What is true play value?
True play value can be most simply measured by how much a child is engaged by a playground both physically and mentally. If a child is highly engaged and a playground is providing them development, then good play value has been achieved.
For children in their early development stages, a playground is a place of extreme importance. It’s a place for fun and games with friends, a place to stay active, a place to let their imagination run wild, and most importantly a place where they develop important skills that will last them a lifetime.
You could have a playground bursting at the seams with equipment, but without the right consideration and focus on play value it would be a wasted opportunity.
It may be easy to identify play value when it’s in use. But, what impacts play value may not be so obvious in the design stage of a playground.
Why is it so important?
When creating a playground the most basic end goal is to have children engaged. A child should always enjoy their time spent on the playground. Children should feel safe and supported, yet still stimulated, excited, and encouraged to take risks and challenge themselves through play.
If your playground or equipment is not engaging to children, they won’t want to spend their time there or keep coming back. This means they are missing out on the physical and developmental benefits of play they could and should be receiving.
Through play, children learn and develop their cognitive skills, problem-solving, social skills, and their fine and gross motor skills too. If a component is too short, tall, low, high, or easy for a child they simply won’t be able to play with it, enjoy it, and learn from it.
Overlooking play value will not just affect a child’s time and experience on the playground but all other aspects of their lives too. Poor play design with low play value means that children will miss out on the many opportunities that play provides.
These opportunities range from social development to physical and cognitive growth. Social experiences children should have on the playground not only shape their personality and perspectives, but help them build confidence.
Playgrounds are also a place where children can expel all their excess mental and physical energy. They can get their daily dose of physical activity whilst letting their imaginations run wild. If play spaces are not designed to foster these activities children won’t given the greatest opportunity to develop and grow.
What Impacts Play Value in a Playground?
There are many factors that influence the play value of a playground. However, with over 35 years’ experience crafting playground adventures for thousands of children all around Australia, we’ve identified several keys to maximising play value.
Designing for the User’s Age and Ability
A playground with real play value will always be designed specifically for the user’s age and ability. This should be the foundational question in every playground purchaser and designer’s mind – who is this playground catering for?
Just like the children they are built for, every playground has a unique set of needs and specifications. There should never be the attitude that one size will fit all in playground design. For example, playgrounds built in a school for senior children would not provide a good experience for toddlers in a public park.
A good playground designer will assess the user’s age, average height, interest, and cognitive ability and create a playground to suit. The height and type of play activities are just some of the items that are changed according to the user.
Take for example a parent bringing their 3-year-old son to the local playground that only includes a challenging climbing structure and swing. While the swing may provide some enjoyment, the climbing structure is not accessible for the stature of the 3-year-old. This demonstrates a lack of thought for the age group of users that would use the playground.
A Range of Play Types
Including a diverse range of equipment in a playground means you are providing more play value to children.
There are many types of play, including social play, sensory play, nature play, active play, and more. You want to include a range of each to ensure your playground is engaging and providing holistic development opportunities. Too much focus on one type of play can make the playground disengaging.
For example, a playground that only provides nature play can miss vital active and upper body development that is needed for children that other forms of play would provide.
Another would be a playground unit design that only included upper body activities like monkey bars. Without providing activities that challenge balance or the cognitive function of a child, the playground will become disengaging.
In addition, children have different interests and abilities and it’s important to cater to this.
Size of Playground Components and Activities
The sizing of playground equipment directly impacts play value. Sizing of equipment includes, but is not limited to, the height, length, or width of the equipment. For an example of why size is so important to play value; where tall monkey bars will be a perfect challenge for older children, they would be useless to younger children.
The length of components is often overlooked as a way to achieve excellent play value. On the less effective playground, components are short. However, at adventure+, we specialise in long playground components. This simple design technique of adding length means that children get more out of equipment. For instance, monkey bars with more rungs added encourage children to exert more physical energy and thus get more out of their time playing.
The size of slides is another example of where play value can be added. Take notice of how high slides are in a playground design. Additionally, look at the sizing of platforms and refuge areas. A school playground needs to cater to a lot of children at once so larger platforms and flow are important.
Quantity and Quality of Play
Many people associate good play value with the number of pieces of equipment or activities they have on their playground. While this is certainly part of how you consider and achieve play value, it is not the only factor.
Assessing play value solely by the number of components, without considering the size of the component, how the playground caters for the user group, and has a range of play types, can be a recipe for a disengaging and even unsafe playground.
Balance is a key aspect of designing a good playground and ensuring better play value. It is far more than the number of play activities or the budget for the playground.
Play is a science that should always be taken seriously.