Trends in Playground Design

Article | 02.08.2021

Wightman’s Landscape Architect Laura Fredrickson takes a moment to share the latest trends in playground design. Three of the most popular trends include inclusion and social equity, natural playgrounds, and outdoor learning spaces.

Inclusion and social equity

Social equity and inclusion have been front and center in many different ways recently. Playgrounds are no different. Inclusive playgrounds are ones in which contain equipment everyone can use, rather than some users only using certain parts of the playground. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says it well: “…there should not be separate routes for users with disabilities, such as ramps and stairs at a building entrance; all users should be able to move freely between the existing support facilities and parking…”

Natural playgrounds

Natural playgrounds are a movement to use existing materials to build landscapes that are similar to the outdoor environment. This also wraps into sustainability and using existing materials rather than disposable and less environmentally friendly materials. Wightman recently completed a natural playground at Shuur Park in Dowagiac, Michigan. The park features a concrete tunnel, natural stone outcroppings built into grass covered berms. Shared below is an example of a Wightman project at Schurr Park in Dowagiac, Michigan. 

Outdoor learning spaces

2020 has left a mark on education that will likely be felt for years to come. From a shutdown to schools in the spring, to a rethinking of our learning environments as students returned to class in the fall, whether that be in person, hybrid or remote. Outdoor classrooms are a great way to provide space and flexibility for schools. With current guidelines calling for 6’ of space between students or fewer than 11 persons in a room, to increased fresh air and ventilation, outdoor spaces offer a wide range of flexibility. Examples of outdoor classrooms range from logs arranged under a tree, to tents erected in a playground or parking lot, to gazebos and other existing structures. Following is an example of outdoor learning space.