Just when we thought we couldn’t love playgrounds any more than we already did, along came 2020 to drive home the importance of play in in our lives.
The global pandemic and lockdown periods have changed the way we live, work and learn and in the process, highlighted the things we need to make us feel happy and healthy and connected with our community and the world around us.
Outdoor play, fitness and recreation have played a massive role in helping children and families and people of all ages maintain a sense of wellbeing and purpose, beat boredom and fight feelings of isolation and anxiety, shedding new light on the value of our play spaces in our cities, towns and schools.
Here, we explore how this is influencing the biggest trends in playground design in 2021:
- Handy hygiene
- Playground proximity
- Nature play
- All-inclusive fun
- Holidays at home
COVID-19 has heightened the focus on health, hygiene and safety in public places, including schools, parks and playgrounds. Across different jurisdictions, new health and hygiene protocols have been introduced for playgrounds and are likely to remain in place.
Outdoor hand sanitiser stations have become essential for playgrounds in schools and parks, providing children, parents and carers with convenient and contactless hand hygiene. Other products and technology which support a higher standard of equipment cleaning and maintenance are also being rolled out including antimicrobial surface coatings and virtual monitoring of playground equipment in parks.
Fun and fitness, closer to home
During lockdown and beyond, the proximity of parks and playgrounds to our homes has become more important than ever before. And while the trend in recent years to incorporate playgrounds into urban and residential developments has ensured many people have fantastic facilities on their doorstep, not all playgrounds are created equal.
This calls on Councils, urban planners and developers to ensure greater equity of access to quality outdoor play and recreation spaces. This is taking the form of playground upgrades which boost play value through the inclusion of a wider variety of equipment with targeted development benefits for different age groups. Think adventure courses, and outdoor gym equipment including fitness stations for seniors and smart playground technology* that enable parents to use game-based apps to engage children in imaginative, active play (and ensure no two days at the park are the same).
It’s also giving rise to concepts like ‘micro parks’ and ‘pop up’ playgrounds in urban environments. Think play spaces with modular play equipment that maximises the use of small spaces, and inventive solutions that carve out kid-centric spaces in neighbourhoods (such as musical instruments or interactive play panels on sidewalks and fences).
Nature play (and learning)
The benefits of more ‘green time’ versus ‘screen time’ are well documented and the nature play movement, which advocates increasing the time children spend in unstructured play outdoors and in nature, is growing in strength.
Playgrounds and play equipment in parks and schools which embrace and blend in with the natural landscape are extremely popular with children and their parents. And, with mounting evidence of the benefits of taking learning outside the classroom, are becoming more and more popular in schools. Add to this an increasingly environmentally savvy population that doesn’t just want their playground to look eco-friendly but be eco-friendly and we can expect to see more and more play equipment made from sustainably sourced, recyclable and recycled materials.
No longer a trend, inclusion is a core criteria of contemporary play spaces. However, our expectations of an inclusive playground are broadening – moving beyond a focus on playground design and equipment that breaks down the barriers to play for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, to include other factors like age and cultural background.
Innovations and advances in inclusive and accessible play equipment and playground design are taking into account an ageing population and the increasing role of grandparents in childcare, to create more multi-generational play spaces. There’s also a sharper focus on the need for playgrounds in under-served communities, and how playgrounds that truly promote ‘play for all’ – all ages, all abilities and all backgrounds – play a powerful role in creating communities where diversity and difference are understood and valued.
Holidays at home
With international travel off the agenda, people are being encouraged to ‘holiday at home’ and support their local tourism industry. This means parents planning day trips and holidays with kids are on the lookout for the best playgrounds – whether it’s as a place to stop along the way and break up the drive or an activity when they reach their destination.
A destination-style playground with strong historical or cultural themes that is unique to a location or town is our top tip for Councils, communities and accommodation providers wanting a slice of the action. There are plenty of examples of custom playgrounds on the Playground Centre website showing how it’s done, like Town Basin Playground in Whangarei, New Zealand and Shipwreck Cove in Perth, Western Australia.
If a new or improved playground that meets your community’s health and wellbeing needs is on your agenda for 2021, contact us today for an obligation-free consultation.