Supplement Feature - October 2021
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Worlds of Water Fun

Getting Creative With Splash Play

By Deborah Vence

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."

Plan Design

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."