One of the major challenges of planning a playground is figuring out ways to appeal to kids of all ages. Since play needs to be both age and developmentally appropriate, is it possible for a single playground to cater to every child’s needs? Can you find outdoor play equipment that will engage older children? Infants and toddlers, preschool-age children and school-age children require different qualities in their play and bring varying physical, cognitive, and social skills to the playground. Despite the many differences and needs of these age groups, a playground can offer equipment and fun for every child to enjoy.
The best way to design a playground that meets the needs of all children is to include several play structures. Younger children are less at risk of being accidentally knocked down by older kids, and the structures can cater to the needs of each specific age group. As kids get older, they can transition to the other structures and enjoy the same playground through their entire adolescence.
Infants and Toddlers
Infants and toddlers up to 2 years old display varying levels of mobility. At this age, children will crawl, scoot, pull-up, and walk around their environment. Kids at this age are very interested in exploring their surroundings and rely heavily on sensory exploration using their eyes, feet, hands, and mouths. They require the space to explore, but they also need to be watched closely.
A few age-appropriate play activities for infants and toddlers include:
- Tunnel mazes
- Activity panels
- Small slides
- Low climbing equipment
- Bucket seat swings
Playworld has equipment for many of these activities, including:
- FirstPlay Toddler: This activity helps infants and toddlers with their social, mental, and physical development. Interchangeable, colorful panels allow toddlers to slide, step, peek, and crawl. With the Climb & Slide Panel, young children can develop their gross motor skills by crawling, climbing, and sliding. The capacity of this activity is four children and 110 pounds.
- Log Tube: An Adventure Tube like the Log Tube allows children to pretend they’re animals crawling through a log in the forest. Open holes in the tube let children see outside while crawling through and makes supervising easier for adults. The Log Tube can hold three people and 121 pounds.
- Shifting Sands Insert: This sensory play panel involves balls shifting as kids spin the sun shape and can be inserted in a deck-level or ground-level oval panel.
- Driver Half Panel: This sensory play panel involves turning a steering wheel and moving a gear shift. This activity can build a sense of discovery and attention spans and encourage roleplaying and the development of gross motor skills.
Activities for this age group should be kept primarily at ground level and their play area should be kept separate from older children who may accidentally knock them down.
Infants and toddlers still struggle with balance, which makes proper playground surfacing especially important for them. Consider choosing loose-fill or pour-in-place surfacing that will keep kids safe. You’ll also want to consider the shade structures used for this area of your playground. Toddlers can be susceptible to dangers from prolonged exposure to the sun, and they can hurt themselves on playground equipment that has become too hot, so you’ll want shade structures that protect young children and your equipment from the elements. Proper shade structures can provide safety to playground equipment and visitors by:
- Protecting visitors from overheating, thus allowing them to play longer
- Blocking harmful UV rays
- Providing a cool spot during warm or hot days
- Covering equipment from the sun and weather
Since adult supervision is vital for this age group, your playground should cater to the needs of the adult caregivers, too. Include benches and picnic tables under shade structures where caregivers can sit close to the play area and supervise comfortably. Every piece of equipment should be easily visible from this seating area so caregivers can watch their kids at all times.
If you want your playground to cater to the needs and interests of infants and toddlers, we recommend searching through our catalog of activities and components to get started.
Ages 2 to 5
Like infants and toddlers, preschool-aged children should have a space of their own that is sized appropriately but also a little physically challenging. Play should promote the development of their fine motor skills and socialization. Because this age group tends to imitate older peers and take risks, they need to be monitored closely.
At this age, kids move quickly from activity to activity as they tend to have limited attention spans. They enjoy activities that involve climbing, imitation, and dramatic play. A few age-appropriate activities for preschoolers age two to five include:
- Crawl tunnels
- Activity panels
- Spring riders
- Rung ladders
With Playworld, you can find many of these activities, including:
- PlayCubes: PlayCubes provide fun ways for kids to engage. They can climb on, in or through a PlayCube, which offers them physical, cognitive, and social play. Kids can imagine and explore their way through a PlayCube and develop essential skills as they go.
- Challengers: Challengers include multiple pieces of equipment and come in many different forms. Our Rocky Retreat includes a slide and climber, while our Sensory Center features two slides, climbers, and panels. Children will enjoy hours of play on these structures.
