Play Area Design - Morti’s approach
Play area design and build from concept to completion can sometimes be a daunting task. This blog has been written to help potential clients identify the different topics for discussion. We hope that this proves helpful in finding the right supplier for your project.
In this blog, we’re looking at a case study of a site with poor access, flood-prone grounds, and a steep terrace that sits within a conservation area surrounded by housing overlooking the site. Oh, and not to mention that the current play provision has seen better days.
Play area design should make the best use of available space, natural features and site topography.
The first stage to any successful play area design is working with a professional company that will look at your existing site and map it out correctly, taking into account all the physical features above and below ground.
The above design makes the best use of the available space, natural features and topography. The site is steep and terraced with the current play equipment laid out over 4 levelled areas within the park.
Current play provision is fragmented where children of different ages will find it particularly difficult to access the site to meet and make new friendships and play together. In order to enhance these existing flat areas within the space, we have enlarged these areas to create increased play value and linked the four areas together to encourage interaction between age groups.
For example, the current play provision allows for a limited amount of swinging, climbing, rocking and sliding, appealing to a specific level of ability. Our design builds upon these core play principles by offering further play value, utilising the lay of the land and new equipment installation to offer more-or-less challenging equipment for a variety of ages and abilities.
Children’s play area design & consideration for exploration
Exploration is a key element in play area design as independent and group discovery will energise children to explore the whole park. Our design takes the park’s neighbours into great consideration, utilising a choice of natural colours that are complementary to the surrounding area. The play equipment chosen is easy and pleasant on the eye where natural shades of green, brown and beige make up the majority of the colour pallet while still being inviting for children. Individual pieces of equipment have colour and vary in shape, making the space encouraging for independent interaction. Furthermore, the planting design of wildflower bulbs will complement the play area scheme with variety throughout the seasons.
Play area design for varying age groups
It's important to provide a wide range of play experiences such as rocking, swinging, sliding etc where children between the ages of 0-12 years of age can play in different ways. It is important to note that you may have older children to cater for whereas this case study is only focusing on 0-12; you may have 16 year olds to encourage to your site. The requirements for older children can be tailored accordingly where more challenging activities can be accommodated.
Great design incorporates a range of play equipment/Value and contains a huge range of play experiences. Providing activities which appeal to different age groups that allows for different abilities to join in together key to success. Installing a number of different swing types to ensure that all children regardless of age or ability can play together is a good idea. Using flat swings, cradle swings and basket swings allows for a mix of activities to be enjoyed. For sliding, we recommend considering an embankment slide as well as a toddler slide from an age appropriate climbing frame. These two differing types of slide offer a different challenge and appeal to varied age ranges of children - not to mention parents who would like to relive their youth! The Spinning Cone Climber can be used by a wide age range as it incorporates both climbing and spinning. For rocking, we recommend springers as well as a see saw; both will appeal to a range of children. The inground trampoline can be used by all ages and abilities, allowing children to bounce independently as well as together or accompanied by a carer.
Multiplay units provide a number of challenging activities for children which will test their climbing skills, improve balance and coordination, encourage them to overcome obstacles while promoting physical development. A high-quality Multiplay unit also allows many users to play together. A Toddler Multiplay boat, for example, enables children to slide, learn how to assess risk, practise climbing and enjoy role play together. Utilising soft surfaces, such as 3D wetpour animals, means that children can climb up the site together in a safe manner. Designing spaces to ensure that the children are able to challenge and stretch themselves to their individual limits in an encouraging exploratory way is important too.
Making use of the natural disposition of the site lends itself to a physical challenge if carefully thought through. You can increase/encourage this challenge through great play design by linking areas within the site, creating further play obstacles to overcome. For example, in order to get from one play area to the next, you can climb up and over the crocodile to get to the tube embankment slide. This play design further stretches the children’s imagination challenging them to overcome inhibitions and push themselves further.
A well designed site allows children of different ages to play together
Landscape design for children’s play areas
Play area design needs to appeal and satisfy the varying age ranges from 0-12yrs, showing how children through the age range are able to interact, learn and play in a safe yet challenging space. The key way for children of different ages to play together is down to the landscape design of the site and creating a cohesive space. Where appropriate, the lack of regimented fencing also allows younger children to experiment with the more challenging play experiences by keeping the movement between space open.
The play space should provide safe crawling areas with equipment to hold onto and climb over, such as the 3D animals. Friendly faces such as the whale and hippo will appeal to younger ones encouraging speech, hands on play, crawling and walking. Assisted play is also available with spring rockers, seesaw and cradle swings. Imaginary spaces and games will appeal to younger children, but also older as the 1.5yr-3yr olds will encourage siblings and younger friends to join in using their imaginations.
Toddlers explore their physical environment in a hands-on fashion using their imagination instigating imaginary spaces, places and structures. It is essential for these early explorers to conduct their explorations in a safe way, but still with the element of challenge. Challenge is great for physical, social and cognitive development. Good play design provides this through interesting spaces offering activities such as climbing, swinging and covered spaces to enable imaginary play such as tents, dens and houses. All these activities combined allow toddlers to play alongside one another whilst creating opportunities for independent/solo play and encouraging interaction and friendship building.
