How To Choose The Right Mix of Nature Play Equipment
Art truly meets science when it comes to good playground design. Landscape architects will often have a vision for the finished product, but incorporating the right play elements, creating a broad range of activities and using the appropriate palette of materials is no easy feat.
Because the best playgrounds provide opportunities for kids to explore all aspects of play while developing their insights and abilities, it’s important you choose the right mix of nature play elements. Here’s how to nail your design from the outset.
Defining Nature Playgrounds
In its purest form, nature play is unstructured. It’s about kids embracing the natural elements of the outdoors – from forests, to creeks, to bushlands, to the beach. It’s play without borders, and free from external distractions like toys (not to mention screens!).
But for the vast majority of families – especially urban dwellers – it’s unrealistic to expect children to have easy and safe access to these natural spaces on an everyday basis. This is where nature play equipment and playgrounds come in. They sit at the convergence of traditional playgrounds and nature play, with man-made natural elements designed for a more holistic and well-rounded play experience.
Recognising The Complexity Of Play
No matter what type of playground you are designing, it’s important to recognise the limitations from the outset. Even the largest nature playground in the world can’t be all things to all kids. Instead, it’s a valuable skill for landscape architects to recognise the great complexity of play – that ‘play’ in and of itself takes many forms, and is only constrained by a child’s imagination.
So while you can’t create a playground where every child is going to be able to access all aspects of it, you can approach its design with an awareness of the need for diversity in order to ensure no one feels excluded. For example, while some children may not yet have the physical capability to navigate overhead swing bars like older kids, they may get the same level of enjoyment out of something that’s easy to pick up like timber chimes.
Key Principles For Designing Successful Play Spaces
Across the board, there is a general consensus that a number of factors must be in place to achieve a successful play space. While success is often subjective, in the context of a nature playground it’s quite obvious whether the space is effective or not – because parents and children will make their opinion known by their presence, or their absence.
Successful play spaces are:
- Well located
- Makes use of natural elements
- Offers a wide range of play experiences
- Accessible to all children, including those with disability
- Meets community needs
- Allows for inter-age play
- Creates opportunities to experience risk and challenges
- Sustainable and well maintained
- Adaptable for change and evolution
Use Age Groups To Structure The Layout
Landscape architects typically have a vision for the play space they want to create, but you could design the most beautiful playground in the world and if it doesn’t appeal to a variety of age groups, it will fall short of community expectations.
Deciding on the right mix of play elements you want to incorporate into the nature playground’s design should go hand in hand with a conversation around which activities will suit which age groups. Consider:
- Toddlers: Ground-level play is essential for children in the 1–3 years age range. Think about including elements like timber bridges, sound activities like jungle drums, and sand and water elements they can easily engage with.
- Pre-schoolers: As they become more confident in their bodies and want to experience challenges at play, more complicated play equipment like a wobbly bridge and log balance trail can generate excitement.
- School-aged: Some playgrounds cater either too heavily towards toddlers or only appeal to older children. Balance is key, which is why more challenging and risky play elements should be included – log obstacle courses and overhead swing bars are a good choice for older kids.
Remember that different elements must cater to various ability levels and those with accessibility needs. Colour and texture palettes should also be considered, especially in how visually appealing the design is to children and parents and how it complements the natural surroundings. On top of that, a mix of physical versus cognitive challenges offers a much broader appeal than only having one or the other.
Natura’s play consultants and designers are here to help you select the right mix of products for your next landscape design. To speak to us about products, or get a full nature play design, give us a call on 1800 655 041.