From Castles to Coral Reefs: 4 Tips for Selecting Themed Playground Equipment

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Castles to Coral Reefs

Choosing a new playground for your school, community center, park, or commercial space can be a big decision. It’s a significant investment — one you hope will please kids and parents alike and stand the test of time. Going with a themed option, like a treehouse or castle setup, can add even more complexity to the decision-making process. You have to consider not just functionality, but kids’ interests as well as whether the theme is appropriate for the setting.

Besides the obvious details, like colors, features, and price range, there are other major considerations. You need to think about how your choice will affect all different kinds of users, their families, neighbors, and more. You don’t want your playground to be an eyesore or, worse, actively disturb or annoy people in your community. Here’s how to choose the right themed playground equipment, while trying to keep (almost) everyone happy.

1. Choose Inclusive Options

After safety, inclusive design should be your first priority when purchasing equipment for large groups of children. It’s crucial to consider accommodations and variations for blindness, deafness, disability, and more. When choosing your playground, look for accessible design features, like adaptive swing sets for children with special needs. Wheelchair ramps, wide spaces, and other adaptations for physical disabilities and body size differences are necessary.

Accessible design should also account for variations like culture, race, gender, and other differences. Avoid picking a culturally insensitive theme (totem poles, Arabian nights, etc.) that could offend users or even make them feel unwelcome. Steer clear of designs that might perpetuate traditional gender roles or stereotypes (eg. all pink for a girls’ school). Consider adding sensory elements that might be especially appealing to neurodiverse children.

2. Engage All the Senses

Sensory play can have major benefits for autistic and other neurodiverse children. But it’s also a win for all kinds of people who might use your playground. Tactile elements can help kids improve coordination and fine motor skills. Musical elements can encourage creativity, self-expression, and collaborative socialization. Music and tactile play also provide necessary  mental stimulation, especially to kids who can’t use other parts of the playground.

To incorporate sensory play into a themed playground, consider choosing customizable models. Many playground sets can accommodate custom panels, so you can build in extra activities wherever you wish. Other options have a plethora of games and instruments built right into a predetermined design. And some types of playground sets let you mix and match every piece of the structure, for a hodgepodge of fun.

3. Put Safety First

Whatever theme you choose, you need to make sure your design is safe and secure for everyone who uses it. Pick a safe, reputable, trustworthy brand, and choose designs made with appropriate materials. Understand what you’ll need to do to keep your playground safe over time, including maintenance and grounds inspections. Don’t choose a model you can’t afford to maintain or one that isn’t built for the long haul.

Consider also who will be using your playground, with how much supervision, and what their physical abilities might be. Some playgrounds are appropriate for very young children, while others could be dangerous for kids under a certain age. A challenging rock-climbing theme playground set with a zipline and monkey bars might be a good fit for a middle school. A simple train playhouse, meanwhile, makes a better choice for toddlers’ safety and abilities.

4. Work With Your Surroundings

Consider the location of your playground and what nearby elements could blend in seamlessly with your design. A nautical theme might work best at a waterfront location, while a jungle theme makes more sense in a grassy area. Consider how dirt, sand, or even a city skyline will look as the backdrop to your theme. Think also about how you’ll distinguish your playground from its surroundings, as with borders and dividers, to protect kids’ safety.

Remember that your theme playground should blend into its environment in more ways than one. Avoid choosing a theme that’s likely to disturb, annoy, or inconvenience members of your community. If incorporating sound-producing elements, consider their volume and the proximity of neighbors. If your playground is very close to a quiet residential area, it’s probably not the best move to install a music-themed playground with a giant xylophone and drum panel.

Remember Your Audience

As you select your theme, be sure not to lose sight of who will be using the playground and what they’ll want. Put the kids and their needs first, versus pleasing higher-ups or making it all about aesthetics. If at all possible, try to get kids’ or parents to share their ideas for your playground’s themes. You can run a simple poll on social media, put out a suggestions box, or host a brainstorming session at a town or committee meeting.

If you’re thinking about a currently trendy theme, be sure to consider the potential longevity of the design. Will kids always want pirates or do they only want them because a new Pirates of the Caribbean sequel just came out? Sure, they’ll probably still play on whatever theme set you choose, because it’s the only option. But don’t sacrifice long-term priorities to meet the fleeting interests of kids who’ll be too old for any playground in a few years.

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