Playground Planning

How to Plan a Playground

Overhead shot of a girl sketching a piece of playground equipment inspired by a house. She is sitting at a table. Reference images are spread across the table. Reference images can be a helpful playground planning tool.

8-Step Playground Planning Checklist

To help you decide what type of playground is suitable for your project and concept, we have created a step-by-step playground planning checklist that will prompt your thinking process and guide you in the right direction. We recommend approaching playground construction projects using the 8-step playground construction plan below:

  1. Budget and Funding

  2. Theme, design and desired aesthetic

  3. Users and target audience

  4. The purpose of the playground

  5. Zoning and range of play types

  6. Safety Surfacing that matches the playground-style

  7. Timeline and building

  8. Government Regulations and Safety

How to Successfully Plan a Playground Project

Planning a playground construction project can seem daunting - but it doesn’t need to be. The best way to create a successful playground plan is to familiarise yourself with the many elements associated with playground planning.

Factors such as budget, design, purpose of the playground, layout plan, equipment type, and safety considerations can all impact the direction of your playground construction plans. A playground planning checklist can help you keep tabs on each element, enabling you to make informed decisions surrounding your playground plans.

Step 1. Budgeting for your Playground Construction Project

Budget is a significant and decisive factor in any playground construction project. Outdoor play and fitness sites come in many different sizes - each with their own associated costs. As a result, knowing how to prioritise your playground project budget is vital. The larger the site, the more WOW factor you can achieve, but the more it will cost you. We encourage you to be realistic in your expectations and develop a playground layout plan that reflects the funds you have available. The last thing you’d want is for your playground plans to be hindered by poor budgeting!

So, how much does a playground cost? While there is no simple answer to that question, KOMPAN is here to guide you in the right direction. Check out our playground cost breakdown for an overall idea of what to consider when budgeting for a playground construction project.

If you’re struggling with budget for your playground construction project, external funding is also a possibility. We can support your funding applications with cost quotations and computer-generated designs that bring your visions to life.

Children playing on a KOMPAN play panel, which is ground level for accessibility. Inclusive equipment is a key consideration for any playground construction project.

Step 2. Choosing the Desired Style for your Playground Project

Once you’ve settled on a budget for your project, it’s time to unleash your creativity and get into the playground construction details. Brainstorm themes, concepts, and aesthetics – you could even make a mood board. Perhaps you envision your playground project to have a natural theme with wooden equipment, or maybe pirate-themed with bright colours? This stage is important for developing a solid concept that you can then progress throughout your playground construction plans.

When planning the aesthetic and style for your playground project, the choice of material is crucial. Rubber, composite, and metal are ideal for vibrant and colourful designs, whereas wood is more understated in its beauty. It’s up you to determine what materials will work best for your playground construction project. Consider your intended users, the surrounding environment, and the purpose you are looking to achieve. These points will help guide your design choices.

See more playground inspiration
Preschool children using sand and water tables for sensory play. When playground planning, you should consider creating zones for different age groups. Sensory play is great for younger children and those with additional needs.

Materials and Styles to Be Inspired By

A Natural Wooden Aesthetic

You should consider a natural style aesthetic to bring nature into an urban location or if you want your playground to blend beautifully into a natural setting or park. KOMPAN Nature Expedition has a bent and curved design, giving it a natural and organic expression. It is made of Pinetree, also available in an FSC-certified option. KOMPAN Robinia also has a natural, organic, twisted, and winding look: straight out of a fairytale.

The Classic Playground Aesthetic

We all know that colours speak to our playfulness. Bright colours draw us in. And that is what a classic playground aesthetic does; It conveys play on many levels for children and grown-ups and magically draws you in. Perfect for school playgrounds, preschools, public parks and leisure settings. A classic playground aesthetic creates new memories for the children whilst acting as nostalgia for the parents.

Futuristic Playground Aesthetic

A futuristic playground aesthetic has both a transparent and organic look and feel. A futuristic playground install can take centre stage or blend in with the surroundings - depending on the size and colour combination. A futuristic aesthetic is timeless and works very well within an urban setting. Think downtown Manhattan in New York, the finance district around the Barbican Centre in London, or Copenhill in Copenhagen.

Step 3. Nailing the Needs of your Playground Project's Target Audience

Children at different age stages have different needs for stimuli. You can see the different primary user age groups below:
Two young girls playing on a green daisy springer with other young girls in the background on a tipi carousel. Creating zones within your playground layout plan can help younger children feel more confident to play.

