Five must-haves for child care outdoor play spaces

Is your child care playground inspiring?  Do the children and staff look forward to being outside?  Are there a variety of play opportunities?  Places to gather?  Things to climb?  Spaces for dramatic play?  Interesting routes and circulation patterns?  Natural materials?

An amazing outdoor playscape adds tremendous value to a child care centre.  Our child care centre clients know they are making an investment in the physical, emotional and developmental needs of their young students; plus, they improve staff retention and job satisfaction.  It is more enjoyable for staff to be in a beautiful space that engages children. 

Here are five elements of play our designers always consider:

Active play is an obvious requirement but strategic design can create a space that encourages even more active play by considering the full site design and layout.  Spacing active play opportunities throughout the site means that children criss-cross between and around play zones.
Social play, whether led by a teacher or led by the children themselves requires places for children to gather and share.  Discover tables (shown above) or outdoor classroom spaces with log seats or benches create natural hubs for coming together to listen, talk, share and learn.
It is true that children’s imaginations can transform simple forms into magical spaces and mythical creatures.  Creating a playspace that encourages that creativity and dramatic play means that shapes, forms and structures should be open ended, not literal.  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.

The benefits of shade are obvious.  On hot summer days it makes any space more enjoyable.  Designing a playscape that prioritizes the creation of large and small shady spaces ensures sun protection for young skin.  Canopies, whether trees or built structures create a spatial perimeter that defines a space, making it more inviting for small children.

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 the manipulation of different materials.

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 in Southern Ontario. We are a recognized and award-winning leader in the design and construction of exceptional outdoor spaces for child care centres.

We have completed a number of projects for Today’s Family.  Read their perspective on outdoor play here: Climbing Around