Five must-haves for child care outdoor play spaces

The outdoor play areas for child care centres can often be overlooked in favour of indoor learning spaces. These spaces, however, are incredibly important for small children. Our clients know they are making an investment in the physical, emotional and developmental needs of their young students. An amazing outdoor playscape adds tremendous value to a child care centre. As an added bonus, they improve staff retention and job satisfaction. It is 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 child care playground design?


Key Elements of Play


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

Active play is an 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 as well as the site design and layout, designers can plan for lots of activities. Creating space between active play opportunities throughout the site opens up circulation for children to 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 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, some welcome shade makes any space more enjoyable. Designing a playscape that incorporates 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
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.


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 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