The Importance of Age-Appropriate Playground Equipment

The Importance of age-appropriate playground equipment

Close your eyes and envision people at a playground. Maybe you pictured elementary school-aged children conquering the monkey bars, jumping from the swings or zipping down the slide. For decades, people have associated playgrounds with a primary school age demographic. However, play is for everyone — from toddlers to adults — and everyone deserves to play on equipment designed for their abilities and interests.

Why Playground Equipment Should Be Age-Appropriate

Pinpointing the right level of age-appropriateness for you target audience can promote safety, fun, and challenges.

There are a few reasons age-appropriate playground equipment should be a chief concern for playground designers. Pinpointing the right level of age-appropriateness for your target audience can promote:

  • Safety: Equipment considered safe for a 10-year-old to use may not be as safe for a 3-year-old. As kids develop their gross and fine motor skills and their cognitive reasoning, they can do more to promote their own safety. But for small children, equipment must be designed with their limited abilities and size in mind, offering the necessary features to keep them out of harm’s way while they play.
  • Fun: Playgrounds should be fun — and a kid’s idea of fun can evolve as they grow older. For example, a challenging climbing wall is likely to appeal to older kids, but to a preschooler, going down a slide may be the peak of fun. Even within the same age group, kids can have different ideas of fun, which is why it’s always smart to provide a variety of equipment to appeal to all kids.
  • Challenge: Regardless of our age, when something is no longer challenging, it tends to become less entertaining. But if something is too challenging, we might give up before trying it for fear of not being able to conquer it. That’s why you want to choose equipment that offers just the right amount of challenge for the age group that will be using it. An appropriate level of challenge can help propel kids along in their development.

Determining the Age-Appropriateness of Equipment

So how do you determine what equipment is age-appropriate for your playground? There are three main ways that equipment should fit a child’s developmental stage and abilities.

1. Physical and Sensory Considerations

Start by assessing what physical skills are required to use this playground equipment and whether or not it will help children develop these skills. Gross motor skills involve the large muscles of the body and aren’t fully developed until ages 6 or 7. Does the equipment in question require kids to crawl, walk, balance, jump, climb, twist, pull or bend? Ask yourself just how much core or upper body strength is needed to play.

Also, consider the fine motor skills (the physical skills required to make small, tightly controlled movements with the hands, fingers or toes). Are there knobs to pull or wheels to turn? By knowing what physical skills each piece of playground equipment involves, you can determine whether it’s appropriate for the age group.

Great playgrounds include sensory play activities in addition to physical play. For a young child, their sensory system is developing along with their physical development. Introduce children to a variety of textures, materials, reflective surfaces, sound and color through playground equipment choice.

Consider how play equipment supports or challenges their current level of hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness and proprioception — or sensing the position of parts of the body and the effort it takes to use them during movement. Does the equipment require them to duck under, open, or place their limbs in just the right spot?

2. Social and Emotional Considerations

As our brains develop, our social abilities and interests also evolve. This is another essential factor to consider when determining whether equipment is age-appropriate.

During early childhood, children are investigating the world both on their own, and as a group. Create areas that encourage self-discovery through patience or confidence, but also spaces that promote cooperation and teamwork. Sometimes this might mean having two of the same features, such as a steering wheel, so the experience is shared. At around ages 4 and 5, children begin learning through imitation and imagination. Ensure there are areas on the playground that encourage the use of imagination and provide the flexibility to change from day to day.

3. Creative and Cognitive Considerations

Playtime can help young children develop cognitively in a number of ways. As they interact with the equipment and other children, they can learn cognitive skills like spatial abilities and problem-solving. Some playground equipment can also promote creativity and imagination, which is a healthy part of cognitive development, especially for young children. In early childhood, pretend play is especially popular, making playground equipment that provides imaginative settings and props for this type of play ideal.

Older kids need a play area that stimulates their minds, too. More challenging activities and complicated layouts can help them think strategically as they play. If a playground feels too simple or better suited to younger kids, older kids won’t feel challenged and may lose interest.

Age-Appropriate Playground Equipment and Layouts for Each Age Group

At each age, you should consider what types of equipment and what arrangement of this equipment is best suited to the playground users. Age-appropriate playground equipment and layouts of playgrounds look different at each developmental stage. Let’s consider how this might influence your choices for toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children.

Ages 2-3

Crucial development takes place from birth to five years of age, yet early childhood is often an underserved audience when it comes to play. A few pieces of equipment that work great for toddlers include:

Layouts for this age group should be simple and include equipment side-by-side so children who are engaging in parallel play — a common and beneficial type of play at this age — can enjoy independent activities in the company of other children.

Ages 4-5

As children get a bit older, they tend to start playing in more social ways. This makes playground designs that promote cooperative play a good choice.

Some examples of equipment that work well for this age group include:

Ages 5-12

When it comes to school-age children, their gross and fine motor skills are far more developed, calling for more challenging equipment. Some examples include:

Layouts for older children should include a variety of equipment to keep kids engaged. It should also include plenty of activities kids can enjoy collaboratively and independent activities kids can enjoy to challenge themselves.

Find Age-Appropriate Equipment For Your Playground

Find age-appropriate equipment for your playground

Ready to start exploring age-appropriate playground equipment? Playworld lets you browse equipment by age group so you can be sure you’re choosing options that were designed with your end-user in mind. Consider our early childhood playground equipment, as well as our equipment for school-age kids.

Everyone deserves a safe, fun and educational experience on the playground, and you can provide those essential elements with the right components or complete playsets from Playworld.

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