We are all different and we are all unique. What I value and consider to be most important will differ to others around me. When looking at playgrounds and what helps to make a ‘good playground’, the answer is simple……………..money! Nah, just kidding, although, I guess this does help.
For me, it comes down to understanding what the end user requires and providing an area full of variety, functionality and practicality. I have mentioned before the benefits for those in authority to invest in modernising and providing new and functional play areas and play equipment. It draws the crowds in and shows a willingness to provide for a modern generation of playground dwellers.
A look at Variety – Mixing Things Up
Variety is key to capturing the interest and imagination of children when it comes to playgrounds. Swings, slides, climbing frames, see-saws, merry-go-rounds and flying foxes are all key parts of a playground and have been through time. Across the Urban landscape, these key elements of a playground have been subject to an evolution of sorts, providing a more modernised offering for a growing and modern community. Old equipment have been replaced by newer, more engaging equipment and equipment which doesn’t pose any safety concerns (sharp edges or falling objects) and given a completely modern makeover to be more engaging for the community and looking to attract a greater number of children. Some designs which have been really well planned out and constructed have seen a particular ‘theme’ adopted to further engage the participant, with some playgrounds exhibiting creative and engaging themes such as:
- Pirate theme
- Castle theme
- Space theme
- Farmyard theme
- Music & Art themes
- Transportation themes
Some countries around the globe have taken playground and recreational area design to another level, literally, by having multi-level designed play areas which adds a whole new element and a realm of possibilities to explore. Mixing things up avoids falling into the trap of providing uninspiring, ‘KFC’ playgrounds’ (kit, fence and carpet), or the fast food treatment.
A look at Fun-ctionality
It has to be functional. Without functionality, kids will become disengaged and bored. It also limits how can use the equipment. Kids are fairly straightforward in what they want and will generally care about:
1) Will it be fun?
2) Will it keep me entertained?
3) Will it challenge me in a good way?
A play area lacking in functionality will not meet any of these requirements from curious kids, many with reduced attention capacity.
A play area that captures the imagination and wows the audience will be one that encourages ongoing use and interest. Kids are not overly complicated when it comes to playgrounds. They look for something which has a variety of equipment, particularly when it gets busy and there are a lot of kids from differing age groups (toddlers may not be too fond of tweens letting loose and in close proximity). They are more inclined to use equipment which is well-kept and challenges their abilities. The main thing though, is it has to be FUN!
A look at Practicality
Is the playground practical? Does it cater for a variety of ages? Does it cater for kids with disabilities?
Is it easy to get to? Does it provide reasonable amenities for those not living in the immediate area? Is their sufficient lighting and shading during the sunny days, because if you want the community to get excited about a playground and recreational space, then it needs to be practical to encourage use.
Engaging the community will encourage children and parents to utilise their play are and can serve as a gathering place. The benefit of increased engagement can also provide an economic benefit to any businesses located in the immediate surrounds. Think of a café or local shop which may benefit from exposure to an increase in foot traffic.
Toilet amenities also encourage users to stay longer and are more inclined to use the facilities again in future. Some councils in Australia take the initiative to offer BBQ facilities which provide an added bonus for a morning BBQ breakfast or a birthday lunch gathering.
Inclusion, Inclusion, Inclusion
The benefits of getting outdoors have been known for quite some time, although now there have been more and more studies to identify and support the importance of playtime and playgrounds. Providing suitable playgrounds and recreational areas which engage a child can lead to numerous health benefits including a lowering of their Body Mass Index (BMI) and essential Vitamin D. There has been research conducted showing the known links between brain development, motor-skills and social capabilities. Some studies have also found that children suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder function better after being exposed to green spaces and play areas. This sounds like a win to me.
Given the increasing time spent indoors on screens, it is even more crucial to encourage and support kids being more engaged in outdoor activities and play. Even with all the modern electrical distractions, studies undertaken have found that kids still prefer playing outdoors to being indoors.
Being outdoors and in a playground setting also increases a child’s exposure to others in the community and their peers. It encourages co-operation and allows a child to become more accustomed to and more aware of the world around them. They learn that they are part of a wider community and become more aware of their place amongst the community. They get exposure to other children, other grownups, apart from their parents and gain a sense of how others in the community all interact. Outside activity has also been found to boost moods, reduce stress and increase happiness. This sounds like a resounding benefit in my book and a pretty good argument to ‘Get Involved’.
Look to Tomorrow
Avoiding ‘KFC playgrounds’ – Kit, Fence & Carpet (fast-food playgrounds) and integrating design into the modern urban landscape will see the continuing evolution of playgrounds into the right direction. Having community involvement and holding councils to account will ensure that playgrounds are provided the due attention they deserve. Consequently, playgrounds should be designed to meet a range of needs and requirements and should provide a variety of equipment to capture the imagination and encourage physical activity. It also is a reasonable benefit to consider and plan for suitable amenities to provide practicality to a playground.
Is all this overkill? Is all this actually necessary for councils and governing bodies to be allocating money and resources towards? Sure, there are other areas in the community which valuable funding and resources can be directed towards, however, as we have seen the many benefits that playgrounds can deliver to the social fabric of society and can contribute towards a healthier community for children, surely this is an investment that is as deserving as many other investments which the authorities choose to direct their funds and resources towards.