A toddler explores the world through sensory experiences. A school-aged child learns through teamwork and independent exploration.
What about the children in between?
Early childhood (roughly, ages 2-5) is a time of rapid learning. This is the time when preschoolers are developing skills like independence, social interactions, creativity, and more.
That is why a playground designed with preschoolers in mind is important. Let’s look at what you should remember when designing a playground for preschoolers.
Preschool children are starting to learn about the world around them. They interact with each other and begin to understand that the world is full of individuals with their own wants and needs. They are expanding their vocabulary and communicating with one another.
For this reason, early childhood playground equipment should prepare children for the social development needed to get them ready for school years. Outdoor games are a primary force for socialization. Giving children space to do things like throwing a ball back and forth helps with the socialization process.
These skills build confidence and encourage children to engage more with their peers. This in turn leads to greater independence.
With these social activities, there are always a few roadblocks along the way. Preschoolers can become easily frustrated if they get tired or if the game is not going their way. This is where close supervision comes into play. The grown-ups supervising playtime will need to step in and referee when feelings are hurt or when social time becomes unruly.
To put it another way: Promote independent play AND supervised play. Do not just turn the children loose since their physical skills, social skills, and emotional competence are still developing. Your playground layout should be designed so caregivers and adults can step in to help when needed.
Children ages 2-5 years old have a wide range of capabilities, so playgrounds designed for preschoolers needs to take these differences into account.
Children this age are still working on balance and motor skills. These children may not have great balance yet, but they will push the limits by trying to imitate what they see older children doing (including running and climbing). Keep an eye on the children because they can quickly find themselves in situations outside of their physical abilities!
Find play equipment to provide social and cognitive features for the 2-5 age range. These include low balance beams, activity panels, and small structures (like playhouses and crawl tunnels), which are perfect for make believe and role play.
Want the little ones to do some climbing? The maximum platform height for preschoolers should be 36 to 48 inches and should include protective enclosures to prevent falls. These platforms should have multiple access points (such as ramps and ladders). Ramps should come with railings. Children this age love slides, but it is recommended they be no taller than four feet. In addition to age specific climbing equipment, you will need a playground safety surface that offers adequate fall protection.
Preschool children sometimes struggle with climbers because they have not yet fully developed their upper body coordination needed for that level of difficulty. Moving equipment, like merry-go-rounds, should be avoided for safety reasons.
Play features should be comfortable for smaller hands, feet, and bodies. No rise greater than 6 inches will ensure easy access for short legs.
Preschoolers are just about the most creative people in the world. They practically live in the land of make believe! Pretend play is important for their young minds’ development. Playgrounds should be a backdrop for their active imaginations.
Themed playgrounds are a great way to help children imagine another world for their play. For example, a police or fire department theme encourages role playing. It also helps them imagine helping others, racing to an emergency, and collaborating with the rest of a team to get the job done.
Children in the preschool years have short attention spans; for this reason, playgrounds need to excite and engage them to keep their focus. Think bright colors, multiple activities, and fun textures designed to appeal to all senses.
Remember, playtime can lay the groundwork for an active life. Lifelong habits are formed during these critical toddler years, so this is serious business!
Whether you’re designing a playscape for your childcare or daycare center, church, community, preschool, or head start, don’t forget: Safety starts with No Fault Safety Surface, No Fault Safety Tiles, No Fault Bonded Rubber Mulch and No Fault Loose Fill Rubber Mulch. These surfacing products are designed to serve as attractive, shock-absorbing protection against the inevitable tumbles every toddler is bound to have.