How much thought and planning go in to today’s playgrounds? The answer in my opinion – Not that much. It seems that anyone can give it ago but there is much more than meets the eye to delivering an outstanding functioning playground.

I have spent countless hours sitting , watching and taking notes on how children play and what keeps them interested , here are some of my observations. Children generally play in the 5 modes listed below – no matter what age!

Fast Pace

Any playground element that includes moving quickly, such as a bird nest swing, slide, rope bridge, fireman’s pole or climbing wall.

Slow Pace

A sand pit, conveyor belt or dry river bed and pump.

Sitting & Resting

A Sitting Pod – somewhere purpose built for children to sit (needs to be away from the fast paced elements)


A Table for making crafts and building small things out of pine cones, straws and loose parts.

Imagination Play

A place for children to take there mind to a magical fantasy land , dreaming , role playing and imagining great things for themselves such as a stage.

Once you have determined the age appropriateness for the children , the playground needs to be designed to include the above 5 modes, once that has been developed , just add, seating, shade, the correct soft fall, impact zones and designed & built to meet the Playground safety standards in your country.

If there is one common error I see in playgrounds, especially in private schools where a landscape architect has been engaged to do the design is that there are not enough elements for the children to play on. When I am given playground plans and designs for comment and review my first point of call is to count the number of elements a child can play on, then to see if it has the 5 modes of play.

Case Study – I was recently shown plans for a playground designed by a well known Brisbane Landscape Architect, The schools budget was $170,000. On review of the plans, I noted that there was only 1 slide for the children to play on, the rest of the playground had, mosaic’s, tall upright logs, trellis and murals, all of which children don’t care about. It also allowed for 6000 small plants in 600 square meters ( 10 plants per meter is too much in this environment and will be trampled ) So my point of view it was a $170,000 slide? They need more active play equipment and less fluff.

In Summary:

  • Make sure there are plenty of elements for the children to play on as they can changes modes in a matter of seconds.
  • Ensure your designs have the correct soft fall and impact areas for children to fall and land safely, engage a playground auditor to help with your design.
  • Try to encompass as many as the 5 modes of play as possible.
  • Offer shade, nature and trees as much as you can.

    This playground above we designed and constructed at a Gold Coast Private School has the 5 elements that we deem critical in design for an awesome playground which will keep kids playing longer!