Worlds of Water Fun
Getting Creative With Splash Play
Kids love them. Parents love them, too. And with a range of colors, shapes and interactive features, splash pads have continued to intensify in popularity over the past several years. Ground sprays, dumping buckets and water domes are just a few of the standard play components that splash pads offer, giving children hours of fun and an environment in which they can be inspired and imaginative.
In fact, Michelle Carpenter, manager of the visualization team at a Canada-based company that specializes in aquatic play solutions, said that "creativity and storytelling are huge trends in splash play." She added, "Children have the most creative minds in the world. Anything can be turned into a game or pretend play using their advanced imaginations."
Carpenter's company works to design spaces that can influence play through storytelling, and accomplishes this through color, shape, feature placement and interactivity.
"To drive a sense of wayfinding or adventure, we have created ships and boats for kids to play on and around, and even a design element as simple as a spray tunnel over a blue river shape painted on the splash pad. These things spur great imagination in children and enhance the quality of play they experience," she said.
Carpenter suggested that the products selected for splash play should "blend with a bigger play story on the splash pad so that the play experience is cohesive and immersive for those playing, as well as for those observing or passing by."
Greg Stoks, director of product innovation for a Delano, Minn.-based company that specializes in water feature and spray park design, fabrication and construction, said that communities also are looking for splash pad solutions that will work in smaller spaces and with tighter budgets.
His company has introduced package solutions that don't require an electrical hookup or a mechanical room or vault, "meaning that every square foot of space can be used for aquatic fun," Stoks said. "Plus, installation of these preconfigured splash pad packages doesn't require any special equipment and can be completed on a short timeline. In addition to saving dollars and time, these low-water-flow solutions will reduce water consumption."
There are also opportunities to adapt splash play to urban settings, such as downtown parks or in streestscape projects. "These designs use LED lighting and jumping jets to create a sort of multi-use application—splash play for kids by day and [a] decorative fountain at night or when not in use by kids," he said.
From a more technological perspective, Chip Stallo, lead aquatic designer for a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based aquatic play manufacturer, noted that "Some of the latest trends in [the] splash play industry have been to the technical elements that run them, such as recirculating systems to address the environmental concerns that potable flow-through systems present, and secondary sanitization such as ultraviolet to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria across all areas of specification (recreation, living community, hospitality)."
With regard to design, Stallo added that some current trends include "innovative splash pad designs that incorporate lighting and interactivity for all ages and [offer] a multi-use water feature as a lighted public fountain at night."
When planning and designing splash pads for a diverse audience, it's important to take into account all age ranges and abilities.
"Having an area of lower-flow, low-to-the-ground features for infants and toddlers is just as important as the large high-flow features," Stallo said.
In addition, you should have "an area for wheelchair-accessible interactive play to promote inclusiveness. Finally, staying on trend with modern designs will help to keep the audience diverse and extend the community's interest in the play feature," he said.
Stoks shared a similar idea. "Splash play elements should be placed in a way that supports visitors of varying ages and abilities," he said. "Considerations should be given to the intensity of the water flow, and how children and families of different ages and abilities interact with water. We suggest creating different water play zones."
For example, "in a gentle activity zone, you can focus on bubblers and ground sprays to support the play of younger children and those with sensory differences who might get overwhelmed with more intense water flow of volume," Stoks said.
For older children, "A dynamic zone is great for kids ages 7 [and older] and might include larger, highly interactive spray features that provide unlimited activities and large water effects. And finally, a universal zone is great for all ages and abilities and includes splash pad products that mist, dump, spray, wiggle, launch and spin to create unique water formations."
Stoks' company has been designing splash pads not only for kids, but for adults, too. "… Adults can enjoy them as a decorative fountain when they're not being used by kids like at night or when temperatures are a bit cooler," he added.
The fact is that splash pads should be accessible for anyone, no matter their age or abilities. "Everyone should be able to enjoy play," Carpenter said. "Something most people don't take into consideration is that play should not be restricted by age. Where some younger and smaller children enjoy lower-action environments, some will also be the first under the Mega Soaker! Who hasn't met an adventurous 3-year-old who isn't scared of anything?
