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How to Design the Perfect Playground: 6 Golden Rules From a Veteran Playground Designer

 

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Günter Beltzig is one of the most renowned adventure playground designers. Over the past 40 years, he has created innovative playgrounds all over the world, from his home in Germany to New York, Puerto Rico and London’s Diana Memorial Playground.

Rather than the traditional swing and slide set-up, Beltzig’s playgrounds are known for their heavy use of nature, their multidimensional climbing structures and their mesmerising water features.

The playground designer’s main motivation is to create spaces that provide children with a similar experience to playing in a wilderness or woodland area. He believes that the natural environment is the best place for children to test their limits, gather experience and learn as they try out new possibilities.

Beltzig’s playgrounds have been a hit amongst children of all ages and backgrounds. His knowledge is derived from years of listening to children and watching them play. Recently, he was asked to share his golden rules for building a successful play area. Here’s what he had to say:

 

1) Inviting Atmosphere

The playground should be located somewhere that’s easily accessible, with its equipment purposely arranged to encourage inclusivity. This will create an enjoyable atmosphere that invites people to linger. Beltzig emphasises that the area should not be a training ground or a “landscape decorated to the taste of adults”.

2) Room for Exploration

The perfect playground is one that gives room for exploration. This could include tucking a slide away behind a grassy mound or installing play equipment with functions that are not obvious at first. The whole play experience should be a process of discovery for children, with lots of room for interpretation.

3) Risk Factor

While the ideal playground is not dangerous as such, it will allow for plenty of visible and manageable risks, since playing is all about encouraging children to explore their limits. Features such as stepping stones or balance beams require children to assess potential risks for themselves.

This being said, there should always be the possibility for children to retreat without embarrassment. For example, a climbing frame where the only way down is a slide may force children to go down when they’re actually scared. Installing an additional feature such as a rope bridge will offer them an alternative route.

4) Shielded Areas

The play area should be located in an area that’s shielded from wind and also away from the noise of the city. Creating ‘secret’ hideouts and dens with fenced areas will allow children to venture independently and escape the confines of overly anxious parents.

5) Caters to different groups and moods

A successful playground layout will reflect the way that groups of children play. Beltzig advises on avoiding designs with one dominant structure. This is because more aggressive children will want to use it to prove their power. Instead, creating smaller areas for different activities will provide these children with ways to expend their energy and prevent fights from breaking out.

6) Make specific bans unnecessary

Signs spelling out rules such as “No ball play” and “Reserved for children aged 8 to 12” are largely unnecessary and create an inhibited atmosphere. Instead, Beltzig believes that we should be building larger areas for play that include zones for younger children, meeting points for parents to chat to each other, and areas for teenagers to hang out. This is the best way to avoid vandalism, which only happens when there is a lack of alternatives for older children.

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