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The Elements of Play

Date Published: Jul, 29 2014

Playgrounds, particularly large playgrounds, can look like a complicated compilation of somewhat random equipment but when examined more closely you might notice something. Each piece of equipment is really only a variation of a few basic components broken apart, reimagined and put back together in an infinite and diverse array of equipment. Today we are breaking down the elements of play. Hopefully, you can use this information to build a more challenging and satisfying playground.


If you are a parent, you probably already know that children climb constantly almost from the moment they begin to stand and it's no surprise that playgrounds are filled with equipment to climb. Climbers come in all shapes and sizes and can be as simple as an inclined ramp or as elaborate as a spidery tangle of cables.

Climbing provides children with more than just a means of moving from point ‘A' to point ‘B.' When children first begin to climb they are learning to coordinate the movements of their hands and feet in a more refined manner. As children master basic climbing, they progress to more advanced obstacles, climbing higher and tackling more difficult equipment, eventually climbing across spaces with just their hands. Eventually, they start to desire more challenging climbers that incorporate another element of play.


From simple balance beams to more advanced obstacles, balance is to some extent part of almost every piece of playground equipment. Balance obstacles provide children with a sense of accomplishment upon completion and children become inventive with balance equipment. They find their own ways to make it harder, going faster, returning without touching the ground or balancing on one leg. The most difficult climbers rely heavily on requiring balance because they are so challenging and take much longer to master than other components. Today's playgrounds have climbing components suspended on springs and balance boards that move and swivel. Each type of motion requires a different skill set, adding variety and difficulty to any playground.


Components the involve movement are always the most popular equipment on any playground. Children crave motion that is both soothing and thrilling. Swings, spring riders, spinners and other motion equipment are all cousins, providing a fun way to exercise and teaching children the basics of physics as they move, pump and twist to propel themselves through space.

When you are designing a playground be sure to look for ways to incorporate each of these elements into your playground to ensure a successful design. The more of these elements that a component requires during use the more challenging it will be. If you are building for little children, choose low, stable equipment, short slides and gentle spring riders. For older children, choose higher structures, more challenging climbers and that swing or flex and require greater balance. Providing a wide range of difficulty levels will broaden the appeal of your playground and ensure that each visitor remains entertained.

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