like siding and cobblestone features to capture the idea of simple cabins.

Bring children and families of all abilities together for play with an inclusive playground design. By keeping the needs of all users in mind during the design process, you'll create a play environment that increases access, safety, comfort and social participation. The Jonesboro Miracle League Park in Jonesboro, Ark., is home to an inclusive playground with an extensive ramping system to bring children using mobility devices to the center of the action. Additionally, a variety of inclusive playground components and play structures were included to stimulate kids' tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive senses while encouraging interactive play.

The great outdoors is the number-one spot where kids can play naturally—making up their own games while freely exploring the world around them. Encourage kids to connect with the natural surroundings as they navigate through nature-inspired play equipment like the playground on Tom Sawyer Island at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah, Fla. This playground helps promote outdoor adventure with its recycled wood-grain panels, woodsy color scheme, and nature-inspired climbers that mimic rocks, mushrooms and logs.

When beginning your playground project, search for a playground equipment manufacturer that will help guide you through the process. And select a vendor that provides various design solutions that will help your project stand out from the rest. No matter what solution you're considering, you can make your mark with your playground design.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Roschi is the director of design at Landscape Structures Inc., a Delano, Minn.-based manufacturer of commercial playground equipment for parks and schools. For more information, visit playlsi.com.