The Art of Creating Engaging and Inclusive Playgrounds

How to Win a Playground Design Competition

Little painted pictures in corners and nooks, secret hiding places, interesting textures and peep holes, handles and levers, talking tubes, all these details make a playground more exciting for children.

Students were invited to enter a design competition that promotes innovative outdoor play spaces for Philadelphia. Interdisciplinary teams were challenged to create plans for three public space locations that need better playgrounds.


Safety refers to playground equipment and surfacing that minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. These measures may include circuits, entries, soft barriers and sightlines.

A thorough programming process is essential to understand how and by whom children will use the play space. This information will guide many design decisions, such as determining the size of the Gross Motor Play zone.

In addition, designers must ensure that protective surfacing is adequate and appropriate for the type of activities being provided. This surfacing can be an adequately deep loose-fill material, wood fiber rubber mulch, unitary safety tiles or a poured-in-place surface. It is also important to consider noise levels from the various activities and ensure that noisy activities do not disturb those engaged in quieter forms of play.


A successful playground design requires many different factors. For example, it should have different areas for different age groups to avoid confusion and provide children with options that suit their individual needs. In addition, the design should also take into account environmental and cultural considerations.

The competition aims to collect innovative designs for transforming the two PPSs into more attractive and playful venues. The sites are located in areas with high populations of young children and child care providers, which could make use of these improved play spaces.

Inclusive sensory design takes children with disabilities into consideration. It can include cozy spaces where kids can hide in a quiet tunnel if they are overwhelmed by sensory input on the playground. It also includes a variety of activities with varying energy levels, so that kids can choose what to play and when.


In order to keep children engaged, playgrounds should offer multidimensional play. They should also provide a sense of place, or “genius locii.” This concept honors the local environment by using natural resources to create play spaces that blend with the surrounding landscape.

In addition, playgrounds should allow for a certain amount of risk in free-play. This is a key part of children’s development. However, a current emphasis on safety limits the types of risks that children can take during their outdoor play.

This research critically approached the formal design standards to reform them in terms of enhancing FMS and perceptual-motor abilities in outdoor playgrounds. The results of the first round of Delphi survey questions were systematically refined to form a new set of 9 categories and 23 items of criteria for designing sustainable playgrounds.


While it’s helpful to factor in modern design trends, it’s equally important to keep your playground goals and parameters in mind. Ultimately, you’ll want to design for children.

As part of the competition, students were challenged to plan and construct a prototype for an accessible piece of playground equipment. During their design lessons, students engage in planning, building, testing and iterating their designs, establishing an understanding of the engineering process.

Students also explore the implications of inclusion and accessibility in their designs. They learn about the need to be able to safely use equipment and play with their peers, and they begin to consider the ways that their designs can be made more inclusive for everyone. They also explore the potential of technology such as Bluetooth beacons, which allow park visitors to receive navigation assistance and multi-media experiences from their mobile devices.


Eco-friendly playgrounds use recycled materials to create a safe and stimulating environment for kids. They also provide educational opportunities for kids to learn about environmental sustainability through hands-on activities. For instance, an eco-friendly playground might feature a recycle bin for plastic trash and compost containers to encourage visitors to participate in environmentally friendly practices.

Today’s playground designs are becoming more inclusive, with accessible routes that ensure children of all ages can enjoy the playground. Additionally, they use contrasting colors to improve visibility for mobility-disabled visitors.

To design an accessible playground, students can sketch, create maps and build models. They can also upload photos and other resources to document their work. They should discuss their design with peers to help them solve problems and improve their plans.

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