Where do I put my playground? Well, where do you want it? The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers some advice in the Publication 325: Handbook for Playground Safety.
1. What is the travel pattern to and from the playground? Is there a door leading outdoors from your building or facility? Are there hazards in the way? Clear the hazards or pick a new location. What is a hazard? Crossing a parking lot or a remote location may be hazards.
2. What is nearby? Roads, traffic, lakes, ponds, streams, cliffs. This may mean a bi-directional concern. We don't want the children running off into the woods, into traffic, or into water. We also don't want those external issues joining a playground. Falling rock from placing equipment at the base of a cliff, stray vehicles out of control or flooding water may present danger to your children or your equipment. Building codes may address types of barriers that would be appropriate. A fence or hedge may define a perimeter but will do little to contain a car.
3. Sun Exposure: This is one that sometimes can be over the top. Pun intended. One state has guidelines that require licensed child care facilities to orient a slide so that it does not receive sun exposure. I can't figure out which part of the state this would be possible in, during daylight hours. Don't face the slide toward the west? If it is 100 degrees outside, does it matter what direction the slide faces? Consider natural shade from trees or buildings. Respect safety guidelines and distances. A tree may provide shade and may also provide a branch to climb or be struck by. Observe your site during various times of the day. Your buildings may offer shade in the morning or afternoon. A shade canopy may be part of your plan. They are available in many shapes and sizes to meet unique design needs.
4. Slope and Drainage: Some drainage is desired, but less than a two degree slope. You don't want materials to wash out. "A River Runs Through It" was a movie, not a playground. You may need some dirt-work to create a level playing area. If there are existing drainage patterns installation of a playground may change those plans. Placing your playground high on a high top might be a solution to drainage but creates problems in the travel pattern while running children fall going up or down a hill.
5. Accessibility: Do I need to meet ADA guidelines to allow access to the playground? Do I need a concrete walkway or crushed granite pathway to the playground? Children tromping through a grass or dirt field may have a negative impact on the carpet when they return from play.
6. Space: Do I have enough? The layout and pathways, even the landscaping should assist in identification of the route. Once on the playground distinct areas should be identified for each age group. How big is the equipment? Perhaps you have a piece of equipment in mind already, or a budget figure. Maybe you have a desired capacity for how many children you intend to be at play. If your goal suggests you need a certain space, you will have problems fitting the area into a smaller footprint.
7. Conflicting Activities: This goes along closely with space. As you create your design and layout, you don't want older children trampling younger children on their way to play. You don't want children running through the swing set to reach the slide. Moving equipment needs to go to the corner, side or edge of the layout. Slides exits should deposit the children in an uncongested area. Equipment selected will have specific use zone requirements. The slide you like may only be three feet wide, but needs fifteen feet of space.
8. Supervision: Can caregivers, parents or employees watch the children? If the playground forms a "L" shape around the corner of the building, it may be hard to watch children and monitor play activity. Are there shaded places available for parents or leaders. School principals have been surprised to find teachers huddled around the water fountain, at the building exit or under available shade. Plan for and encourage space, participation and involvement from adults.
9. Maintenance: Will the playground require replenishment of surfacing? Is there an accessible route for the initial installation and build? Can we get to the playground in the future? An interior courtyard may create a protected play area. When you have to run wheelbarrows of surfacing through the building you will remember next time.
Consult a playground professional. Extra effort up front will achieve better results later.
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