Play is an essential part of childhood. As children explore and develop, unstructured play allows them to be creative and discover the world in their own unique way. Children learn adaptability and problem-solving while enjoying fresh air and exercise. While learning in school is extremely important, the social, cognitive and physical skills that kids learn on the playground simply cannot be replicated in the classroom. Free play is an essential supplement to academic learning that leads to full and rich development.
A lot goes into designing an early childhood playground, from choosing the right location to providing essential safety features. You must select play equipment and choose the best layout. However, designing a daycare playground is about more than just designing a physical space — it is about promoting growth, learning and creativity and providing a place where children can enjoy play to the fullest.
Benefits of Free Play for Developing Children
There are two general types of play that children experience — structured and unstructured play. When children participate in classroom activities, gym class or other play that is led and organized by adults, this is structured play. Unstructured play, or “free play,” is what children experience on the playground when they can choose their own activities and explore how they wish. Because it promotes creativity and independence, free play offers benefits for children that structured play cannot. The unique benefits of free play help children develop important social, cognitive and physical skills.
When activities are not led by adults, children must work together to coordinate games and play, which helps them develop important communication skills. When children share playground equipment or play imaginative games, they learn conflict resolution, negotiation and collaboration. Allowing children time to develop these social skills without adult intervention is essential to their growth as individuals.
Because free play is not directed towards specific goals or outcomes like structured playtime is, free play encourages adaptability and creativity. Children can experiment with different ways to solve problems and try new things. When allowed to explore on their own, children will often use toys or engage with playground equipment in surprising and creative ways that build their imagination. This creativity helps children to be more versatile and adaptable when they encounter problems in the future. Free play also has an immediate benefit on learning as their attentiveness is often improved when they return to class after play time.
As children develop physically, it is important for them to explore how their body can move in space. Free play on the playground helps kids learn spatial awareness, explore independent movement and develop better coordination. Time spent climbing, jumping and running during free play also improves a child’s overall health and wellness. Your play area can provide a unique opportunity for social, cognitive and physical growth of the children in your daycare when these development benefits are included in your design plans.
Creating the Perfect Daycare Play Space
Creating the perfect daycare playground means filling it with play equipment that children will love, while also keeping safety first. There are many important factors to consider when designing your playground, including the age group of children playing on it and how many children will be on the playground at one time. You want to choose equipment that promotes growth and exploration while encouraging creativity. Your daycare equipment should be age-appropriate and safe while providing some challenge and risk.
Consider these factors to create a daycare play area that all children will enjoy.
1. Consider Capacity
How many children will be using your playground at one time should determine how large your playground should be. Make sure your daycare playground layout provides adequate space for free and safe play. Include enough pieces of play equipment so they will not be overcrowded or become a safety hazard. Provide a variety of equipment and play spaces so children can stay occupied during play time.
2. Plan Your Playground Layout
When planning your daycare playground design, follow the manufacturer’s specifications for how far apart to place equipment. Be sure to leave enough space between large play equipment, so children playing on one piece of equipment do not interfere with children on other equipment. Generally, a 6-foot radius will be sufficient, but you may need more space for equipment such as swings. For taller equipment make sure trees or other overhead structures do not interfere. If you are handling the installation yourself instead of having a professional do it, always review manufacturer specifications before installing.
For moving equipment, such as swings or seesaws, position them on the edges of play areas to avoid collisions. Slide exits should also be located in low traffic areas. You may also want to consider placing the most popular pieces of equipment in different areas of your playground to avoid over-crowding in any single spot. Passive play areas, such as sandboxes, should be kept separate from areas of more active play. Your playground should also include some quiet areas for children who want to take a break from play or who may become overwhelmed by too much stimulation.
3. Choose Age-Appropriate Equipment
Be sure that all equipment selected is appropriate for the intended age group. Children of different ages have different developmental needs as well as play abilities. Younger children may enjoy greater stimulation from bright colors and sensory equipment, while older children will enjoy more active and physically challenging play.
Make sure the size of the equipment is appropriate to the average height of the children that will be playing on it. This includes making steps or ledges small enough for children to climb and keeping the overall height of the equipment low enough to reduce injury from falls. When choosing play equipment for toddlers who are crawling or just learning to walk, it is especially important to include soft surfaces and reduce sharp edges. Little kids may also need things to hold onto when standing up.
