By capturing the wonder and imagination of a child’s mind, open-ended outdoor play promotes healthy sensory and motor development, psychological resilience, problem-solving skills and self-esteem.
So what’s the secret to creating an outdoor playground with abundant appeal and age-appropriate challenges?
We take inspiration from nature, offer an array of heights, textures, areas, speeds and inspirations and let the children take the reins. Yes, even when it involves some amount of controlled risk.
We must also look beyond just physical play. Well-designed playgrounds recognise that there are as many as 16 different ways that children play and seek to encompass many of them through broader concepts. Let’s break down each one.
In this blog:
1. Nurturing creativity
While a slide will always be a hit in play areas, innovative play areas use familiar elements that are open to unique interpretation by the children using them. For instance, one of the best ways to enable children to transform and reinvent a play area is by adding loose parts that can be transferred, remodelled or built with.
At this point, it’s important to remember the point of a playground is not to ‘look pretty’. It should be inviting and engaging for young minds. Playability is more important than aesthetics.
2. Encouraging healthy risk
By enabling children to take risks, we encourage the development of emotional regulation, particularly around fear and anger. According to Boston University research professor Peter Gray, “children love to play in risky ways; ways that combine the joy of freedom with just the right measure of fear to produce the exhilarating blend known as thrill.”
Risky play is vital in the development of risk assessment and conflict resolution skills, and supports healthy self-esteem as children learn and progress at their own speed.
3. Connecting with culture
A playground provides a unique opportunity to tell a story about the local community to its young people. Fostering a sense of place nurtures a sense of belonging, so take the opportunity to weave in elements that speak to the local culture and community. Think about landscape elements, celebrations of culture, local architecture, and artworks that highlight important figures or ideas.
Musical instruments used by indigenous or local cultures are always a hit and help children learn about other cultures as well as feeling at home in their childcare environment.
4. Ensuring flow
Tying the various elements of your outdoor playground together is vital, but so is making the journey between them fun! Design your areas with guidance between the areas, and then add points of “choice” (such as hopscotch or a water fountain). This way, children are invited to make every single journey through the playground new and exciting.
5. Creating balance
For every high-energy activity your playground offers, incorporate a calmer option. A cubby in which to read, a garden to take solitude or a chalkboard to draw away the play break are all great options for children looking to expend less energy.
By removing some of the noise of high-energy areas, we provide children with opportunities to connect, reflect and daydream. If space and budget permit, aim to provide distinct areas for:
- Active play: engagement with tangible moving equipment (such as swings and scramble nets) as well as fixed elements (like large rocks). Mixed heights, textures and strengths in these elements increase the challenges for children to support core and upper body strength, balance, and gross and fine motor development. It also enhances muscle and bone strength.
- Open activity: physical and free-flowing movements such as ball games, running, skipping, rolling, twirling and yoga.
- Socialising: enabling interaction through performance, conversation, cooperating, taking turns and following “rules” (think puppet show theatres and school classroom sets). This assists with skill readiness, confidence and creativity.
- Creativity: promoting imagination via construction, design, drawing, crafting, painting, singing, drumming, dressing up and dancing. Encouraging choice and self-expression does wonders for a child’s independence and autonomy.
- Nature appreciation: encouraging curiosity through smelling the flora, playing with sand, climbing trees, hearing the birds, observing the bugs, tasting edible plants and witnessing nature’s colour. Creating an appreciation for nature promotes respect for the environment, and can assist with the reduction of depression and anxiety.
- Reflection:inviting the importance of resting, consolidating and daydreaming.
6. Considering junctures
Rather than seeking to make every element of your playground accessible to everyone, aim to provide scales of ability for each activity. Inclusivity is increased by providing opportunities for all children to work and learn alongside one another towards a shared goal.
Great examples can include pulley systems that see children working at different heights, or talking tubes that appear throughout different areas of the playground.
An innovative play space is a reward for a lifetime
While not every outdoor playground will be able to include or support every single element, considered planning will deliver an outdoor playground that is as rewarding for educators as it is for the children, now and into the future.
Selling A Childcare Centre
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