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While there are certain aspects that should be applied to all playground design, one should never approach it with a one size fits all mentality. Acknowledging the differences in user groups, locations, specifications, usage patterns, and so on, means your outcome will always be the best possible design for the project at hand.
Two of the most common playground locations we see are in schools and public/community spaces. Thinking that you could simply have two identical playgrounds for these two different situations and have both create effective outcomes for their users is a careless approach. At adventure+ we pride ourselves on taking play seriously in order to always achieve the best possible design and outcomes in our playgrounds.
By considering the unique specifications that make these two locations different and the way in which each playground will be used, good play design that provides good play value should come naturally.
Below we look over some of the key differences and challenges in designing playgrounds for schools vs public spaces.
Public playgrounds are open and accessible throughout all hours of the day. This means their patterns of usage are often much more varied and inconsistent. However, school playgrounds have highly consistent and regular patterns of usage in comparison. Where a public playground may experience some influx in traffic every now and then it will generally be used by a few children at once throughout the day, rather than a school in which large groups of children will be using the same equipment all at once at the same time of the day. For this reason, extra care needs to be put into developing traffic flow and refuge areas in school playground design.
Ensure there is enough room for children to wait their turn for certain equipment and pathways to ensure traffic is never obscured. This is crucial as failing to do so can lead to overcrowding, injury, and overall negative experience for children when trying to play.
When playing on public equipment children will almost always be accompanied by their parents, caregivers, or some form of supervisor. On school playgrounds, there are usually less dedicated supervisors available. Teachers often have to supervise large areas at once with a bigger amount of children. This means it is hard for their attention to be as undivided as that of a parent in a public playground. To navigate these differences through design, in school playgrounds the inclusion of harder to supervise enclosed equipment should be limited. Anything a supervisor can’t see easily or from a far should be avoided. Equipment like tunnels and cubbies in school spaces can make supervision difficult. Keeping equipment open and easily visible will help improve supervision.
Another difference in design when it comes to supervision is that extra amenities, like furniture, will need to be included in public playgrounds. This is to accommodate for parents, supervisors, and caregivers that will be attending the area. Furniture needs to allow adults to be able to sit and supervise children at a safe distance in well shaded areas.
The amount of space you have to work with will always affect your outcome however, with good design it should not affect this outcome negatively. With clever consideration, you can maximse any space to provide great play value. Public playgrounds generally have a larger space to work with. School playgrounds on the other hand need to fit in alongside other important buildings and facilities on the same block of land so they are usually a little tighter on space.
This is where designers need to be a lot smarter with their use of space. In order to work in limited, often more oddly shaped spaces while working to eliminate any dead space, custom designing comes into play. Work out what is going to provide the highest play value to children and prioritize that equipment in your layout.
Another important factor to consider when working with limited space is that in a school you will need to accommodate children at a variety of different ages all at once. This is often where multi-age equipment is used. Include equipment that all ages can access and benefit from to avoid having to fit separate age group equipment in one small space.
All playground equipment should comply with the current standard for playground equipment, AS 4685:2014. Public playgrounds are governed by the Australian standard however, schools may also follow certain Department of Education guidelines that vary from state to state. Before designing anything it’s important to know what guidelines or restrictions apply so you are always working towards a safe outcome.
Public playgrounds are sometimes part of bigger community hubs that may involve sports grounds, community buildings, and picnic areas. However, these playgrounds will still usually remain to serve a sole purpose – play. Alternatively, in schools playgrounds can be utilised as outdoor learning areas. By designing to suit the surrounding architecture, certain playground furniture and equipment can be used to allow schools to further utilise their playgrounds. This intuitive design allows children to be further engaged, taught, and benefited by their playgrounds. Including seating and refuge areas provide children new and exciting spaces to learn in.
When considering these differences good play design becomes great play design. This is just another reason we are so passionate about taking play seriously.