Begin Your Playground Planning By Following a Systematic Approach
What is your playground vision?
A great play environment provides maximum play value and safety for visitors as well as minimizes the lifetime cost of ownership to the owner. Ideally, your playground will complement your community’s unique personality and be a destination for years to come. Get started by defining the objectives for your project. Planning an efficient and exciting layout and following recommended design guidelines can help ensure you create a beautiful playground that is safe, fun and comfortable for all visitors. Playground planning requires many considerations.
Community and user considerations
- What are the ages and abilities of the visitors who will use this play area?Toddler ages 6 months to 23 months, preschool ages 2 to 5 year olds, school ages 5-12 year olds, and/or users 13 years and older? Or what combination of ages will it accommodate?
- Will your playground plan involve an all-inclusive play area that will accommodate children of all abilities, or just the minimum amount accessibility to meet the ADA requirements? Or maybe somewhere in between?
- How many visitors will typically be playing at once? This may be easier to answer for schools and day care settings than for public park facilities.
- Are there unique historical characteristics, a color scheme or theme you’d like to incorporate?
- What additional amenities are desirable? Possible items may include shade, benches, waste receptacles, picnic tables, signage, fencing, parking, etc.
- Which members of the community could or should be involved in the playground planning, funding, fundraising, installation and maintenance?
- Perhaps consult with the users, maintenance personnel, the owner, local parents, community groups, the local park board, and other stake holders.
- Start outlining your budget.
- Start to get budgetary estimates from you General Recreation representative for equipment, freight costs, installation, site work, drainage considerations, safety surfacing, etc.
- How will funds be secured?
- Do you need to consider additional fundraising? Are there any grants available?
The characteristics of your site, including both man-made and natural elements, may impact your playground planning and overall playground design. Work with a design professional, landscape architect or directly with your Landscape Structures consultant to analyze your site. Make the most of the design, installation, user satisfaction, and aesthetics while attempting to reduce future maintenance needs.
You can start with a sheet of paper and begin sketching your ideas. Eventually you should obtain a scale drawing of the area from a professional designer, or in many cases, your General Recreation sales consultant. Consider the play area entrance points, existing shade and typical visitor traffic patterns. Draw permanent structures such as paths, walls, fences and landscaping, whether they exist now or you plan to add them. Be sure to allow enough space for visitors to move about, rest and relax, and for new vegetation to expand as it grows. An ADA accessible pathway to the play area may be required, if one does not already exist.
- Consider the slope and soil conditions of your site for proper drainage. Will the area require more thought about drainage considerations as in the case of low lying areas, impervious soil conditions, or a lack any natural drainage?
- Incorporate existing vegetation, especially mature trees, into your design.
- Add landscaping elements and native vegetation that is safe for visitors, especially children and pets.
- Consider climate patterns including wind, temperature, sun angles and precipitation in the design and orientation of your playground.
- Consider access and amenities such as parking, distance to the play area, seating, bicycle paths, shade and rest areas, restrooms, and security such as emergency access to the area and visibility from seating areas and the street.
- Check with your local utilities company to locate water, sewer, gas, and power lines.
Design your site and playground
Now that you’ve thought through your playground vision, your visitors and the characteristics of your playground site, you can create a detailed budget and design an exciting playground design that will meet your facility’s needs. Consider designing separate play areas for younger and older kids, and perhaps teens and adults. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends separate areas for infants and toddlers from ages 6 to 23 months, preschoolers from ages 2 to 5 years and school-age children from ages 5 to 12 years.
- Would you like your playground to look modern, blend in with the environment or carry out a theme?
- Participate in a design session with your General Recreation playground consultant.
- Include a variety of play components for a wide range of activities and play opportunities.
- Add freestanding play events such as seesaws, spinners, swings and climbers.
- Incorporate educational elements such as learning panels and signage.
- Select materials that will work well with your climate, user needs and local environmental requirements. How susceptible will the area be to vandalism or misuse?
- Consider maintenance and manufacturing timing when selecting materials and equipment.
- Incorporate accessible surfacing around inclusive elements and an accessible path to access the play area.
- Design for future phases to make it easier to enhance your playground and keep it exciting and fresh for users.
- Request a Landscape Structures grant guide from your General Recreation consultant.
- Assign expected expenditure amounts for site preparation, playground equipment, site furnishings, surfacing, amenities, installation, future maintenance, phased additions and anything else that will complete your design vision.
- Before finalizing your design and placing any orders, carefully review the design specifications and obtain any required approvals.
Install your playground
Installing your playground is exciting and can involve your community members. A benefit of including the community is that it creates a sense of pride and ownership, and may reduce future vandalism.
Some installation choices are:
- Volunteer installation with supervision of a professional installer.
- Professional installation by an insured and Landscape Structures-certified crew.
- A blend of the above. You might have the site professionally prepared and have volunteers help assemble the equipment, followed by a professional inspection.
- Learn more about playground installation