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How to design age-appropriate playgrounds for schools and public parks

From playgrounds for toddlers to teenagers, here’s what you need to factor into your designs.

Playgrounds are more than just spaces for kids to run wild and burn off energy; they’re essential environments for growth, development and social interaction. Crafting these spaces with careful consideration of age appropriateness is crucial for ensuring safety, engagement and fully realising all these benefits.

Let’s delve deeper into crafting age-appropriate playgrounds for each educational stage, from early childhood to adolescence, including how to split and design school playgrounds to suit each relevant stage.

Playgrounds for toddlers

Toddlers are inquisitive explorers, eager to engage with their environment. Playgrounds for this age group should prioritise safety and supervision, as well of course keep activities close to the ground. Soft, cushioned surfaces like rubber or mulch are essential to prevent injuries from falls.

When designing a playground for toddlers, consider integrating some of these features and equipment types:

  • Soft, cushioned surfaces like rubber or mulch are essential to cushion falls.
  • Low platforms with gentle slopes and wide steps provide opportunities for climbing and crawling without overwhelming young adventurers.
  • Sand and water play areas that offer sensory-rich experiences to stimulate creativity and exploration.
  • Interactive panels with sensory features such as textures, mirrors and musical elements that stimulate toddlers’ senses and promote cognitive development.
  • Simple swings with supportive seats or bucket swings that cater to their need for gentle motion.
  • Enclosed spaces like low tunnels or small playhouses that offer a sense of security while encouraging imaginative play.

Playground for early childhood education centres, preschools and public parks

Preschoolers are energetic adventurers, refining their motor skills and expanding their social circles. Playgrounds for this age group should offer a diverse range of activities to accommodate their burgeoning abilities and interests. This may include:

  • Structures with multiple levels, bridges and slides provide opportunities for climbing, balancing and sliding, promoting physical development and spatial awareness.
  • Interactive nature play elements including sand and water play equipment that fosters creativity and sensory exploration.
  • Swings that offer more dynamic movement experiences.
  • Open spaces for running, jumping and group games that encourage social interaction and cooperative play.
  • Quiet nooks or shaded areas that allow preschoolers to take breaks and recharge when needed.


Playgrounds for primary schools

As children progress through primary school, they become more adventurous and socially aware. Playgrounds for school stages 1 to 2, or ages 5 to 8 years, should offer a diverse range of activities that challenge their growing abilities and encourage cooperative play.

When designing playgrounds for primary school children, consider including:

  • Climbing structures with varied levels of difficulty and interconnected platforms to promote physical development, spatial awareness and problem-solving skills.
  • Slides of different heights and configurations that offer exhilarating experiences while honing coordination and risk assessment.
  • Dynamic elements like rope courses, monkey bars and balance beams that provide opportunities for adventurous play and physical exertion. Swings with traditional seats or disc swings offer more dynamic movement experiences.
  • Open areas for group games, sports courts or fields that encourage teamwork, communication and healthy competition.
  • Seating areas and shaded spots provide places for socialising and relaxation between play sessions.

Primary school playgrounds for years 5 and 6

Once you get to the final years of primary school, children seek greater challenges and opportunities for independence. Playgrounds for this age group should offer stimulating environments that promote physical fitness, socialisation and creative expression.

When designing a playground for older primary school children, consider including:

  • Complex climbing structures with challenging obstacles, zip lines and climbing walls that provide opportunities for adventurous play and physical fitness.
  • Inclusive seating areas and quiet spots that cater to diverse needs and preferences.
  • Interactive elements like outdoor musical instruments, sensory gardens and art installations that encourage creative expression and sensory exploration.
  • Sports courts or fields that support organised games and physical activity, fostering teamwork and sportsmanship.


High school playgrounds

As adolescents transition into secondary school, they crave spaces that offer opportunities for self-expression, socialisation and stress relief. Playgrounds for this age group should provide a balance of physical challenges, relaxation zones and spaces for social interaction.

When looking at playground for students in years 7, 8, 9 and 10, consider factoring in the following:

  • Adventure-oriented elements like climbing structures, skate parks and parkour zones that cater to the desire for physical challenges and adrenaline-fueled activities.
  • Comfortable seating areas, shaded spots and quiet corners offer spaces for relaxation, reflection and socialising with peers.
  • Amphitheatres, picnic areas and outdoor classrooms that provide venues for group activities, performances and informal gatherings.
  • Inclusive seating options and flexible layouts that accommodate various group sizes and activities.
  • Incorporating greenery, trees and natural elements into the playground design promotes environmental stewardship, mental well-being and connection with nature.

Senior high school playgrounds

In their final years of schooling, students require spaces that support academic focus, social connection and emotional well-being. Playgrounds for this age group should provide opportunities for relaxation, reflection and meaningful social interactions. Rather than traditional play equipment, it’s also a good idea to consider whether outdoor fitness equipment is more beneficial.

When designing a playground for senior high school students, consider integrating the following:

  • Quiet seating areas, meditation gardens and reflective spaces that offer sanctuaries for relaxation, stress relief and contemplation amidst the rigours of senior study.
  • Collaborative workspaces, outdoor study areas and social hubs foster academic collaboration, peer support and meaningful social interactions.
  • Outdoor fitness stations, walking trails and outdoor gym equipment to promote physical activity, mental well-being and stress management.

Universal design principles

While catering to specific age groups is essential, it’s also important to incorporate universal design principles that ensure your playground is inclusive and accessible to children of all abilities. Providing wheelchair-accessible ramps, sensory-rich elements and inclusive seating options helps ensure that every child can fully participate and enjoy the playground experience.

Designing age-appropriate playgrounds requires a delicate balance of safety, engagement, and inclusivity. By understanding the unique needs of different age groups and incorporating appropriate play elements, designers can create enriching environments that support children’s physical, cognitive and social development.

The team at ForPark are experts in choosing the right equipment and design for each different setting and age group. Speak to us today for expert advice on your playground project.

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