- Play Fundamentals: Our Around & Down design offers a physical challenge to children and features the Rumble Seat Slide, which helps children develop multi-sensory awareness. Kids can access Play Fundamentals via Solar Climber or a transfer station, which makes the structure accessible to children of all abilities. Play panels can also help kids develop their fine motor skills.
- Fun Centers: This structure encourages social, physical, and mental stimulation. These structures are made from plastic and durable steel and include features such as steps and a slide.
- Roller Slither Slide: Rollers add an extra bit of fun when kids are sliding down.
- 90° Cloud Walk: This texturized bridge helps children improve their balance. The bridge can connect decks, or two bridges can be used together to form a circular walkway.
- ABC/123 Panel: This skill and learning panel encourages kids to recognize letters and numbers. The panel encourages problem-solving and curiosity and develops children’s attention spans, self-confidence, and cognitive reasoning.
These activities can also include ramps with pieces children can grasp, low tables where children can play with water or sand, flexible spring rockers, and low platforms with several access points. Equipment should engage young children’s senses and be inviting and safe. Children shouldn’t have access to equipment that requires them to climb too high and activities shouldn’t be too difficult or complex for them.
To create a playground that’s appealing to children of this age, be sure to include bright colors, fun sounds, animal themes, and nature themes that will make kids happy while they learn. You’ll also want to make sure your equipment is accessible for children of all abilities. Place some activities at ground level and others higher up.
If you want your playground to cater to the needs and interests of preschool-aged children, search through our catalog of activities and components to get started on planning your playground.
Ages 5 to 12
Skills vary greatly among school-aged children as they quickly learn and build their skills. Play in this age range becomes increasingly complex, and kids continually seek bigger physical challenges. Children around 12 years old are usually twice the size of the younger kids in this group and have almost eight times the amount of grip strength.
Kids in this age range have social skills that are well developed, so social interaction during this age generally involves playing games and competing with peers. Peer pressure and high energy levels can result in aggression and conflict.
Kids in this age range are developing and honing their coordination, balance, strength, and gross and fine motor skills. They need to be challenged to stay engaged physically and mentally.
A few age-appropriate activities for children in this age range include:
- Chain/cable walks
- Vertical poles
- Overhead rings
Playworld has equipment for many of these activities, including:
- Button Loop: This is a balance activity that involves stationary buttons in a complete circle. Kids can practice their coordination skills on these circles made of plastic and steel. This is a great activity for kids to use to play follow the leader. The Button Loop can hold 10 kids and 277 pounds.
- Horizontal Loop Ladder: Kids develop their upper-body strength while climbing in a circle. The 270° loop sends kids from one edge of a deck to the adjacent edge. This activity holds 175 pounds and three kids.
- AeroGlider: This inclusive play activity allows kids to sway back and forth. Adults can join in the fun by helping to glide the structure using the high rails. The AeroGlider includes enough room for two wheelchair users to sit beside each other, and seating on both ends allows kids and adults to enjoy the ride. The AeroGlider holds 12 people.
- Rhythm Spinner: When kids spin the dial, they can hear music. By reversing the direction, they can change the song. They can also play along with the music by hitting the drum pads. Each of the drum pads plays a different sound, and the Rhythm Spinner includes ten different soundtracks. Kids can also play the Rhythm Spinner with a friend.
Aside from outdoor play equipment, play areas for older children should include open spaces for children to play ball games and run around. A play space should challenge kids at this age physically and mentally to keep them engaged.
As with toddlers and preschool-aged children, you’ll want to use surfacing like pour-in-place or loose fill that will prevent injuries caused by falls, and shade structures to protect children from hot equipment and burns.
No matter how old they get, children still need supervision. Including benches and shade structures for teachers and other caregivers nearby will allow adults to supervise comfortably. You can also use these spaces to ensure your playground is inclusive of all children:
- Quiet spaces should be included for anyone who might become overwhelmed and want a moment to themselves.
- Paths should be wide enough for everyone to move between playground equipment.
- Surfacing should be compatible with different mobility devices, such as wheelchairs and crutches.
- Inclusive play equipment should be included with other equipment so no one has to play separately.
School-aged children have a wide variety of needs and interests, so we recommend taking a look through our many activities and components for this age group to get started on your playground design.
Ages 9 and Older
Adolescents and adults can all benefit from using playgrounds. Elementary school students aren’t the only ones who need a break during the day to let out excess energy and briefly rest their minds. Adolescents may not necessarily want to use the monkey bars or play tag, but they may benefit a lot from a break during the day that allows them to get some fresh air and physical activity and engage in socialization outside of the classroom. Anxiety and depression have increased sharply among teens in the past decade, and one in every five students from ages 6 to 19 are considered obese, so adding breaks for physical activity on a playground may help with adolescents’ mental and physical health.