In general, play equipment should be different for children under 2 years old, between 2 and 5, and older than 5 years old. Below are a few examples of appropriate equipment for each age group:
Under 2 Years Old:
- Swings with bucket seats
- Stairways and ramps
- Single-file step ladders
- Climbing equipment that is 32 inches high or less
- Spring riders
- Slides with less than 360 degree turns
Between 2 and 5 Years Old:
- Bucket swings and belt swings
- Stairways and ramps
- Rung ladders for climbing
- Climbing equipment
- Spring riders
- Slides and spiral slides
- Balance beams 12 inches high or less
- Monkey bars less than 60 inches high
Older Than 5 Years Old:
- Belt swings
- Stairways and ramps
- Step and rung ladders
- Climbing equipment with flexible parts
- Arch climbers
- Slides and spiral slides
- Vertical sliding poles
- Monkey bars
4. Make It Inclusive
Children within the same age group will often develop at different paces, and not all equipment will be appropriate for every child. Design your playground with all children in mind, providing both active and quiet spaces, challenging and safe equipment. Include cozy and quiet spaces for children on the autism spectrum. Consider accessibility in your playground design and include flat surfaces, wide paths and adequate space between play areas. Providing a variety of equipment can be a great way to ensure that all children have something they can enjoy.
Safety Considerations for Your Daycare Playground
In addition to planning the right layout and choosing appropriate equipment, there are a few other safety considerations to keep in mind when designing your new daycare playground playground. These physical considerations will ensure your daycare playground is safe and comfortable for free play:
- Choose the Right Location: When deciding where to build a playground for your daycare, choose a location that is easy to access from your facility. Your aim should be to minimize the number of hazards that children encounter as they transition from class to outdoor play. Avoid placing your playground close to a busy road, river or other physical hazards.
- Find the Right Terrain: Your playground should be built on a fairly flat area that does not contain ditches, large roots or ponds. The slope of the land should allow for proper drainage after rain or snow, so it does not become muddy.
- Include Shady Spaces: Make sure your play space has areas of shade so children can get out of the sun in hot summer months. This shade can be naturally occurring from trees or provided with covered equipment or umbrellas over benches. Any metal play equipment should be positioned in the shade, so it does not cause burns.
- Choose Appropriate Surfacing: When selecting material for your playground surfacing, consider appearance and functionality. Materials such as wood chips, pea gravel, sand, shredded rubber or pour-in-place rubber surfacing are good options. Avoid hard surfaces like concrete, blacktop, pressed earth or grass as these can lead to severe injuries if children fall. Remember that loose playground surfacing will become uneven as kids play on it. Wood chips and gravel should be periodically replaced underneath swings and slides for proper cushioning. Playground mats can also be used for extra protection in high-traffic areas.
- Add a Perimeter Fence: Play areas should be secured with a fence or other natural barrier so kids cannot wander out of the play area and no unauthorized people can enter. Fencing should not be climbable from either side and should be made of a material that does not have sharp edges. If using wood for fencing, make sure it is sealed so it will not splinter.
- Eliminate Any Hazards: Children are naturally curious and want to explore. While this is beneficial for learning and play, it can lead to injury if the play space is not properly protected against hazards. Avoid creating any small areas that children may crawl into and get stuck. Play equipment should not have any openings that are between 3.5 and 9 inches. Your play space should not have any protruding bolts or hooks that children could catch their clothing or fingers on. Keep your playground clean from debris or trash so children can enjoy clean and healthy play.
Additional Tips for Designing the Best Daycare Play Space
With a little creativity, you can create a daycare playground that will keep your children entertained all day and all year long. Here are a few tips for creating a unique and engaging play space for any age group:
- Create a Theme: When selecting playground equipment, you may want to choose a theme to help get children engaged and spark their imagination. You fill your playground with car spring riders and playhouses so they can learn about city life, or choose a nature theme with animals, flowers and a nature station. You can also order play equipment in a specific color scheme to promote your daycare’s brand.
- Include a Variety of Equipment: Different children like to play in different ways, so aim to include many different opportunities for kids to engage. Have quiet spaces, such as sandboxes, where kids can relax as well as active spaces like swings and climbers. While social development is an essential part of free play, it is also beneficial for children to play independently and explore on their own. Include equipment that encourages cooperation as well as single-person slides, spring riders and tunnels.
- Involve Other Toys: In addition to playground equipment, put out other toys for kids to use during free play. This can include balls, hula hoops, jump ropes and more. Depending on the number of children and available space, you may want to designate a specific area where these toys can be used safely away from playground equipment.
