Most adults remember the school playground: a place of fun, relaxation, and bonding with peers. But what is considered an ideal School Playground? This is an important question for future generations of young students, as this article attempts to show.
Engaging in a variety of different play activities and spaces fosters the well-rounded development of a person. Playgrounds stimulate cognitive function, the development of social skills, imagination and creativity, and also promote physical activity. According to Doctors Lisa Wood and Karen Martin, attractive and functional playgrounds ideally “include natural elements (e.g. sand, water); supports that encourage interaction and socialisation; are highly accessible and cater to a variety of demographics and backgrounds; provide risk and challenge, however are safe and free of hazards; have pleasing aesthetics; stimulate children’s imagination and creativity; and include space for active play” (Wood and Martin, 2010, p. 2).
Playing in a spacious, open, and natural setting with lots of greenery is more appealing to children generally, as opposed to playing in an enclosed, totally artificial area, which offers only one kind of activity or experience, or only a few challenges or levels of difficulty (Wood and Martin, 2010, p. 2-5; Jakat, 2012). Indeed, Jay Beckwith, veteran playground designer, criticises the current trend in play area design, which he insists doesn’t reflect the way children actually wish to make use of play spaces. Purchasers of new School Playground Equipment often focus on ordering expensive structures like spiral slides which are “high in WOW factor” but which ultimately fail to sustain the user’s interest after the initial excitement wears off (Beckwith, 2013). This lack of sustained interest occurs because such fixed pieces of equipment can’t be used in multiple ways and because this type of structure yields its secrets too easily; consequently many children are turning away from playgrounds.
For Beckwith, a high-quality playground equipment must satisfy several requirements. The first of these is choice: the equipment must offer the child many stimulating play options. For instance, it could be modified by the user, and serve many different functions (Beckwith, 2013). Beckwith, as well as Wood and Martin note that this doesn’t mean that equipment buyers have to budget for costly materials – a DIY approach appeals to many kids, where creative problem-solving and imagination is encouraged. Witness the popularity of the Imagination Playgrounds in the United States where children can make use of loose materials and have the opportunity to problem-solve and interact with their peers to build things together (Beckwith, 2013; Wood and Martin, 2010, p. 3). A play area with art supplies and walls upon which children can design their own murals will also be appealing for this reason.
Good play areas have a degree of complexity, and cater for children of different ages, with structures that suit a range of skill levels and tastes. They also develop the balancing and climbing abilities of users and may be physically challenging and exciting to use (Beckwith, 2013). Stimulating playgrounds are often those which involve reasonable risk; a little risk adds excitement and encourages children to build up their resilience (Wood and Martin, 2010, p. 4). Playground designer Günter Beltzig asserts that risks must be countered with safeguards: a structure with only one slippery slide down can be complemented with a wooden bridge for those who opt for a safer route down (Jakat, 2012).
Lastly, excellent School Playgrounds are those that have facilities for everyone, and encourage children to mingle with each other; an example of this is a swing for children in wheelchairs that isn’t isolated from structures intended for non-disabled children (Wood and Martin, 2010, p. 3). In short, a great playground seeks to cater to a broad range of tastes, skills, and preferences.
Beckwith, Jay. “What makes for a Great Play Structure.” Playground Professionals LLC. 2010-2016. 3 June, 2013.
Jakat, Lena. “How to design the perfect playground.” The Guardian, 8 November 2012.
Wood, Lisa, and Karen Martin. “What makes a good play area for children?” Centre for the Built Environment and Health, The University of Western Australia. (2010):