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Top Trends for Modern Playgrounds

Top Trends for Modern Playgrounds

Playgrounds have been around for a long time — the first one in the U.S. popped up in Boston in 1886 — and they’re an important part of communities everywhere. In many areas, playgrounds play a critical role in creating compact spaces for community and development.

Play space designs have evolved a lot over time, resulting in some of the most exciting, developmentally focused equipment ever seen in neighborhood greenspaces and school lots. Whether you’re looking to spruce up an existing play space or starting from scratch, there has never been a better time to create a playground that will encourage kids to play, grow and develop throughout their childhood years.

Although modern playground equipment still contains favorites like swings and slides, today’s modern playground designs are taking on a life of their own thanks to a number of advances in design and function. If you’re in the market to upgrade existing equipment or you’re creating a new community playground from scratch, incorporate some — or all — of these top trends for modern playgrounds.

Read full article or skip ahead to see a specific trend:

  1. Destination and Themed Playgrounds
  2. Inclusive Play
  3. Sensory Play
  4. Musical Features
  5. Climbing Walls
  6. Covered Play Structures
  7. Outdoor Learning Spaces

Destination and Themed Playgrounds

Destination and Themed Playgrounds

These days, kids and their families are looking for experiences — even on the playground. Another top playground trend is the appearance of destination or “themed” playgrounds. Destination- and theme-based playgrounds offer unique and exhilarating play experiences by incorporating unique and traditional elements.

So what does a destination playground look like? Anything you want! You could design your play space to look like:

  • A pirate ship: Inspire kids to imagine swinging across the rigging of a ship as they use the swings or climb their way to the top of the mast.
  • A farm: Create a play space that takes kids to the farm with animal theming and other touches that look like tractors and barns.
  • A castle: Bring a storybook setting to life with a playground that looks like a castle. Kids’ imaginations will be set free in this themed playground as they pretend to be knights, princes and princesses or even fire-breathing dragons.
  • A fire engine: Let kids act as heroes on the playground with a playset that mimics the look of a large firetruck. Kids will love pretending to be firefighters responding to a call in this themed play area.
  • A train: Encourage a fascination with travel when you offer a train-themed playground. A train station design can encourage imaginative play as kids pretend to purchase train tickets and conduct the locomotive.

When you design a large-scale themed playground, it creates a place for kids in the community to engage their imaginations to have adventures without going anywhere.

Theme-based playgrounds can also be educational. If you are looking to incorporate a play space into a cultural or historical attraction, you can design the look and elements of the playground to incorporate into your attraction. For example, if the playground will be located near a transportation museum, incorporating trains and other modes of transportation into the elements of the playground can make the exhibits come alive.

Destination playgrounds are also a good option for communities looking to attract tourists to their area. When parents plan vacations, they typically look for places that offer entertaining family attractions. When your community offers a destination playground, it attracts attention. If your community is looking for ways to improve tourism or complement existing attractions with modern touches, adding a themed playground is a great way to do it.

Boy in wheelchair on playground

Inclusive Play

Some of the newest and most exciting playground concepts in recent years include the development of inclusive play spaces or playgrounds for all. Inclusive spaces are designed so kids of all ages and abilities can play together. In an inclusive playground, pieces of equipment are chosen to create various levels of challenge for kids of different ages and ability levels.

When developing an inclusive playground design, it’s best to:

  • Include sensory play experiences: Multi-sensory experiences allow kids to explore and learn about the world around them. As kids engage in sensory play, they stimulate their senses, helping kids of all abilities develop strength, motor skills and cognitive functioning at their own pace.
  • Encourage all kids to play: Inclusive playgrounds should bring all kids together to play with a range of options that vary in challenge level so kids can graduate to new equipment as they grow and develop skills. Group similar play components together to encourage social play and offer something for different age groups to get a variety of kids on the playground.
  • Design for accessibility: To play on the equipment, kids need to be able to access it. With wide pathways, shock-absorbing surfacing and easy transitions on and off the equipment, kids with all ranges of motion will be able to access the playground equipment.
  • Consider the needs of kids on the autism spectrum: Kids with sensory disorders or autism need to engage in sensory play without becoming overwhelmed. Incorporating elements like cozy spaces, pathways and fences can help kids feel comfortable in the space.
  • Support kids in all stages of play: Create a space that encourages cooperative play, parallel play, onlooker play, associative play and solitary play. With a range of play options, kids will be encouraged to play regardless of the stage of development they may be in.

