11 Things to Remember When Designing for Children

11 Things to Remember When Designing for Children

Spaces that are good for children are good for everyone, here are 11 things to remember when designing for children. Have you ever asked yourself, who is actually the greatest fan of your work as a landscape architect? Is it the one who spends long hours of playing games, enjoying the pleasure of being outside and closer to nature? Even though subconsciously, children are the ones who feel the most sincere happiness and delight when visiting a park, or an open-air playground. Children admire landscape architects’ work the most, even if they don’t really realize it. This is one of our most major responsibilities as landscape architects – how to design for children, in order to provide them with a safe, healthy and entertaining environment at the same time? In this article, we will discuss 11 crucial things to remember when designing for children. Beginning with the clarification on why children need to play outside, we will continue with the rules to follow when designing for them. Please Take a quick moment to answer our poll, so that we can provide you with the best content: [wpsqt name=”Content” type=”poll”]

Designing for Children

1. Why do children need to play outdoors? As we already mentioned, the starting point of creating a successful design for children, is to understand and then answer the question above – why do children need to play outside? Playing outside improves children’s immune systems, increases their physical activity, stimulates their imagination and creativity, and above all – makes them feel alive, as they use all their senses while playing. The list of benefits also includes developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as developing respect for nature and the other living things. Numerous research works have been conducted by psychologists to support those statements. Check out this interview on the subject of engaging children in nature with Richard Louv, a journalist and author of eight books, including The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. WATCH: Engaging children in Nature: interviews with Richard Louv

2. Safety Comes First After taking into account the first step, the design process begins with fixing the place of the children’s area. A safe playground requires remoteness form busy roads, both, automobile and pedestrians, and dangerous water sources. This doesn’t necessarily mean high fences or hedge-rows. Safety always comes first, when it comes to children, but a landscape architect is also a designer. A sunken garden is a valuable example of how a space can be defined through its topography, rather than a trivial fence. Take a look at that project in Tel Aviv, displaying an unusual, yet remarkable design solution

Designing for Children

Sunken garden view. Photography Credits Go To Eran Karu

3. Age-appropriate design The next aspect which requires your attention is the age-appropriate design. To provide a more enjoyable and safer play area, separate play zones for different age groups need to be planned. Children at different ages differ in size and abilities. Play areas for 6 – 23 month-aged children for example should offer activities like crawling, standing and walking. 5-12-year-old children, on the other hand, will require enough space for running or playing with a ball. Well-designed playgrounds can help children create physical, emotional, social and intellectual development. It is up to you to give them that opportunity. WATCH: Playground Safety – Age-Appropriate Equipment

4. Accessible Playgrounds Playground accessibility is another vital thing to remember when designing for children. Good landscape architects should provide playground equipment which welcomes all children of all abilities. Better landscape architects will go further – for they will design playground components that address physical disabilities, sensory and vision disorders, and autism. Nowadays we witness the development of healing, sensory and therapeutic gardens, which can offer a great design solution to experts interested in designing for specific groups of people and children. Here is an excellent example of a play area, designed far beyond accessibility: WATCH: Bremerton Beyond Accessible Playground

5. Careful Selection of Pavement Besides being accessible, playgrounds’ surfaces should also be safe. To let children play undisturbedly, and without fear of fall injuries, landscape architects should always consider the pavement they use for play areas. It is unacceptable to use concrete or asphalt surfaces because they don’t have any shock absorbing properties. Turf or grass is not a good option, either, as their shock absorbing qualities are minimal. Safe surfacing can be provided by shock absorbing rubber flooring, which is also easy to install, durable, and at good price. WATCH: Playground Safety

