Web Exclusive - July 2016
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It's Elementary

Use Color & Structure to Enhance the Playground Experience

By Rick Dandes


The best playgrounds serve an aesthetic purpose, as well as provide the surrounding community with a much needed center of growth and development for children of all ages.

The aesthetic element is important to the cognitive development of the children in the same way they grow through exposure to art, music, or just the majesty experienced watching a sunset, looking at a mountain range, and seeing beauty in everyday life, explained Cindy Grabow, sales associate, Pacific Park and Playground, Huntington Beach, Calif.

"By utilizing color, structure, pattern and pathway," she said, "the child's experience of play becomes enhanced. We must keep in mind all the elements of play, which become the building blocks of growth within the child: Emotional, physical, cognitive, social and sensory development are all foundational to good playground design."

Of course, all playgrounds still need to provide the play value so essential to the heart of play for young users: Slides and swings, for example, promote balance and coordination; climbing frames can strengthen a child's developing muscles; and tactile panels help improve hand-eye skills.

"A well-designed playground," Grabow continued, should also "… reflect the spirit and heart of the community. As in any design plan, balance and composition are critical so that one element is not sacrificed at the expense of another."

"Playgrounds can be used to tie in to the overall theme of a park or area, or provide a connection to a location's history and culture," suggested Megan Damcevski, associate product manager, PlayPower, Inc., of Huntersville, N.C.

In this way, the design of the space can help turn the playground into a destination. "Whether it is designed to blend seamlessly with its surroundings or to stand out and make a statement on its own, an aesthetically appealing playground design is something that can be appreciated by all," she said.

Playgrounds that follow a theme will grab the attention of the population, noted Cathy Weissburg, principal, owner, Recreation Plus, Golden, Colo. For example, some of her playgrounds are designed with a nature theme in mind and stand out in their appearance. "Eye-catching products add interest to the park space, and the equipment then becomes the draw for the park," she said.

Design Elements Can Add Pizzazz and Make a Difference

Ideal spaces are large enough to incorporate several design elements, but "small spaces can also be striking in appearance, with creative use of color, height, shape and texture," Grabow said. "Accessibility is extremely important. You can use design elements to get a different look to your playground."

Custom elements are useful in differentiating a playground from others, but much can be achieved with standard products.

Non-traditional play that inspires free play in children can provide a different look, particularly with the use of rope elements, Damcevski said.

"Choosing a complementary color palette is also important in ensuring that a final design maintains an aesthetically appealing look," she added.

Curved bridges, tri-bridges, poured-in-place pathways, custom elements, and multiple choices in direction once on the structure, as well as the ground-level events, provide excitement and challenge for the children.

Non-traditional play pieces that use ropes to inspire free play provide a different look as well, Weissburg added. "High towers and nature elements are also notable design choices to differentiate a playground."