These fundamentals of inclusive playground design can be used to develop a playground that welcomes kids of all ages, stages and abilities. An inclusive playground also creates a space where parents can feel comfortable knowing their kids can enjoy themselves.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines compliance standards for playgrounds that all playgrounds are required to follow by law. These standards outline the way playgrounds and the equipment they contain should be designed to include kids and their parents with disabilities. Inclusive playgrounds go beyond ADA standards to create a space that is usable for those who have physical, developmental and other limitations, letting parents and kids can play together without constraints.

Sensory Play

Sensory play refers to activities and play that encourage kids to use their senses — like touch, smell, sight and hearing. By engaging their senses when they play, kids can better develop their use of these senses. Why is this important? Our bodies and brains are designed to encounter and engage with the world through our senses. This is why babies put everything in their mouths and why toddlers touch everything.

Sensory play involves more than just sandboxes and water tables — although those are great sensory options! Sensory play guides kids through the exploration of the world around them and creates experiences that encourage this exploration. This form of play helps kids make sense of the world around them, and it’s also important for teaching them to categorize things, too. Sensory play also aids in developing:

  • Language
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Brain development
  • Self-calming skills

All kids benefit from sensory play, but providing engaging sensory playground experiences can be especially critical for those with sensory issues. By incorporating sensory play into a playground, communities can help kids engage in essential sensory play in a comfortable, low-stress environment. Modern sensory playground elements can then help:

  • Soothe and calm
  • Build skills
  • Encourage curiosity
  • Comfort
  • Inspire learning

Incorporating sensory elements into a playground can be as simple as including shapes in your design or adding elements with texture to allow kids to engage in tactile play. This sensory playground maze, for instance, gives kids a soothing environment to explore texture and light. Water play is also a growing trend in sensory playground experiences.

Girl playing with playground music equipment

Musical Features

Many newer playgrounds are incorporating sensory elements that encourage kids to play with sound and music. The result fosters a fun environment for musical education. And musical education isn’t just about teaching kids to sing and play an instrument. It’s an essential sensory experience with wide-reaching impacts.

When kids are exposed to music at an early age, it helps their brain develop the skills they’ll need to excel in school later on. In fact, musical education is associated with language development, increased IQ and higher brain activity. Those benefits don’t automatically make kids smarter than their peers, but it does set them up to be successful as they grow. Musical features have also been found to encourage sensory play, stimulate cognitive development and improve fine motor skills.

Musical playground elements also encourage kids to express themselves and get creative. It can be an outlet for expression for kids who struggle to communicate verbally, too. The major impact of music is the reason musical elements are becoming more and more common on community playgrounds.

Seemingly simple features, such as drums, chimes, bells or keyboards, are available as freestanding pieces of equipment or sound and music panels for playground structures. Kids can interact with these musical features to express themselves and create new sounds.

The great thing about incorporating musical features into a playground is that it provides kids with an unstructured opportunity to explore a variety of sounds and instruments. They aren’t in a classroom or with a music teacher, so they can experiment with the instruments, attempting a variety of sounds and tones that aren’t restricted by an adult’s rules or guidelines.

Girl climbing up playground rock wall

Climbing Walls

Climbing walls — or any structure that requires climbing — offer two huge benefits to any playground. First, they require kids to practice their problem-solving skills as they figure out the best way to make it to the top of the wall and back down again. Second, climbing walls are a great way to incorporate more challenging elements for older kids into a playground. But that doesn’t mean climbing walls are only for older kids!

