Five must-haves for childcare outdoor play spaces

The outdoor play areas for childcare centres can often be overlooked in favour of indoor learning spaces but high-quality outdoor spaces are incredibly important for small children. Our clients know that playground improvements are an investment in the physical, emotional and developmental needs of their young students. An amazing outdoor playscape adds tremendous value to a childcare centre. As a bonus, they improve staff retention and job satisfaction. Our clients report that it is significantly more enjoyable for staff to be in a beautiful space that engages children. So what are the key elements of play to include in a childcare playground design?


Key Elements of Play


Here are five elements of play to consider for a well-designed outdoor play space:

Active Play

Active play is often first on the list for playground design, but strategic design can create a space that really packs in the play. By considering both composite structures and site design/layout, designers can plan for lots of different activities with appropriate levels of physical challenge. Creating space between active play opportunities throughout the site opens up circulation for children to criss-cross between and around play zones.

Gathering Spaces

Social play, whether led by a teacher or by the children themselves, requires places for children to gather and share. Discovery tables (shown above) or outdoor classroom spaces with log seats or benches create natural hubs for coming together to listen, talk, share and learn.

Dramatic Play

Children’s imaginations can indeed transform simple forms into magical spaces and mythical creatures. Creating a playspace that encourages creativity and dramatic play means that shapes, forms and structures should be open-ended and non-prescriptive. Perhaps a hut becomes a forest treehouse or an enchanted palace. Or maybe it’s simply a place to hide when playing a game of hide-and-seek.
elements of play shade and rest areas child care centre


On hot summer days, shade makes any space more enjoyable. Designing a playscape that plans for and includes both large and small shady spaces prioritizes sun protection for young skin. Canopies, whether trees or shade structures create a spatial perimeter that defines a space, making it more inviting for small children.
five elements of play natural materials child care centre

Natural Materials

Wood, sand, water, rocks, trees and plants all contribute to sensory play experiences that expand a child’s understanding of the world around them.  Sensory play activates the brain and stimulates a desire for children to experiment with different materials.


Final Thoughts


When outdoor environments are interesting, complex and challenging, children are more engaged and have room to create, move, explore and develop physical, social and emotional skills.

All of the above projects have been designed and built by Earthscape Play in southern Ontario. We are a recognized and award-winning leader in the design and construction of exceptional outdoor spaces for childcare centres.

We have completed  multiple projects for Today’s Family.  For additional thoughts, get their perspective on outdoor play here: Climbing Around