Playgrounds for 1-3 year olds

For the 1-3 year olds, small-sized equipment that they can master independently will encourage physical play and stimulate motor development. Their emerging understanding of the world and their communication skills can be encouraged with dramatic play units such as small-sized themed equipment with tactile details to explore. In planning, body competence should be considered and play equipment pooled as close as possible. Transparency is key to the feeling of security; thus, it is important that the youngest can see their caregivers and their caregivers can see them.

A young boy climbing on wooden play equipment. The floor below is natural coloured bark chippings. The aesthetic of your playground construction project can change the purpose and overall result. Be sure to choose wisely!

Playgrounds for 3-6 year olds

The rules of planning playgrounds for the 1-3 year olds still apply to 3-6 year olds. The focus on motor skills such as balance, cross-coordination, and hand-eye coordination is still relevant. The gross-motor skills can be challenged by more responsive equipment, as this is the age at which most children learn to swing independently. Dramatic play is an immense play attraction at this age, stimulating language development and social skills. So is explorative play such as sand play, which will increase playtime for this age group. A rich variation of lower physical play equipment and thematic play events such as houses and cars are relevant.

A girl in a striped outfit sliding down a yellow slide with bright blue surfacing underneath. Including bright colours within your playground construction details can produce vibrant and enticing results.

Playgrounds for 6-9 year olds

This is the golden age of growing physical skills and understanding. Children will feel motivated by moving and climbing equipment. Play equipment that responds to movements, such as swings and spinning equipment, will spur their physical activity. They have an increased understanding of rule-based games such as ball games, noughts and crosses games, and other socially engaging games. The 6-9 year olds will still feel hugely attracted to dramatic play. Themed climbing and sliding equipment, in combination with swings and rotating equipment, will increase physical activity and social play. Explorative sand play equipment will attract and retain these children.

4 tween girls swinging together on a carousel. Each has their own seat. The surfacing underneath is safety sand. Did you know the type of surfacing you choose for your playground construction project can change the aesthetic of the final product?

Playgrounds for 9-12 year olds

This is the age of physical play excellence. It is also increasingly the age of pre-puberty. This means that play for this age group should have a focus on social interaction. The 9-12 year olds have refined their motor skills but still love to challenge and test their agility, balance, and coordination. They will feel attracted to more vigorous and thrilling physical play: responsive spinning, jumping, and climbing equipment. Their social interaction and competencies are growing and are a key to play success. Rules games with a cooperative and competitive edge will attract many, and ball games are popular. Play activities that can be enjoyed by more children together are highly attractive to the 9-12 year olds (often known as tweens).

Step 4. Defining the Purpose of your Playground Project

When making playground construction plans, the purpose of the project should be at the forefront of your decision-making process. The playground layout plan needs to be framed around the purpose of the site and will impact what playground equipment you should include. Requirements can change depending on the location of the site and the age group you’re looking to target.

Chances are, you want to WOW children to your site, entertain them for as long as possible, and see repeat visitors. You also probably want your playground project to support physical, creative, cognitive, and social/emotional development. Right?

Let us explain:

Two young boys playing on space themed playground equipment. Themes and design styles are important considerations for any playground plan.

Different Playground Purposes Explained

How to plan a school playground

When the bell rings and it’s time for a well-deserved break, many children run out of classrooms into the playground in one burst. Therefore, a school playground must include a play design with a high play capacity to accommodate many children simultaneously.

How to plan a preschool playground

When planning a playground design for preschoolers, versatility of stimuli is key. A preschool playground must facilitate various different types of play, such as swinging, spinning, balancing, climbing, social play, and collaborative play.

How to plan a campsite or zoo playground

Often, the main attraction at a zoo, campsite, or other leisure activity, is the playground. Your primary consideration should be creating a show stopping attraction with high levels of WOW factor that will be talked about for years to come.

How to create inclusive and accessible playgrounds

Playgrounds are not just about a specific age group. To involve everyone in the community, inclusiveness and accessibility in your playground design is vital. Creating a playground fit for all abilities and all ages is about being mindful of the diverse needs and behaviours of the users. This means looking at location and transportation when drafting your playground plan: public transportation, ample parking, and accessibility via a non-obstacle path.

How to design sustainable playgrounds

We all carry the responsibility of lowering carbon emissions. When planning your playground project, we'll give you the option to actively reduce carbon emissions by choosing one of our sustainable playground solutions - Born Green or Made Green. We urge you to have a conscientious approach at the top of your agenda when going into your playground construction details.

