Playgrounds aren’t just fun for children, they’re vital for their healthy development. The physical benefits of running, climbing, and sliding are obvious. But studies also show that playgrounds help foster social skills, aid brain development, and increase self-confidence.
Whether you’re constructing a playground from scratch or updating an existing structure, a little research and planning will help you provide an enriching experience for the kids in your community. Here’s how to get started.
Assess Your Needs
It doesn’t matter if you’re building a brand-new playground or updating your current equipment: The first step should be to determine the size and layout of the playground space you’ll be working with. You should also estimate how many children will be using the playground at any given time, as this will help you plan your playground equipment budget.
It’s important to know the ages of the children that will be using the playground as well. Guidelines developed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) outline what commercial playground equipment is developmentally appropriate for children ages 6 months to 23 months, 2 to 5 years, and 5 to 12 years, so having this information will ultimately help you with choosing your equipment.
Check Existing Equipment
If you already have commercial playground equipment in use, make sure it all meets CPSC and ASTM safety guidelines. Any equipment that doesn’t meet these standards will need to be removed and replaced. Also, observe which playground equipment seems to get the most use and what pieces children don’t prefer. Consider replacing less popular equipment with new alternatives, rather than simply replacing them with something similar.
Include Access Routes
Playgrounds must offer safe and stimulating play for children of varying physical abilities and their caretakers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates minimum accessibility standards for playground spaces and commercial playground equipment. These provide detailed guidelines for access routes, ramps, and surfacing materials.
In addition to the ADA standards, you likely also have state and local regulations that will influence what playground equipment you need. Familiarizing yourself with all of these will help guarantee you construct an “inclusive playground”—one that doesn’t just remove physical barriers but limits social barriers as well, allowing children of all ability levels to learn and play together.
Plan Your Budget
Playground equipment budgets are typically determined by how many children will be using the playground. Budgeting $1,000 per child is a good rule of thumb, so if you plan on 30 kids using the playground, expect to spend about $30,000 on commercial playground equipment.
Playground equipment accounts for the bulk —about 60 percent—of playground budgets. Installation is the next biggest expense, taking about 25 to 30 percent of your total budget. Much of the rest of the budget will go toward preparing the playground site, which can include surfacing, landscaping, drainage, and other treatments.
Select Your Playground Equipment
Once you’ve established your playground needs, educated yourself on compliance standards, and calculated your budget, you can begin researching playground equipment.
Climbers and overhead ladders let kids get physical exercise while developing their coordination. Activity panels provide cognitive and sensory stimulation, whether teaching ABCs, offering challenging games, or facilitating music making. Bridges are an easy way for children to move around the play structure and prompt social interaction with other kids. And, of course, no playground is complete without a slide or three.
Playgrounds are critical to kids’ well-being, so a little time invested up front is well spent. With the proper planning and the right equipment, you’ll be well on the way to building the most popular playground in the neighborhood.