Outdoor Playground Design – Creating a Natural Playscape Part 2

kids sliding down
In this second part of our three-part article on natural playscapes, we are going to continue the discussion of how an outdoor playground can be a great opportunity for kids to spend time in nature while having fun with their siblings and friends.

Surface Considerations

The surface of any playground is an important piece of the overall design puzzle. When trying to craft a natural playscape that integrates nature with playground equipment, you’ll need to carefully think about how each area should be surfaced, both for function and for safety. For starters, you will want playground surfacing material under your playground equipment which provides cushioning and injury protection in the case of a fall. There are a variety of materials available on the market today which can be placed under play equipment to offer the necessary cushioning.

Away from the playground equipment, you’ll probably want to think more about durability and keeping maintenance to a minimum. For instance, if there are paths that wind through your playscape, try to use materials that aren’t going to wear down quickly under consistent foot traffic. Also, materials that won’t need to be cared for regularly are great, as that kind of ongoing maintenance can be a big budget drain.

The Equipment

Even when nature is beautifully integrated with the playscape, it’s certain that the playground equipment you choose to use will be the focus of attention for many children. Let’s take a quick look at some of the common playground equipment pieces to be included in this kind of project.

• Swings. It’s hard to picture a playground without a swing set. This is simply a standard piece of equipment at playgrounds across the country, and kids are going to expect to find some swings as soon as they start to explore your space. Of course, there are safety concerns to keep in mind with a swing set, as kids will be swinging back and forth and could contact others who aren’t on the swings. With that in mind, make sure there is plenty of clearance both in front and behind the swings, and don’t design the play space in a way that natural funnels traffic into the wrong spots.

• Slides. A slide or two goes right along with swings in terms of equipment that kids expect to see on a playground. One of the things to consider with slides is the age range of kids that you will be serving. If there are going to be very young children playing along with older grade-school kids, it’s smart to have at least a couple of slide options. A very low, gradual slide is great for little ones, while older kids can handle a taller, faster slide. Buying quality playground equipment is important so you can count on it to perform over the years rather than needing to replace it shortly after installation.

For more on equipment and other natural playscape issues, please view the final post in our three-part series.