Adults are also beginning to realize that fitness is an important component of a longer, healthier life. Outdoor fitness equipment can be equipped in fitness playgrounds for children and adults of all ages. By emphasizing fitness in playgrounds, older children and adults are more likely to be interested in engaging with playground equipment. Fitness playgrounds also offer additional benefits, such as:
- Preparing children for team sports
- Promoting active play
- Encouraging kids to get active through fun activities
- Promoting healthy competition
- Appealing to older children who’ve lost interest in traditional playground equipment
Playground fitness equipment from Playworld is designed to ensure safe and healthy exercises for adolescents and adults.
With fitness playgrounds, adults don’t just have to sit on the sidelines and watch the children have fun. Adults can have fun and get active at the playground, too. At Playworld, we’re proud to be a premier manufacturer and designer of outdoor fitness playgrounds and equipment, and we offer many products to incorporate in your playground:
- Arm & Shoulder Circles: This Stretch & Go activity requires using the handles to turn the disks, working the muscles in your upper back and shoulders. Stretching is important for beginning any physical activity, so a Stretch & Go activity is the best place to start.
- Recumbent Bike: This Stretch & Go activity is ergonomically friendly for your lower back and is built in a reclining position to target leg and glute muscles.
- Shoulder Slide: This Stretch & Go activity involves holding a slider in either hand and sliding them, stretching your shoulder and back muscles.
- The Twister: For this Stretch & Go activity, you’ll step onto a disk, grab onto the bar above and twist your torso. This will stretch your obliques and lower back.
- Energi Station 2: Our five Energi stations feature multiple exercises. This station features a total of 24 exercises that include chin-up, pull-up, hurdle jumps and hurdle dips. This station has a capacity of seven participants.
- Energi Station 3: This Energi station features 24 exercises that include push-up, triceps dip, balance beam, v-sit, squat and single-leg squat. To ensure your safety, the balance bar has a non-slip, textured surface.
- LifeTrail Station 2: Our LifeTrail stations also feature multiple activities. This station includes push-up exercises, wobble board exercises and hip lift and thigh exercises.
Equipment in a fitness playground can offer a total body workout, from legs and arms to hips and core. Fitness and wellness equipment is designed for health, so by including this equipment in your playground, you’ll be promoting health and wellness for the entire community.
All age-specific areas should be separated from others using buffer zones, such as pedestrian paths, benches, decorative fencing, landscaping, or picnic tables. All play areas should be equipped with drinking fountains and seating areas and should be visible for caregivers who are monitoring children.
Besides a space to get fit, why else would older children or adults want to visit a fitness playground?
- You can get fit for free. Gym memberships can be a burdensome expense for many households or completely unaffordable. With your community playground, access to equipment is free and you can work out when it’s convenient for your schedule. Unlike a gym, you won’t just be lifting weights or running on a treadmill. You’ll have fun while getting fit.
- You can spend time with your loved ones. Bring the whole family for some fun, exercise, and family bonding. Everyone from grandparents to grandkids can engage and have fun at a fitness playground.
- You can motivate and be motivated by your loved ones. Sometimes, we need a little push from those who care about us most to kickstart our fitness journeys. By visiting the playground with a relative or friend, you work out together and maybe even start up a little friendly competition to keep motivation high.
- You can exercise in a judgment-free space. At a playground, everyone is welcome and wants to have fun, so all that matters is having fun, being safe, and working up a sweat.
If you want your playground to be inclusive for all age groups and abilities, you can search through our catalog of activities and components to get started on designing the playground that’s perfect for your community.
Plan Your Playground With Playworld
A playground that appeals to people of all ages is a great way to bring families and the community together. An all-age playground is great for socialization and it’s also a great place for everyone to get active and fit. Family and friends can encourage and motivate each other while having fun. Caregivers can keep a close eye on rambunctious infants, toddlers, and preschoolers without interfering in their playtime. School-aged children and adolescents can socialize, take a midday break from school, and get active outdoors. Everyone benefits from a community playground, so why not get started on planning yours today?
Playworld is committed to creating high-quality fitness structures. We help communities throughout America come together every day at our playgrounds. Browse the fitness systems we offer and discover for yourself why Playworld is the right partner for designing your community playground. You can request a quote from Playworld today.