Children come in all sizes and levels of physical abilities.
Toddlers, pre-school, and school-age children could not be more different. They have vastly different physical needs, intellectual abilities, and social skills. That is why most playground equipment does not come in “one size fits all” options.
The structures and features found on the playground should attract children, engage them, and aid in their growth as young people. The playground should foster physical development and emotional development while creating challenging tasks suited to their level of play. Play opportunities should also be accessible for children of varying abilities.
The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) at the University of Northern Iowa works for all children to have access to safe environments for play.
The organization has worked with child development experts to designate which playground equipment is appropriate for certain ages based on developmental, physical, intellectual, and coordination-related benchmarks.
Their guidelines on Appropriate Playground Equipment by Age Group are described below. According to the experts, here are the playground designs and elements suitable for children in each age group:
Ages 6 Months to 24 Months
Creativity, social skills, and problem-solving are among the benefits of play. These benefits can be developed within the youngest children on the playground, so creating age-appropriate play areas for infants is crucial.
This age is defined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as the “toddler” years, and this is an age where falls and tumbles are inevitable. When selecting equipment for this age group, get elements that are low to the ground and that have soft or foam-covered exteriors.
You’ll also need significant space for children to crawl, stand, walk, and fall (repeatedly). The best playground elements for ages 6 to 24 months include tunnel mazes, activity panels, learning walls, and toddler slides.
Toddlers still don’t have a lot of reach (thank goodness). Their legs are still growing, and stability and balance are a challenge, so the things they’ll grab, push, and pull themselves up with should be relatively close together and within easy reach.
Avoid playground surfaces that are loose and that shift under unsteady feet. These include mulch, pea gravel, or sand. Besides, toddlers will eat it, throw it, and put it into their noses, ears, or eyes.
A better alternative? No Fault Safety Surface (NFSS) is a unitary rubber surface, so there is no loose-fill surfacing that a toddler can pick up and put in their mouth. And because it’s a cushiony, slip-resistant surface, it’s a great choice for toddlers since there will be several falls and tumbles that take place at this age!
Little Tikes Commercial (LTC) offers some great playground equipment for toddlers and young children. See our project spotlight featuring Little Tikes Commercial play equipment including “Tot Trees” for the youngest users complemented with two “tree play houses” to match. We installed our No Fault Safety Surface in 50% tan & 50% black to give the play area an earthy, natural look.
Ages 2 to 5 Years
This age group can be a tough one for playground designers. Children ages 2-5 years old have very different capabilities. Elements in these playgrounds need to account for children who have shorter legs and are a little “top heavy.” Even though they don’t have great balance yet, most children older than two years want to start mimicking the older children. So, keep an eye on them!
Specific elements that should be included in the 2-5 year age category include low climbing structures, crawl tunnels, low balance beams, activity panels, and small structures, like playhouses, for make believe and role play.
Other play elements to consider include low platforms with multiple access points such as ramps and ladders; ramps with pieces attached for grasping; low tables for sand, water, and manipulation of materials; tricycle paths with various textures; flexible spring rockers-think colorful horses and cars; covered sandboxes, and shorter slides that are usually no taller than 4 feet.
Miracle Recreation has some fantastic choices for playground equipment for this age group. See Miracle play equipment in the photo below, and our No Fault Safety Surface in a color blend of 50% tan & 50% black.
You will also want a playground safety surface that offers adequate fall protection based on the height of the play structure, since children this age will still fall occasionally.
Ages: 5 to 12 Years
Children ages 5 to 12 are learning new skills at a rapid pace. They are perfecting their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, strength and balance. These children are steadier on their feet and ready for bigger challenges. Their social skills are becoming more advanced, and playground games can become more competitive.
Children in this group need higher platforms and slides (generally up to 72”), swings, corkscrew/loop pole elements, climbers including faux rock walls, larger and loopier slides, sliding poles, rope climbers, monkey-bars, and other equipment that develops upper-body strength.
Unfortunately, this stage is also when children tend to embrace their inner daredevils. So, while selecting play equipment that will challenge them physically and intellectually, keep safety in mind and watch out for “Evel Knievel” stunts!
Playworld is another great provider of playground structures for children of all age groups. Check out the colorful play equipment provided by Playworld, along with our No Fault Safety Surface in colors of tan and terracotta red.
No Fault’s range of playground safety surface products provide fall protection for up to 12 feet, as well as offering a low-maintenance surface to keep up with this very active age group.
Need Help Planning an Age-Appropriate Playground?
We understand that building playgrounds suitable for the different age groups can be challenging. No Fault specializes in playground safety surfaces, but we work with many playground equipment companies across the country. No Fault has several connections to playground manufacturers and can put you in touch with a Rep in your area.
Contact No Fault today for our recommendations for play equipment, as well as rubber safety surfacing products for your playground project.