Playground Design

Course CodeBHT216
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Designing Children's Playground

  • Playgrounds are more than just off the shelf pieces of equipment
  • Understand what children do when they play
  • Develop a sound understanding of the design and construction of small community parks and playgrounds.  
  • Learn how to get specific ideas together to create play areas for children.

This course was developed by John Mason - author of The Environment of Play, published by Leisure Press, NY; Australian representative for International Play Assn, 1977-78; former parks superintendent, playground designer .

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Overview of Parks and Playgrounds
    • Types of Playgrounds
    • Big Toy Playgrounds
    • Community Playgrounds
    • Adventure Playgrounds
    • Manipulating the Environment to provide for play
    • Play Forests; bamboo, pine, eucalypt, deciduous
    • Evaluating a Playground's value
    • Checklist for Functional Value of a Playground
    • Site Planning Process
    • Planning and Design
    • Insurance Considerations
    • Planning Theories: comprehensive, structure, systems, advocacy
    • Central Place Theory
  2. Playground Philosophy
    • What is Play
    • Children interacting with the Environment
    • Nature and Scope of Adventure Playgrounds
    • Establishing an Adventure Playground
    • The Adventure Play Leader
    • Site Design
  3. Preparing a Concept Plan
    • Planning for Play; planning levels, planning participants, processes
    • Stages of Planning
    • Project Questionnaire
    • Planning Principles
    • Design Procedure Step by Step
    • Minimising Costs in a Playground Development
    • Catering for Disabled People
    • Special Playgrounds
    • Case Study Playground in a Child Care Centre
    • Case Study in a Public Park
  4. Materials
    • Characteristics
    • Comparing and Choosing Options for Construction Materials
    • Barriers and Walls
    • Fences
    • Surfaces, paths and hard surfaced areas
    • Safety Characteristics of Different Surfaces
    • Construction with Wood
  5. Park & Playground Structures and Materials
    • Components of a Playground
    • Further Design Factors
    • Using Plants in Playgrounds
    • Buildings and Structures; gazebos, outdoor rooms, cubbies, shelters, sheds, belvederes, pergolas etc
    • Planting around a Building
    • Siting of Buildings
    • Building Floors
    • Deciding what building to use
    • Earth Forming, Shaping and Earthmoving Equipment
    • Checklist for Construction Issues to Watch Out For
  6. Local and Neighbourhood Parks
    • Considering Local Needs
    • Fun and Fitness Trails
    • Skateboarding Facilities
    • Multi Purpose Courts
    • Park Interpretive and Environmental Facilities
    • BMX Facilities
    • Motor Vehicles
    • Case Study: Community Play Park
  7. Community Participation In Park Development
    • History, Attitudes, Philosophy
    • Making a Working Bee Successful
    • Community Gardens
  8. Special Assignment.


  • Determine the procedure to plan a park development, including a playground and other facilities.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a park or playground.
  • Assess the design of park components, including materials and equipment used in parks and playgrounds.
  • Determine appropriate design characteristics for a local or neighbourhood parks.
  • Determine legal implications involved in the design of a playground.
  • Design facilities to cater for movement throughout a park or playground.
  • Manage appropriate community participation in development of a park or playground.