Step 5. How to Zone your Playground Project

Including zones within your playground layout plan is one of the most effective ways to maintain a sense of order and reduce conflicts. If your playground project is large enough, we recommend making different zones for different age groups. From experience, we know that tweens and teenagers prefer to play and stay on the playground away from smaller children. Including zoning within your playground equipment plan makes it easy for children to find the area that is most age-appropriate for them. The more play structures and equipment variety, the longer the children stay. This is, of course, also determined by the size of your planned playground project.

A large wooden playground ship with climbing net and bright red slide. If you want to create truly showstopping play site, make sure your playground construction project has enough budget allocated!

Step 6. Choosing Suitable Surfacing Material for your Playground Project

Surfacing can be used to zone your space and enhance play. Surfacing is a significant part of your playground construction project and is just as important as site design and play equipment.

  • Incorporating the playground theme into the surfacing can enhance the overall effectiveness of the site e.g., rails under a train or water splashes under a ship

  • Sand and engineered wood fibre are cheaper surfacing options, however they require regular top-ups and daily maintenance

  • Flexotop is a more expensive solution but requires less maintenance in the long run

Bright and dark blue surfacing with a fish and water theme. Blue equipment sits on top of the surfacing. Surfacing designs can enhance the effectiveness of your playground project.

Step 7. How to Time Manage your Playground Project

Having a good overview of your timeline is critical for any playground construction project. Most playground suppliers need at least 3 months to fully prepare and service the equipment you're interested in. This is especially true for larger or custom-made playgrounds, where the turnaround times can span up to 6 months. Do not postpone contacting the supplier, even if you have not fully finalised the playground layout or equipment plans.

Below are the three main stages of the playground planning process:

Drone photo of a colourful preschool playground with swings, wooden equipment, a sandpit and more. Offering different types of play is a great way to improve the popularity of your outdoor playground project.

Stages of Planning a Playground

Overhead shot of a girl sketching a piece of playground equipment inspired by a house. She is sitting at a table. Reference images are spread across the table. Reference images can be a helpful playground planning tool.

1. Designing – Approx. one month

A man using a tool on a log of robinia wood at the KOMPAN factory in Brno. If you're looking for a natural aesthetic as part of your playground equipment plan, robinia wood is a great choice.

2. Manufacturing – Approx. one month

Playground installation contractors putting a wooden playground together. There is a crane in the background. If you're working on an outdoor project, make sure your playground plans include enough time for proper installation and safety checks.

3. Construction – Approx. one month

Step 8. Understanding Playground Safety and Regulations

Learning about your local government regulations and safety precautions can be cumbersome but a necessary means to an end. You have to ensure your playground is a safe space with safe play for all users. Your local playground consultant is more than happy to take the burden off your shoulders. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) offers helpful information on playground safety.

Large wooden playground castle sitting on top of sand surfacing. The castle has a large metal tunnel slide going from the top to the bottom. Showstopping pieces like this one are ideal for playground projects at zoos and other leisure facilities.

When Does Playground Planning Go Wrong?

1. Mismanaging the timeline and process

Rushing to build a playground often makes the playground planning process go wrong. Like building a house, a playground takes time to scope and develop. That is why we recommend starting your planning well before your opening date and being realistic about the deadlines. The rule of thumb is to allow for 3-6 months for the whole process before the intended opening date.

2. Disregarding age-appropriate play and zoning

Jumping to choose products based on looks and what one recognises can also lead to poor playgrounds. The result may be an empty playground in which very few children play. For example, the playground does not stimulate the play that motivates the targeted age group.

Alternatively, the playground is not divided into zones in which the younger children can play quietly and with a sense of security without older children present. For rules of thumb for catering to the desired age groups and dividing your playground layout plan into zones, see the sections above.

3. Not including variety and stimulating play value

Thinking too little about the stay factor of your playground project can also lead to an empty playground. Stay factor can be created through stimulating different kinds of play. Examples include swinging, sliding, spinning, climbing, and sports games. Stay factor can also be made by including progressive play designs within your playground equipment plan. Progressive means the equipment can be used in more advanced ways as the children start to master the simple way of playing on it. For example, play structures like a Supernova or a Cliff Rider offer progressive play opportunities once children are familiarised with the basic functions.

4. Not accounting for the suitable user capacity

Not putting enough thought into user capacity can also lead to little use of the playground. Choosing one large product is appealing, but younger children might hesitate to go to the playground if a few teens are on the structure. That is why we recommend making different zones within your playground project, including more play designs, and placing them all over the area. We are happy to discuss your ideas and ensure that we mitigate any playground planning pitfalls.

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