There are even climbing walls available for ages as young as 2. Consider incorporating a climbing wall as another way to reach a slide or enhance a set of monkey bars. These features encourage kids to try something new without being too overwhelming, creating a fun challenge for kids of all ages.

Besides the cognitive benefits of climbing walls, these structures are great for encouraging physical activity. When kids are climbing, they engage a variety of different muscle groups, working their arms, legs, back and core muscles. Climbing increases their heart rates, improving their heart health, and it encourages the development of good hand-eye coordination.

Climbing is also a great way for kids to develop and improve their sense of balance and awareness of their body’s position in space. In other words, it helps them learn to balance and control their body as they make deliberate movements to achieve a specific goal. Because of those benefits and advancements in this playground component category, climbers have become a popular, modern play space addition.

Covered Play Structures

Covered Play Structures

Spending time outdoors is important for growth and development, but kids shouldn’t spend a lot of time on an unshaded playground on a hot, sunny summer day. Too much exposure to sun and heat may leave kids sunburned and overheated. Integrate modern covered play structures and shade elements for stylish, eye-catching playground additions that help:

1. Extend the Life of Your Equipment

Over time, exposure to the sun can result in cracking and fading. The result diminishes your playground’s visual appeal and can compromise building materials. Play shade can help protect playground equipment from the sun, extend its lifespan and protect your investment.

2. Keep Equipment Cool

When playground equipment is exposed to direct sun, it becomes really hot. If it gets hot enough, kids can get burned. A shade designed to block the sun’s UV rays has been found to lower playground temperatures up to 20 degrees.

3. Extend Playtime

At some point, every parent has headed to the playground with water bottles full of cold water to keep kids cool and happy long enough to work off some energy. But if the playground is too hot or gets too much sunlight, kids quickly become cranky and tired, begging to go home. Playground shade helps keep the equipment — and the kids — cooler, ultimately encouraging extended playtime.

You can also add shade to site furnishings like tables and benches so parents can relax in the shade as they watch their young ones have fun.

Children at outdoor learning space playground

Outdoor Learning Spaces

Outdoor learning spaces have become increasingly popular because they provide kids with a fun learning alternative to traditional classroom learning. But outdoor education isn’t just about science — kids can learn any number of skills and subjects outside. When kids are present in an outdoor learning space, they are more likely to be interested in what they’re learning — and remember it later.

Outdoor play spaces don’t have to be elaborate. It can be something as simple as a small stage where kids can act and create their own imaginative dramas. Or it may include a place to pretend to engage in studying dinosaur fossils, like in a modern-themed playground. Designed with kids in mind, interactive outdoor areas encourage kids to interact with subjects and skills as they learn new things.

Many schools are realizing the benefits of incorporating outdoor learning spaces into their playgrounds. Kids who learn outside have been found to have higher test scores and grade point averages. Evidence has also shown that they are less likely to exhibit disruptive behaviors and more likely to focus on what they’re learning.

Kids sliding request a quote button

Request a Quote From Miracle® Recreation for Innovative Playground Design

There are a lot of physical, emotional and social benefits of playing outside. Carefully planned playgrounds with modern elements can play an important role in encouraging these benefits in kids of various ages and abilities.

Miracle Recreation has been shaping the future of play for nearly a century. While many things have changed about our playgrounds, one thing hasn’t — we firmly believe that providing high-quality play spaces for kids of all ages and abilities is an investment in the future. That’s why we continue to develop new and innovative equipment and designs for schools, communities and other play spaces around the world.

We’re committed to providing a safe environment for kids of all ages and abilities. That’s why our products are designed to meet or exceed safety standards established by governing bodies such as CPSC, ASTM International, EN and CSA. From design to sales to installation, we’re committed to helping you create a fun atmosphere for kids in your community.

Contact Miracle Recreation today to request a quote or get connected to one of our experienced playground designers!