Designing Playspaces

In a playspace, a child can engage himself in a multitude of free-play activities. A playspace can occur anywhere and at anytime. But when a child's environment is altered by urban development and other modern constraints, his play activities become limited to specialized areas we recognize as playgrounds. Although a playground can never become a replacement for making sand castles on a beach or walking through the woods, it needs to at least provide some of the experiences encountered outside a fenced perimeter.

Even in Hawaii where a natural environment abounds, children are constrained to institutional forms of play. Public schools and city parks do very little to engage kids in more than the most mundane physical activities. The typical layout of a playground is the presence of one or two composite structures that only a child under the age of five may find challenging. Fighting, boredom, and reckless behavior on the play yard is often a result of a short-sighted vision of how to design an outdoor playspace. (see Hawaii Playgrounds)

As people begin discarding playground catalogs and start acknowledging their own intuition as well as a plethora of research in child development, a new image of playgrounds is beginning to emerge. These playspaces have a greater reliance upon landscaping than on equipment. They are evolving spaces which adjust to the interests of kids. They are also investments of dedication and concern rather than investments of scarce funding.

The following are some of the guiding principles used when designing an enriched play environment:

Access and Circulation - Is there adequate room for children to move with ease and engage in play events without excess obstruction or crowding?

Diversity of Play - Can children find a wide range of group and independent activities to capture their immediate and future attention?

Play Challenges - Are features used in the play space appropriate for the age group it is intended for? Is there a wide range of challenges for children with varied abilities?

Multiplicity of Function - Do the features in the play space lend themselves to a variety of uses?

Attraction - Do children find the entire play space inviting? Is there sufficient attention to natural materials and green spaces?

Protective Measures - Are children visually accessible? Are potential injuries considered & adequately addressed?

Longevity - Will the play space last and what maintenance schedule can be applied that will realistically be followed?

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