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Child Playgrounds

By Sherri Arnold

Research has found that playgrounds are essential to not only physical strength, but mental strength as well. Playgrounds help develop social, emotional and cognitive skills. Children however, need more than the traditional playground. They need playgrounds that challenge their skills and provide opportunities to learn new ones.

How did the importance of play develop?

Plato and Aristotle found that play was important in the education of children. Furthermore, Locke, Rousseau, Deway, Montessori and others reinforced that play should be an integral part to educational programs. The National Recreation Association in the 1900’s developed guidelines for certain equipment for playgrounds like providing a sand box, swings, a small slide and a climber. This is known as the traditional playground. Unfortunately not much has changed since then. Many people believe play is good for burning off energy and for physical growth. Therefore, traditional playgrounds are fine because they satisfy this requirement. It has been found that there are two factors in the development of the child: unstructured and structured learning. Most of the child’s development is from unstructured activities which most do not comprehend.What are the benefits of play?

The developmental benefits of play include cognitive development, increased imagination and creativity, increased discover and reasoning, manipulative skills and though development and improved problem solving.

What are the types of playgrounds and what do they contribute to children?

There are three major types:

  1. traditional type: Traditional type: slides, swings, see saws, etc. identifiable to children, but does not provide for cognitive and social play
  2. contemporary type: joins or connects different pieces forming a continuous piece known as the superstructure or multi functional structure. Less numerous, more costly, liked more by kids than traditional type, encourages educationally worthwhile forms of play.
  3. adventure/creative type: contains loose parts like old tires, lumber, crates and other materials. Allows children to create their own things, provides flexibility, needs a play leaders satisfies cognitive, social and physical developments

Design guidelines

  1. children need different play opportunities to complete their social, intellectual, and physical needs.
  2. play leaders and teachers should work with children in a variety of ways during play time.
  3. there should be diverse activity spaces for structured games, creative play, play with natural elements, water and sand play, quiet play and shared open space.
  4. successful playgrounds do not just depend on the play structures themselves, but also the organization and landscaping of the entire site.
  5. play areas need to allow the children to create their own environment to some degree to allow for adventure and creative play.
  6. provide ambiguity to stimulate fantasy play, loose parts for creative and cognitive play, clear accomplishment points to reinforce development of self concept.
  7. provide a variety of small spaces, changes in level, changes in surface, stair seats, bushes, plantings, colors, textures, overhead elements, etc.
  8. the playgrounds should be accessible to all.
  9. provide stages of difficulty so that children can choose goals which they can accomplish 10. use a variety of climbing situations and places above the ground so that the children can choose the challenge and excitement they are ready for.

Annotated Bibliography of important sources

Bruya, L.D. Play Spaces for Children. Volume II, North Texas State University, 1988.

This book is a collection of papers from a variety of authors, professors and sociologist. The topics cover the development of playgrounds and equipment, playground safety, and playground solutions for children.

Cohen, U., Hill, A., Lane, C., McGinty, T., and Moore, T. Recommendations for Child Play Areas. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1978.

This book is an excellent resource for child play areas. It covers theories of play and contains numerous design recommendations. Each section or topic covers an issue, justification, pattern and lastly recommendations.

Senda, Mitsuru, Design of children’s play environments, McGraw Hill, Inc. New York; 1 992.