Supplement Feature - April 2019
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Choose Your Own Adventure

Assess Needs, Get Input to Select the Right Play Equipment

By Deborah L. Vence

Stand Out From the Crowd

One way to make your playground stand out is to "Give it a unique look or purpose, for instance: creating a theme, building a destination playground for inclusion, or offering programming," Spencer said.

"Be sure to think about the entire experience, not just the equipment, so include family-friendly amenities like seating, shade, and bike parking to help extend the usage as well as comfort," she said. "Ask your playground supplier to show you the latest innovations; children always appreciate a new and different way to play, which can drive traffic to one play space over other more traditional spaces.

"Think about how to mix nature and the built environment together, as research shows families can get to higher use in spaces with both elements. Also, consider play opportunities designed for the whole family. For instance, there are family-focused obstacle courses designed to accommodate teens and adults as well as children, so the entire family can spend time together being active!" she said.

Lisiecki said there are a variety of ways to make your playground stand out—"from color to a 'hero' product to having a fully inclusive or universally designed play space, you can make your playground unique and meet the needs of the community you are serving."

Including a large climbing structure that accommodates a variety of climbing abilities is another great way to differentiate from other playgrounds.

"Customize your space with post toppers, shades and different colors to give it appeal from the street," she added.

Another great way to bring a community together and create a unique gathering space is by having an outdoor fitness course.

"Obstacle courses bring a variety of ages and abilities together for fitness and fun while providing a different spin on play and fitness," Lisiecki said. "Interesting and fun spinning components, climbing components and even a tower with twisting slides can provide challenges for kids of all abilities. Giving children the space to take risks and learn and grow their skillsets keeps them interested and wanting to come back for more fun."

Customization, theming, color selections, roofs/integrated shades and dynamic design are the obvious "stand out" eye-catching items, Nolan said. And while playground designs can stand out in many ways, the most "blue chip" consistent way is by being user-friendly.

"This happens with a balance of an even mixture and placement of climbing events mixed with a wide selection of sliding components spaced with functioning safety/activity panels," Nolan said.

"A composite play structure should also include directional flow patterns that eliminate bottleneck areas. This can be achieved with bridging and connecting components like nets and climbing rails," he said. "Couple this with dynamic play, functionally-linked ground components, including climbing nets, upper-body components, spinning and motion climbers, and rocking/bouncing components, and this is a formula for a stand-out playground."

He said playgrounds for younger age groups are much more passive, and such play areas stand out with more social and fantasy play areas.

"Many successful play structures in this arena take more advantage of creating forts under decks/platforms," he said. "An easy way to do this is by adding a door type panel, hole or crawl-through style panel accompanied by a counter/store panel. These same style panels can be used to create a maze type of area or section off areas or even used for channeling play through a course to assist with gross motor skills."

He also noted that "The area below deck is also great for integrating musical play like adding drums, piano, chime, guitar and other sounds from components that can be added to posts. There are countless types of activity panels and components that can all plug-and-play multiple applications and configuration. There is really no right or wrong way other than good balance."

Amici suggested including a signature component to make your playground stand out.

"Consider what is unique or special to your community and have a play component customized to bring that to life on the playground. You can even theme the entire play environment around that feature or anything else imaginable," he said.

Ahrens suggested to "Group equipment to have a feeling of space and environment. One activity flows into the next. Contain all of this within a defined border or perimeter, ideally with a sidewalk/pathway. If budget allows, use a synthetic surface, which helps to focus your eyes on the equipment and activities."

What's more, Huber said "Playgrounds are a shared space at the center of our communities that play an essential part in connection, exploration and joy."

Some tips and guidelines to follow would be creating environments in which this can happen. For example, "Are you creating different levels of challenge for all children no matter their disability or development? Is your playground inclusive? Are you following proper safety standards? A professional playground designer with history in your area can guide you to meet these needs. Tap into your inner child to create environments of challenge, curiosity and fun," he said.

"Give the park unique elements that create its own identity. For example, [a] 'climbing park', he said. "Use components that help identify the park, like a mascot. For instance, a large rope climber might become Spider Net Park. Have different themes that give users in a city or area options for destination parks. Incorporate elements that enable kids to create their own identity and their own experience."

Hobson suggests playgrounds include new innovative products. "When possible," she said, "I don't use single large post-and-platform structures for the play space. Freestanding structures offer variety in appearance and play activities. The main reason for including a P&P structure is to provide slides in a play space, although freestanding slides are also an option. Everything else a P&P structure offers (panels, overhead events and climbers) can be freestanding."