Do consult stakeholders and the children themselves.
The playground design process should involve a thorough, if needs be lengthy consultation with all relevant stakeholders. This includes any financiers, teachers, school staff, board members and parents who would like to have a say on how natural playgrounds are to turn out. Hemel Hempstead schools and companies should also be sure to involve the children, where possible. There’s no point selecting a certain piece of school playground equipment for them to use, if they aren’t keen on it whatsoever!
Another key benefit of involving children in the playground design process is it builds in them a sense of responsibility. Those who’ve had a hand in planning natural playgrounds and even installing school playground equipment (e.g climbing frames), will better respect their environment and likely spend more time in it.
Do incorporate a range of school playground equipment.
Different children like playing on different types of school playground equipment. Some like climbing frames, some would much rather draw on an outdoor chalkboard. This makes it essential for playground design concepts to include something for everyone. How do you do this? Well, the aforementioned consultation period should help. Otherwise, just try and get a good mix of active and creative playground equipment. The DNA Play team can help Hemel Hempstead clients achieve this goal, should they be unsure of what a good ratio is.
Don’t obsess over health and safety.
While it’s important to consider how school playground equipment will be used, and for which age group it is most appropriate, obsessing over health and safety can actually be counterproductive. If you create boring, sterile natural playgrounds, children will find their own ways to create a sense of risk, unintended by the designers. This is far more dangerous than letting children use climbing frames, for example. We urge Hemel Hempstead schools to read up on risk in play, and how creating an environment where risk and reward can be weighed by the children themselves is the most beneficial to their development.
After all, risk is all around us in the real world. A child who is not given opportunities to run, jump, explore and graze the odd knee is one unprepared for the realities of life. The independence and freedom that play can develop in children should be encouraged. This philosophy should also be applied to the supervision of play in Hemel Hempstead schools and parks. Supervisors should only intervene where absolutely necessary, and otherwise let children learn how to best enjoy natural playgrounds on their own terms.
Don’t forget the importance of a planting scheme.
Bringing in seating, staging areas, creative play areas, active play areas and school playground equipment centre pieces, like climbing frames, are all integral to playground design. But never forget what helps put the “natural” in “natural playgrounds” – plants. From trees to shrubs, flowers to hedges, take time to consider how plants can be incorporated within your playground design.
The benefits of a well-planted playground are numerous. Firstly, the spaces are more attractive and can become a tranquil place for children to relax and unwind between lessons (ensuring they’re ready to soak up information in the next). Secondly, they purify the area. Thirdly, they attract insects, birds and similar wildlife, cultivating a healthy and diverse ecosystem. Finally, in many Hemel Hempstead playgrounds they become important aspects of play in their own right. Children often play with twigs and leaves, for example, drawing in the dirt while taking refuge under a tree on a hot summer’s day.