Tactile paving shouldn’t be neglected, either. It is also known as safety paving because it is used for footpaths, stairs and train station platforms to assist pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired. Pebbles or mulch are not a good choice because they can be easily lifted by children who may try to swallow them or do some other harm. 6. Shade Picking out appropriate vegetation is also of a great importance for the much-needed shadow in hot summer days. The designer has to give full consideration to the planting design in terms of the distribution of shadow from the trees. Trees should be arranged in a way which allows them to cast a shadow on the play area in the hours of strong sun. To provide shadow, tree species should be covered densely with leaves. Acer spp., Platanus x acerifolia, Liriodendron tulipifera, Fraxinus spp. form wide crowns and are suitable for that purpose. 7. Wind Isolation Trees are substantial not only for summer seasons but for the cold ones too. To design a safe playground, wind isolation should also be taken into account. This is the place where conifers can take key part. A combination of conifers with various heights can make for a better result, because it will be harder for the wind to overcome it. The variety of species will additionally form a more sustainable and ecological environment for children. 8. Water: potable and non-potable Continuing with the hardscape, it’s time to mark the water features used in or around play areas. Kids can be quite unruly and naughty while playing outside, and they often fall and hurt themselves unintentionally. Sanitary and hygiene needs are one of the reasons why drinking water fountains should be installed near play zones. As to the non-potable water features, attention should be paid if children can get into direct contact with the water from them. Although guidelines for water safety in public fountains vary from country to country and city to city, landscape architects have to follow them, regardless of the location.

Designing for Children

Children playing in Swann Memorial Fountain, which is located in the center of Logan Square, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Photo taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50.. Photo credit: Ken Image licensed under Public Domain. Image source.

Remember that even if the public fountain you designed wasn’t supposed to be used as a children swimming pool, kids are always magnetically attracted to water. The fountain may unnoticeably turn into a substitute to a swimming pool. So make sure the water is treated correctly. 9. Vegetation Having explored the hardscape in playgrounds, now we will focus on plants. The vegetation list here won’t be comprised of the species to use, but the ones which shouldn’t be included under any circumstances. Remember to study profoundly the characteristics of each plant you choose for a play zone. Poisonous plants, plants with poisonous parts, thorny shrubs, allergy causing plants, bee attracting plants can’t be used. Carpinus betulus, Cotinus coggygria, Cornus mas, Spiraea vanhouttei are good examples of plants proper for playgrounds. Seek for phytoncide active plants and avoid non-edible fruit ones.
Designing for Children

You would not want this anywhere near your children. Find out more in our article featuring “Dangerous Plants“. Image credit: Water-Hemlock (Cicuta maculata). By Aaron Carlson, licensed under CC 2.0

10. Parents’ Supervision Although as landscape architects we are responsible for the play areas we design, the greatest responsibility for children’s well-being and health lies to their parents. One more substantial thing to remember is to provide a place for parents to supervise their children. The adults’ zone should be close enough to be easy to supervise, but far enough from the children, as they need to play undisturbedly. Here is an example of safely designed playground with an excellent solution for parents’ location:
Designing for Children

Zorlu Center. Photo credit: Oguz Meric

11. Inspired Learning Finally, the best landscape architects know that the perfect play area is the one that is safe, fun, and inspires learning. First years of childhood are crucial to children’s personal development. Stimulating physical activity through varied equipment, or sensory skills through playing with sounds, lights and textures are among the ways to incite children to learn. Diverse materials, textures, colors and shapes predispose children to explore them. If we, as designers, manage to habituate them to be curious, to respect nature and other living things, then we know we did our job as it should be. How to inspire learning? Find inspiration at “A Toddlers Playground“.
Designing for Children

A Toddlers Playground. Photo courtesy of Espace Libre

“Adults are only kids grown up, anyway,” Walt Disney Inspiration can be found everywhere and still, a great source of inspiration for designers lies in the satisfaction of their work. Healthy and happy children playing in the playground by your design is perhaps your most valuable award you could ever receive. And remember, there was a time when you were a child too. So what could possibly stop you from designing a marvelous playgrounds now? Recommended Reading: 

Article by Velislava Valcheva. Return to Homepage

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