- Add Benches, Pathways, Signs and More: Your playground is not complete without playground accessories to make it a comfortable and welcoming place. Benches provide somewhere for children to take a break and for parents and teachers to comfortably supervise. Add waste receptacles to keep your playground clean and hangers for book bags and jackets. You can also include informative signs that share playground rules or fun signs that encourage pretend play, such as traffic signals on bike paths.
Daycare Play Equipment From Playworld
From swings and climbers to benches and slides, Playworld has everything you need to design your perfect daycare playground for any age group. Our daycare playground equipment is designed to encourage social and cognitive development while providing a fun and safe experience for all children. Choose from a variety of colorful and sensory equipment designed with children in mind.
- FirstPlay™ Toddler line: This line of equipment is designed specifically for children between 6 months and 23 months old. Featuring bright colors and textures, our FirstPlay™ Toddler equipment stimulates the senses. Height-appropriate slides and steps encourage the development of physical skills for toddlers who are learning how to walk and climb. Some play stations even include water and sand panels.
- Fun Centers™ line: Children between ages 2 and 5 can enjoy climbing and sliding on these durable play structures. For extra engagement, some Fun Centers™ equipment includes games and activities such as sliding tracks and knobs. With a variety of sizes and designs available, this equipment is an affordable option for daycare playgrounds of any size.
- Adventure Tubes line: This line of equipment includes a variety of crawl tubes. Children can take in the bright colors or explore the varying textures of these fun playground crawl tubes. Adventure Tubes offers equipment in a variety of colors and designs so that you can choose the option that best fits your playground’s unique design.
- BambinoTM line: The BambinoTM line offers a variety of playground structures perfect for young children and play spaces with a smaller footprint. With exciting features like slides, climbing activities and interactive panels, young children will love these bright and colorful play sets.
- Challengers® line: This line of large play equipment is perfect for children between ages 2 and 5. Children can experience a variety of play on one piece of equipment that incorporates slides, bridges, tunnels, climbing walls, ladders and more. Available in a variety of bright colors and stimulating textures, the Challengers® line encourages creativity and imagination. This playground equipment line also offers a variety of themed options, like the Wildlife Quest nature-themed playground or the Minnow ship-themed playground.
- Spring Riders: Available in a variety of fun designs, our spring riders allow kids to bounce and enjoy movement while providing sensory enjoyment of realistic sounds. Children can hear realistic animal sounds or pretend they are a farmer on our animal spring riders. Other springs riders look like cars, airplanes and trains so children can experience different modes of transportation.
Why Work With Playworld?
At Playworld, we are proud to offer creative and innovative playground equipment that kids truly love. When developing new equipment, we test each prototype with children and watch how they engage with the equipment. We take their feedback seriously and adjust our products to provide the most engaging experience.
We know that play is about much more than simply having fun — it is a crucial part of a child’s development, including physical, sensory and social skills. With bright colors, textures and noisemakers, our equipment engages all of the senses to thrill and delight children. Our large play equipment and play stations are designed to promote social interactions. Children can engage in role-playing and imaginative play, allowing playground equipment to transform into castles, cities, mountains or houses.
Physical development is an essential part of play as children learn tactile skills, balance and coordination. They build strength and coordination in their early years that will serve as a foundation for future growth. Children can enjoy a range of motion such as swinging, spinning, sliding, climbing and jumping. Our equipment is also designed for children of all ages and abilities to enjoy. We incorporate cozy spaces for children on the autism spectrum as well as wheelchair accessible spaces.
All of our equipment is designed by expert play engineers who are trained in child development and architectural design. They study how kids interact with toys and equipment and put that knowledge to work in each piece of Playworld equipment. We are constantly improving our designs to encourage more meaningful interactions and more fun. Manufactured from premium materials and exceptional craftsmanship, our equipment is of the highest quality.
Because we have been in the industry since 1971, we have watched generations of children grow up. We have seen the positive impact that play has on a child’s development and believe in the value of free, unstructured play for young people. We believe that play is a fundamental right of childhood, so we build playgrounds that give children the opportunity for true excitement, joy and wonder.
Create the Perfect Daycare Play Area With Playworld
Playworld offers a wide variety of play equipment that is perfect for any age group and any budget. Whether you want to update your equipment or build an awesome play space from the ground up, our Play experts are here to help. Contact us today for more information about building the best playground or to request a quote. You can also browse our daycare playground equipment online to get started designing a dream playground for your daycare.