Safety aspects must be considered at all times during design. When moving structures are included, whether they be rope swings from branches or something more sophisticated, such as an aerial runway, safety margins around them are vitally important. The circulation for children moving from one place to another around the site needs to avoid crossing beneath such structures in order to prevent injury (see diagrams).
Any structures likely to be moving, or of any height above ground, must be properly constructed in order to take the weight of children and to be durable. Soft materials such as bark should be laid beneath high features, and moving parts should be designed for strength and to prevent trapping fingers. Design can increase the apparent risk while ensuring safety. Beams can be wobbly to walk on yet safely fixed; swings can seem to go higher than they actually do; scramble slopes can appear tall yet comprise several levels with safe ledges in between to reduce possible drops.
Themed play areas
As well as making use of the natural attributes and materials of the site it is possible to develop aspects of play around a
specific theme. This can be used to impart a special quality to reflect those of the place and thus enhance its cognitive play value. Often the recreation area will have particular geological, historical or natural history features that lend themselves to the development of play. Sculptors can help to create stimulating structures that relate to the special character and thereby add further interest.
In a forest, for example, the trees and the forest animals offer an abundance of ideas:
– Climbing structures, tree houses and ropeways can be developed to take children up into the tree canopy, using ropes and swings to descend.
– Hollow tree-trunks and holes under root plates can be used for crawling through, while spiders’ webs, giant badgers’ setts and other animal homes can be recreated.
– As fairy tales abound in forests, meeting gnomes, elves or goblins can also be built into the play area.
– A maze cut amongst small trees, bridges that tilt as you walk along them, structures that blow in the wind or are operated by ropes to make strange noises, all stimulate the
imagination, spring surprises on the children, and help them to overcome some of their latent fears.
– Hollow logs can make drums to send signals or to create strange music.
– Teams of children can play mystery games, or pretend they are Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe.
In water areas, provided the water is not too deep or liable to flooding, there are many ideas to be developed:
– hollow logs, or ones with channels cut along them, which can be used to divert streams;
– suspension bridges and stepping stones;
– small dams with sluices;
– floating pontoons or shallow-draughted boats;
– small waterfalls that shoot out over ledges, allowing children to crawl behind them without getting too wet;
– piers from which dipping with nets can take place;
– paddle wheels that can power pumps or lifting devices;
– shallow, sandy-bottomed pools that permit bathing or paddling.
Fitness and strength can be developed using assault-course – style equipment set out along a path. Scramble nets, climbing walls, balancing beams, stepping logs and an aerial ropeway can be exciting and competitive.
For smaller children, structures in the form of animals and their activities can be fun:
– slides made in the form of birds or animals;
– snakes made from logs to walk along;
– tunnels like rabbit holes;
– spiders’ webs to climb on;
– a merry-go-round like a fox chasing a rabbit.