"To design diverse environments, all physical requirements and play styles that will be enjoying the space must be considered. For instance, toddlers have height requirements that must be met so they can engage with the play elements, but we also want to create play elements that will make them stretch their bodies and minds," she said.
Another consideration is ensuring that the space is inclusive to people with diverse abilities, she said. "Can the play element accommodate a wheelchair or a support person? Do the play features take into consideration sensory needs?"
Carpenter's company uses play zones to make these recommendations: adventure, exploration, discovery and development. "In each of these zones our teams recommend play elements that address play styles or needs for each water player who will be using the space," she added.
If your splash pad is in need of a face-lift, aquatics experts suggest a few things you can do to freshen it up.
"A few ideas for revamping existing splash pads that will revitalize interest in the feature, but not incur the large cost of completely redesigning and constructing are: changing the play area surface to a rubberized safety surface with new colors and aesthetic elements; redesigning the pad with new features that go through the existing plumbing penetrations from the original design; giving the feature a completely new look without changing the existing layout or support footings," Stallo suggested.
Over the past decade, aquatic play and splash pads have "exploded in popularity. Now, some of the first splash pads—20-plus years or older—may be considering replacing products for a new look or enhanced play experience," Stoks added.
Some of the more classic products, such as the water dome, for example, can be switched with something a little different "… for an updated, modern design with the same whooshing and splashing of water," he said. For instance, one of Stoks' company's tipping buckets dumps in the opposite direction, while the water spills forward.
To take it a step further, "communities could update the water systems to take advantage of technology advancements," he said. "Domestic or single-pass systems could be retrofitted to a recirculation system as to dramatically reduce water usage. Additionally, the maintenance technology has advanced greatly over the years to include remote monitoring and remote chemical adjustments."
Having a strategy from the beginning is a great way to prepare for any needed improvements or changes to splash pads in the future.
"Planning for the future of the play space in the early stages of the project is always the best way to revamp or expand over time," Carpenter said, noting that one of her company's splash pad products can be used with other play features "so that anything can be easily removed, swapped or added at any time. We have many projects where the customer has chosen to phase their project so that it grows over time and as budget allows.
"Alternatively, we have customers who use the space as a splash pad over summer and then remove the features for a multi-seasonal space throughout the colder months.
"Vendor selection is important when considering future plans and needs," she said. "Always choose a manufacturer who builds [a] product that is easily adaptable and can help you roadmap future additions, ongoing maintenance, refurbishments and growth."
If you want to add splash play to smaller spaces, one idea to consider is pocket parks.
"Pocket parks are smaller-space designs that typically have a handful of play elements," Carpenter said. "We do many of these with only ground sprays or some that also feature a few taller play elements that create a beautiful aesthetic within the surrounding space as well as interactivity and fun."
And, "One of the most important factors to consider when designing very small spaces is, 'what controls the water?' Our recommendation is to use an activator that also acts as a manifold and controller in one so you're not building a large water management system to power only a few play features," she said. "A knowledgeable product support team will ensure you choose the right water management options for your small space."
Stoks said that his company's "preconfigured splash pad packages are perfect for smaller pocket parks, daycare facilities and compact urban areas." What's more, they feature the company's non-electrical water delivery system that is designed to eliminate the need for electrical installation.
"Operating at the push of a button, this self-contained system can be placed in nearly any location, including places where electrical service is either unwanted or too costly to install," he explained, adding that his company's ready-to-install splash pad packages "include an activator, distribution manifold and collection drain in one component, making installation simple and less costly. These packages are affordable, and communities or organizations can install without having prior experience in installing splash pads."
Stallo recommended "Adding a splash play feature to a smaller space; adding a splash play feature adjacent to a dry playset or in the island of a lazy river; creating a play area within the beach entry or sun-shelf of a pool design; and finally, utilizing the versatility of placement that a splash pad provides over a water activity pool will help to maximize your design space." RM