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Playground Landscape

Connecting to Nature: Importance of Landscaping in Playground Design

Posted by Churchich Content Team Content on October 20, 2023

Playgrounds are the canvases of childhood where laughter, joy, and imagination take center stage.

When it comes to the planning of these vital community spaces, landscaping is often overlooked as an aesthetic afterthought, but the importance of landscaping in playground design cannot be overstated.

“The playground landscape is a key consideration when planning and overseeing the design process,” advises Miracle Recreation. “By enhancing your playground’s landscaping, you create an attractive space that will welcome the surrounding community in, where they can enjoy those benefits.”

Landscaping has a pivotal role in creating a dynamic, safe, and enriching environment that nurtures children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Playground Landscaping: A Historical Glance

Historically, playgrounds were often devoid of greenery, serving as basic recreational spaces in sterile and spartan settings.

“The traditional playground is typically flat, barren, covered with asphalt, and equipped with climbing bars, a swing, a sandpit, a seesaw, and a slide,” says a study published by the University of Cincinnati. “Such playgrounds have not been found to be very challenging and even very young children or those with motor behavior deficits do not explore their potential on these playgrounds.”

However, with an evolving understanding of the benefits of nature, landscaping in playgrounds began to gain significance, especially as educators and designers began to learn more about the importance of play for child development.

Today's playgrounds showcase a far more integrated approach to nature, with greenery as an essential component, with projects such as:

Modern Trends in Landscaping for Playgrounds

One of the biggest trends in landscaping for playgrounds today is the use of natural materials.

This includes things like trees, shrubs, rocks, and sand. Natural materials help to create a more natural and inviting environment for children to play in.

The integration of natural elements, such as natural play structures, living walls, and sensory gardens, also provides children with a diverse range of experiences.

Natural elements can also help provide a variety of sensory experiences and opportunities for physical activity.

“Sensory playground designs can stimulate and promote childhood development. Including different sensory experiences for kids with disabilities or autism who are easily overstimulated ensures kids of all abilities can play,” says Miracle Recreation.

Another trend in landscaping for playgrounds is the use of sustainable practices. This includes things like using native plants, rainwater harvesting, and green roofs.

 Sustainable landscaping practices help to reduce the environmental impact of playgrounds and make them more sustainable in the long run.

The Power of Landscaping in Playground Design

Landscaping doesn't just add beauty; it brings a plethora of benefits to playgrounds:

  • Create Visual Appeal: A well-landscaped playground is visually captivating. Trees, plants, flowers, and other natural elements enhance the overall aesthetics of the play area.

  • Connect the Playground to Nature: Landscaping creates a sense of immersion in nature, helping children develop a deeper appreciation for the environment.

  • Create Sensory Experiences: Trees, flowers, and natural textures engage children's senses, from the scent of flowers to the feel of tree bark, enriching their sensory experiences. Sensory gardens or water features can also stimulate a child’s senses, enhancing their play experience and cognitive development.

  • Provide Spaces for Rest: Landscape features like trees and rocks offer natural rest spots, providing respite during play. This is especially crucial in urban settings or near busy roads.

  • Improve Safety: Strategically placed landscaping elements can act as safety buffers, preventing accidents and enhancing supervision. Landscaping can also provide shade, which protects children and their families from the sun’s harmful effects.

  • Encourage a Seamless Transition: Well-planned landscaping ensures a seamless transition from the park or surrounding area to the play space, creating a harmonious environment.

  • Enhance Children's Cognitive and Physical Skills: Studies show that exposure to natural environments fosters cognitive and motor skill development in children. Landscaping elements provide opportunities for climbing, exploration, and imaginative play.

  • Aesthetic Value: Landscaping contributes to the overall beauty of the playground, making it a more enjoyable space for both children and adults.

  • Create a Cohesive Look and Feel: Landscaping elements can tie different play areas together, giving the playground a cohesive and unified appearance.

Tips for Landscaping Your Playground

If you are planning to landscape a playground, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Do a Site Assessment: Begin by understanding the site's natural features, climate, and the needs of the community.

  • Involve Landscape Architects: Collaborate with experienced landscape architects who can help create a seamless blend of natural and play elements.

  • Safety First: Prioritize safety by ensuring proper drainage, visibility, and clear boundaries.

  • Choose the Right Plants: When choosing plants for a playground, it is important to choose plants that are non-toxic and that will not cause allergies. It is also important to choose native plants that are durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear.

  • Create a Variety of Spaces: Landscaping can be used to create a variety of different spaces in a playground. For example, you can create spaces for climbing, swinging, sliding, and running. You can also create spaces for rest and relaxation.

  • Balance and Diversity: Include a mix of landscaping elements to cater to different play experiences, from sensory gardens to natural materials for climbing and exploring.

  • Provide Shade: Landscaping should provide shade for children to play in during hot weather.

  • Use Natural Materials: Natural materials, such as trees, shrubs, rocks, and sand, can help to create a more natural and inviting environment for children to play in.

  • Consider the Needs of All Children: When landscaping a playground, it is important to consider the needs of all children, including children with disabilities. For example, you can create ramps and accessible play features for children with disabilities.

  • Maintenance Plan: Develop a maintenance plan to ensure the landscaping remains safe, healthy, and visually appealing over time.

Avoid These 5 Playground Landscaping Design Mistakes

While incorporating landscaping into playground design offers numerous benefits, there are some common mistakes that can detract from the overall experience.

Here are five key design pitfalls to avoid:

  • Overcrowding: Overly dense planting or too many landscaping features can overwhelm the play area, limiting visibility and reducing safety. It's important to strike a balance between greenery and open space, allowing for supervision and movement.

  • Inadequate Shade: Failing to provide ample shade can lead to overheating in the summer months. Shade trees and shelters should be strategically placed to protect children from the sun while they play.

  • Lack of Accessibility: Playgrounds should be inclusive and accessible to children of all abilities. Failure to consider accessibility in landscaping design can exclude certain children from enjoying the space. Ensure pathways, ramps, and surfacing are accessible to all.

  • Inappropriate Plant Selection: Choosing the wrong plants or trees can lead to maintenance issues and safety concerns. Thorny or poisonous plants, for instance, should be avoided. Native plants are often a good choice as they require less maintenance and support local ecosystems.

  • Neglecting Maintenance Considerations: Beautiful landscaping can become a safety hazard if not properly maintained. Neglecting pruning, trimming, or regular maintenance can lead to overgrown areas and potential safety issues. Make sure that landscaping elements are designed with long-term maintenance in mind.

Remember, by recognizing the importance of landscaping and incorporating it effectively, we can create playgrounds that not only captivate the eye but also inspire the heart and mind.