There are a lot of elements in a playground to consider when you are looking at your layout. We have previously looked at zoning these areas into 5 zones so you can identify the ways you impact on the learning journey of children as they develop the necessary skills to become brave, confident, creative and insightful minds. In this, we have further developed these zones, added the types of elements you can include and identified what part of the developmental stages this type of play impacts children developmental phases. Some studies have shown as many as 26 zones but for us, these are the key play zones that ultimately reflect on the others. Zones that include:
- Sensory Play
- Imaginative play
- Musical Play
- Water Play
- Nature Play
- Risk Play
- Social Play
- Reflective Play – usually seen as part of
Each plays a significant role in children’s brain development, life skills and character building. It’s also known to be the key stimulus for social skills and problem-solving which is fundamental to a child’s growth.
According to Jennifer Philbrook, MS – “It is the interaction between the genes and environment that really shape the developing brain; a dance between biology and experience.”
We as service providers are indirectly or directly key in building on youth brain development. If you think about the brain development of a child and how each part is stimulated you can adapt this into your outdoor (and indoor) play experiences.
Sensory Play is all about developing several parts of the brain; the occipital lobe through visual processing, the parietal lobe through touch and is known to help with brain stem by providing a calming safe area depending on the play elements you install. Sensory really does encompass multiple play elements because it is about the touch, visual, sounds, smells and taste sensory experiences.
In a playground, an example of sensory play is providing stimuli to the senses like colour and contrast through various elements, even if you are adjusting something old to make it new, it helps stimulate the brain.
- Colourful plastic perspex, viewing windows or art on walls to create a visual interest
- Interesting looking objects or material to touch and feel like plants, or carvings or statues, various timber textures, stones, or a combination of it all
- Wild and strong-smelling plants and flowers to stimulate smell
- It could be from locks or keys as the kids focus on the movement of objects and fitting in slots
Developing higher mental functions in the frontal lobe of kids minds is the most rewarding to experience. Kids take an object, space, environment and they imagine it to be something more.
Like a cubby house which could be a classroom, a shop, or a café whatever their minds conjure up.
Or a fort with accessories that in the minds of children turns it into a ship or a car, or a fort with multiple platforms which becomes zones of a house, a school or hideout.
This could even be done with sandpit areas and the equipment and accessories you can add around here like kitchen sinks, pipes made with different elements like flexi pipes, PVC, perspex, bamboo pipes, funnels, shovels, ride on diggers just to name a few. This then inspires games like being a chef, a builder or a tradesman.
Naturally, we think of dancing or singing when we think of music but for playgrounds, this is the element that creates sound and music from instruments. It develops the Auditory part of the brain and is also recognised as a way to build concentration and motor skills in the cerebellum area of the playground.
This could be introduced with drums, pipes, or a form of digeridoos (an indigenous musical instrument), it could be from advanced communications or xylophones or bamboo. It could even be from chains knocking against each other or different materials combined. Natural sounds are also a big part of this so water sounds and sand or stones moving or making sounds in their natural environment are great for developing.
Develops the temporal lobe and parietal lobe when kids actively engage with the water. It also plays on the auditory and brain stem as the sound of water can have a profound impact on their emotions with extreme reactions excitement, calm, and even fear activated. When you cross water play with accessories or objects you then start to cross into other sensory experiences like imaginative play and sensory play. Here are a few examples of various water plays that you can include in your playground:
Water park, irrigation, water pumps, waterfalls, dry creek bed variations.
Identified in ‘sensory’ and ‘water play’, ‘nature play’ develops the explorative, balance and coordination and problem-solving senses of the brain (frontal lobe) by introducing elements like a sensory garden with balance beams, and those strong-smelling plants. Vegetable gardens to learn the plant or insect lifecycles and all the elements nature offers. Some great examples of this are:
Any challenge that can really demand the focus of your mind engages the frontal lobe. This then activates the problem-solving senses on the brain and in some cases activates the fear part of the brain, that “fight or flight” instinct which is great for personal growth.
For a playground, this could be anything like rope or rickety bridges, monkey bars, climbing walls, climbing net walls, complex walking beams or stepping stones, working with heights and more.
This is a zone created to calm the mind and engage the emotional part of the temporal lobe and brain stem. Generally, a quiet area for kids to sit and enjoy but often combined with a sensory experience. Like this sanctuary (Tanah Merah) or a reading corner (Tarragindi), or a seat in a natures walk for that much needed quiet thinking time.