The age of fantasy play and the worlds of castles, pyramids and times aboard ship encouraging group play are what appeal to this age range. The challenge with great play design here is to strike up activities where several children can take part in group play whether they are three or over six years of age. Climbing frames offer these differing challenges and role play spaces as the units have different access points and platforms and slides attractive to all levels of ability. Carefully thought through landscape design where attention is paid towards the interaction of equipment within the setting. This encourages the observation of plants, insects such as butterflies and animals through the numerous three-dimensional shapes and animal springers incorporated within the play area design.
Dynamic Motion, spinning and challenging sliding appeals to this age group. Group climbing activities can be found on Multiplay units which have high climbing nets which help strengthen both eye-hand and inter-limb coordination. These skills are vital for learning to read and write. Challenging vertical Lianas are challenging to ascend, aiding the development of balance and coordination skills. Rope tunnels are a great place to hang out and crawl where the only limit is one’s imagination. Slide rails challenge even the oldest children. Gross motor skills and coordination as well as a sense of balance are stimulated when gliding down. A long tube embankment slide has always been popular on playgrounds, offering challenge and skill, climbing back up the bank over obstacles such as the crocodile and down the tube again. The twisted net is a really challenging climbing net even for good climbers! With its twist, it really puts their coordination skills to the test. Because the net is so nice and long, it can have several children climbing in it at the same time.
Key considerations for play area design
Sound play space design must contain a range of social physical and intellectual play elements that harmonise with the landscape design in order to engage users with the natural environment thus encouraging free play.
Opportunities to experience risk
Whilst we want to offer safety within our designs, we also ensure that our play space provision isn’t boring and sterile, as repeat visits to the park and the creation of a buzz for the need to revisit the park with friends and family is essential in providing sustainable play experiences. As stated, avoiding a sterile/boring playground directly benefits a child’s physical and mental confidence, and it gives them the tools to gradually improve their skills to overcome the risky challenge (like climbing to the top of a cone climber, which may take several visits to the park to achieve!).
Risk is fundamental to human learning. Risk is not 100 percent negative as the outcomes of risk taking are both positive and negative. We concentrate on producing a play area design that manages undesirable events by reducing the likelihood of their occurrence and positive risk taking is encouraged in order to allow users of the park to develop new skills and behaviours and take part in new activities to ultimately become more competent.
Clever play space design manages this risk with our users by allowing varying levels of risk taking to be made based upon the individual user’s ability. Play space design must offer users a variety of play experiences with the aim of appealing to children of diverse abilities and interests. This is achieved through the offering of graded challenges, so that both the familiar and unfamiliar user can engage with the play space and push their boundaries.
Incorporating the natural landscape
Creating a play space with planting lends itself to the natural disposition of the land whilst taking into account the way in which the local community use the space is an important factor to consider. For example, leaving areas which are currently used for free play such as football and running around is a good use of enhancing the space.
New landscaping works should create a joined up, all weather play environment where challenging climbing forms part of the natural landscape where possible.
If the play area is in a conservation area and an area of outstanding natural beauty, one should take great care in choosing a range of play equipment and surfacing that harmonises with the site and minimises ongoing maintenance. It’s worth highlighting that utilising the natural topography of the site lends itself to providing a sense of discovery, whereby not all features will be visible by children on entering the site – in a good way.
Accessible seating for park users
Within the play space and around the park, play area design should lend itself for ease of access to seating both for those in wheelchairs and others throughout the scheme. Whilst utilising the existing seating within the park, it is a good idea to add seating and picnic areas in other areas of the park where access is limited. Furthermore, using play equipment pieces within the design, such as wet pour animals, is a great way for little ones to learn balance and coordination as well as acting as informal places to sit on and rest.
Play park safety
Safety is paramount. All equipment and surfacing must comply to BS EN 1176 and BS EN 1177. Great care must be taken to ensure that designs both electronically and physically on the ground complies to these safety standards. When we design our schemes, we use a CAD plan which takes into account critical fall heights and spatial requirements for both the equipment and safety surfacing.
We check the critical fall heights and spatial requirements based on the particular type of safety surfacing we are using for the scheme as they differ depending on which protective surface is used. All products chosen with our schemes are certified by TUV to comply to safety standard BS EN 1176.
When we install our equipment on site our installation team double check that all spatial requirements are met. We also double check the critical fall heights. When we are using Tiger Mulch, we only use a certified licensed installer. We then check the site ourselves to ensure that we are happy with the installation. At this point a post installation inspection is undertaken by a qualified and independent RPII inspector. If there are any snagging issues these are reported to us which we put right immediately. Once all snagging is complete and the inspector is happy to pass the site, we will then handover the park as completed.
Choosing the right equipment for your play area scheme
Close attention should be paid towards the material specification of the play elements chosen for your scheme.
For example, the above products require very low levels of maintenance. However, we feel that with any play space that it is important to undertake an annual inspection by an independent inspector to ensure that the play area is always at its optimum.
Regular care will always prolong an area’s life. For repairing items, the manufacturers that you choose must have most items in stock and any bespoke items which need to be put into production should have short lead times, to ensure that the equipment is able to be used safely again quickly.
The old adage that you get what you pay for does apply here to play equipment and it is important to establish the intended use and location of the site when choosing the appropriate level of equipment to use within your scheme.
Be it timber built or steel, there are varying degrees of process that these elements go through offering a degree of protection against the elements and vandalism.
Budgets can dictate the equipment chosen along with the location of the site; a small parish council with a lower footfall may well be better suited towards timber equipment offering great play value at a reduced rate when compared to a more expensive stainless steel variant designed for the inner city that will have greater exposure to use.