There is a wonderful variety of designs and options for outdoor playgrounds, including the following 6:
- All-Inclusive: Children with disabilities often cannot play on a standard playground and therefore cannot take advantage of the benefits that play provides. An all-inclusive playground is a space that provides play opportunities for children of all ages and abilities. These types of playgrounds are designed to promote the healthy development of all children’s physical, social, cognitive, and sensory abilities.
- Loose Parts: In playgrounds, loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. Loose parts can be natural or synthetic. In a outdoor playground, we can provide an array of loose parts for use in play, including stones, stumps, sand, gravel, fabric, twigs, wood, pallets, balls, pails, small shovels, baskets, crates, boxes, logs, rope, and tires.
- Natural: Natural playgrounds are designed to look like miniature natural landscapes, and they’re full of natural elements–like logs, rocks, greenery–just waiting to be discovered by children of all ages. Sometimes they’re referred to as ecological parks, play parks, or nature parks.
- Sound Sensory Play: Musical instruments can bring the fun and ease of playing percussion-type instruments into the outside world. Whether you are looking for a new addition to an urban space, rural play area, school playground, elder center, or tourist attraction. Several companies have a range of funky instruments to create soundscapes in outdoor areas.
- Play Sculpture: Studies have shown that a child’s early participation and education in the arts are important in establishing arts-related activities as an adult. Behavioral researchers have also found that both appreciation for and understanding of the arts are related to the environment in which artwork is presented. A playground provides a welcome environment for art, comfortable in its familiarity. Combining art and play brings art within the context of everyday life, demystifying but not devaluing art. Playgrounds are under-recognized as a potential artistic medium.
- Bouldering: The modern sport of bouldering combines hands-on problem solving and dynamic gymnastic moves on short rock climbs. It is now one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and because it is, bouldering practice and exercise areas are being built into parks. An excellent example of a climbing area is in Lions’ Park in Moab UT, where the ground has been softened to prevent injury during falls.
As the image above demonstrates, art and bouldering can be mixed to creative affect.
- River and Sand Play: I first saw river play at an elaborate water and sand tank at Dinosaur Museum at Thanksgiving Point, Lehi UT. My grandkids loved it. The water moves swiftly in the play river where youngsters design and re-design landscapes, islands, dams, levees, and towers as well as sculpting and shaping the stream bed to direct the movement of floating objects. They are excellent for understanding the causes and effects of erosion. While the Lehi artificial river is indoors, there is no reason they can’t be constructed outdoors. Play rivers are ultra-accessible and have a transformative effect on children, including those with behavior or developmental issues.