What You Will Do

  • Explain how an understanding of play theory can be applied to the design of a playground.
  • Explain how the concept of recreational planning may influence the design of a specified park.
  • Determine factors which distinguish park design from home garden design.
  • Compare different planning processes used for developing designs for public landscapes, including: advocacy planning, strategic planning and community participation.
  • Explain historical influences upon park design, in your locality, including:
    • local history
    • national history.
  • Evaluate the functional depreciation of a specified playground over a period of at least ten years.
  • Explain the significance of demographic considerations on park design, in a specific locality.
  • Evaluate the designs of two different established parks, and two established playgrounds, visited by you.
  • Develop a brief for a park plan, through an interview with management of a specific site.
  • Collect preplanning information for a proposed park design; through surveying the site and interviewing both managers of the site, and intended users of the site.
  • Develop three alternative concept plans for a proposed park development; in accordance with a real design brief, either prepared by you with a client, or obtained as a brief for a job being put to tender.
  • Compare three alternative concept plans in an interview with a client, or prospective client, for a proposed park development; recording the interview session on audio tape.
  • Describe the design features of four different items of outdoor furniture intended for use in parks and playgrounds.
  • Compare the suitability of different barriers inspected by you, including bollards, fences, plantings and walls, used in three different parks and/or playgrounds.
  • Assess the design of garden constructions inspected by you in a children's playground.
  • Compare various ground surfacing materials in terms of their application in park or playground design.
  • Explain design considerations for earth forming, in a specific park and playground.
  • Design a park plan for a specified site of 1,000 to 10,000 square metres, incorporating a themed play area.
  • Prepare a costing for the construction of a themed play area, designed by you.
  • Compare the appropriateness of fifteen different plants for use in a playground in terms of
    • play possibilities
    • hardiness
    • toxicity.
  • Determine appropriate design criteria for the use of water in playgrounds.
  • Determine appropriate functions for neighbourhood parks.
  • Determine inappropriate functions for a neighbourhood park.
  • Analyse two neighbourhood parks by both; surveying users and observing users.
  • Evaluate the design of two different neighbourhood parks, visited and studied by you, against specified criteria.
  • Recommend design modifications for a surveyed neighbourhood park.
  • Explain the significance of danger to the children's learning experience.
  • Determine how two different specific playground designs have been affected by concerns about legal liability.
  • Conduct a legal risk analysis of a playground which has been established for more than ten years.
  • Develop guidelines for minimising legal liability in playground design, for an authority responsible for a specific playground.
  • Determine design criteria for different types of trails in parks including:
    • Fun and fitness trails
    • Environmental interpretation trails
    • Cycle paths
    • Roadways.
  • Compare the construction of three different specified paths within parks with reference to:
    • Durability
    • Safety
    • Function
    • Maintenance requirements.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a "specialist trail" in a park, such as; a fun and fitness trail, a cycle path or an environmental interpretation trail, following design standards in the industry.
  • Determine factors which impact on the success of a park/playground development that involves community participation.
  • Analyse community attitudes to a park or playground development, which has used community participation, by either
    • survey
    • discussion with local Parks Department management.
  • Explain how to promote community involvement in park development in a way which will optimise the chance of success.
  • Determine a procedure to involve a community in the development of a park/playground facility, on a site you visit.

You Can't Design Playgrounds Until You Understand Play!

Play and playgrounds usually conjure up visions of children. This is not necessarily the way it should be though. The concept of play does relate to adults also, and an understanding of play can help us better design parks and playgrounds for both adults and children.

Many people have written many things over the years in an effort to develop a better understanding of play.  Some of those things are presented below...perhaps by reading them you will develop your own insight and concept of play.

There are several steps involved in understanding play. 

  • The first is to define play. 
  • The second is to establish motives for and the content of play. 
  • The final step is to use your answers from the first two to help you in planning for play.

Play is commonly considered to be the behaviour emitted by an individual not motivated by the end product of that behaviour.  It is assumed to be free.  The argument proceeds that if play is free, then to interfere with and manipulate it is to destroy its freedom and therefore its essential characteristic.  This leads to the conclusion that play cannot be controlled or planned for and remain play.

Play occurs in environmental areas (inside or out!)

If an environment is conducive to play; the quality of play happening there is likely to be much better.

This is the premise upon which we should develop playgrounds! If you keep focussed on this thought above all else; your playground designs should be better.

Not only can the environment influence play, but play can also influence the environment.

Play should consider the environment in planning for its future. Over use of an area can lead to its deterioration, thus depriving future generations of play opportunities. Conservation, pollution and such issued should be of interest to anyone concerned with play.

A very valuable form of play involves changing the environment. Building cubbies, digging holes, damming streams, etc. are all very positive and worthwhile forms of play; but at the same time, they are activities which are best tempered with common sense if permanent damage to the environment is to be avoided. Never discourage children from playing with their environment, but always educate them to understand the implications of what they do. There are four different things to be found in environments:


Opportunities in Playground Design

  • Explore opportunities to work in the play industry, as a designer, consultant, playground builder, materials and equipment supplier, etc.
  • Start a business, improve a business, get a job, advance a career.
  • Understand how to create environments sympathetic to child development.


Who Benefits from This Course?

  • Designers and planners
  • Early childhood development workers and educators
  • Playground material and equipment suppliers
  • Child psychologists




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