In defense of the fence


The Inclusive Play Design Guide (IPDG) recommends that when building an inclusive playground a perimeter boundary needs to be created around the entire play space with only one or two entrances. (LA-4)  The notion of fences at playgrounds can create controversy, as some feel they separate children from the natural elements of the park. Others feel fences create an atmosphere where children are “playing in a cage”, while still others would rather spend the money that would be spent on fence for more play equipment, since a fence has no play value.

However, the proponents of fencing playgrounds, including the authors of the IPDG, suggest including a fence for three reasons:

  1. It keeps children safe
  2. It reduces the anxiety of adults who are supervising children
  3. It allows younger children more independence, since the parent will not need to hover

When you install a fence around a play area, you are teaching children about boundaries.  You are telling them with architecture that this is the area where you are permitted to play.  As demonstrated on many playgrounds throughout the country, physical boundaries do not stop children from playing, they in fact provide children the freedom to play and explore without a parent hovering right next to them.  Children understand that within the boundary the risks they take are tolerable.  While outside of the boundaries are places where the risk may be too high for a young child to explore alone—for instance the lake, the parking lot, the busy street, or the forest.

For a parent bringing multiple young children to a playground, if the kids run in opposite directions he or she can rest assured that they won’t go beyond a certain point.  For young children an artificial barrier (ie. don’t go beyond those two trees) is not effective.  Once a child gets engrossed in play activities, it is easy for them to wander past the space dad said not to go beyond.

Including a perimeterin your playground design demonstrates to families who are raising children with autism that you understand their child’s individual needs.  A child on the autism spectrum may have a “fight or flight” response when overwhelmed.  This instinct is our body’s primitive, automatic, inborn response that prepares the body to “fight” or “flee” from perceived danger.

When our fight or flight system is activated, we tend to perceive everything in our environment as a possible threat. By its very nature, the fight or flight system bypasses our rational mind—where our more well thought out beliefs exist—and moves us into “attack” mode.   When this is happening to a child with autism, they may run faster than normal, they have no concern for their safety other than getting away, and they have no regard for others safety.  Properly positioned barriers can prevent them from running into a dangerous situation.   By creating a perimeter on a playground you are telling parents who are raising children with autism: You are welcome here.

Don’t limit your possibilities with a staid chain link fence.  Newer fences can add play value to your playground.  Check out some of the creative fences on the Let Kids Play Pinterest board.  The things you want to consider for a perimeter are:

  • Horizontal components that don’t allow a child to climb to get over the fence
  • Designs that don’t create any entrapment spaces
  • Colors and materials that can easily be seen at night and by people with visual impairments

Are you planning a perimeter for your playground?  Tell us about it.


*The information on the Fight or Flight response comes from Neil F. Neimark, M.D. at

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