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How to Lay Out School Playground Equipment

April 25, 2019

Laying out your school playground equipment can be challenging. There is a list of things to consider before even deciding to build a playground in the first place, some of which may dictate your layout – but more of that later.

It’s important to remember that a playground is an evolving and ongoing project. School playgrounds cannot be installed and forgotten about. The safety of children is the most important consideration for the playground layout and as a result the equipment must be regularly inspected and maintained.

In essence, a good playground should provide a safe and enjoyable environment for children to actively play, learn and socialise. Play England highlight six steps in the ‘cycle of design’ for playgrounds – these include: preparation, design, construction, use, maintenance and revision. This article will assume that you have got to the stage of designing the playground and will focus more heavily on the actual layout.


Outdoor climbing frameAssuming your intended site is free of these hazards, you might still find yourself limited. For example, if your school only has a small amount of space available for the play area, then you’ll need to make some decisions about which pieces of equipment you’re going to include, remembering that you need to keep safe ‘run-off’ areas (where children may be travelling at speed and could collide with equipment or each other, for example at the bottom of a slide or swing set). This is a lot to bear in mind, which is why it is often advantageous to employ a designer who is experienced and familiar with playground safety and pragmatism.


Inclusivity is important for the ideal playground and will be discussed soon. However, there are certain safety advantages to laying out the playground in areas that cater to different age groups.
For instance, it is a good idea to keep all the equipment geared towards early years in one area so that there is less chance of young children colliding with older ones and injuring themselves. From a design point of view, this separation should happen naturally. Equipment for early years is colourful and designed to entertain and intrigue younger children. This is to encourage participation and enjoyment. Naturally, such designs are less likely to appeal to older children. Having an early years section allows young children to play safely, but in the same area as their older peers.

Outdoor playground pirate boatThe perfect playground should also have a sitting area. While you might not think playgrounds are the place to sit, there will undoubtedly be children who would rather use their free time to sit down and play. Small communal sitting areas cater to this and can come in quirky designs that will encourage children to use them. Alternatively, there are more conventional options for playground seating including colourful play tables for early years and benches for older children, young adults and adults. If you’re thinking a little bigger, twin youth centres can provide several seats for children to socialise whilst sheltered from the rain.


The perfect playground provides equal opportunity for all children and youths. There are many pieces of inclusive playground equipment that are aimed at children with special educational needs. Generally, children are spending less time outdoors than any previous generation but four out of five SEN children are not active at all. Being active has endless benefits for children. It can increase their physical and mental wellbeing, as well as their confidence. It is also more likely that an active child will become an active adult, which can reduce the risk of heart problems and obesity, both of which are on the rise in children.

Inclusive playground equipment can encourage SEN children to play and learn safely in the company of their peers. The swirl, for example, has space for a wheelchair user and a supervising adult, giving the physically disabled children an opportunity to play. There are many other options for inclusive playground equipment.

Inclusivity is important for SEN children’s confidence but it also serves an important purpose for other children. Children with no experience of playing with SEN children may feel unsure about how to play with them. The experience of playing with SEN children in a suitable playground could be key to future interactions.

Play value

As you might have guessed, play value is the qualities that make a playground meaningful. To ensure you reach the highest play value possible, ask yourself the following questions when making your final decisions on layout and equipment…

Does the playground:

  • Promote learning and development?
  • Stimulate the senses with different textures, colours and sounds?
  • Nurture creativity and imagination?
  • Provide a place to relax and have fun?
  • Support children’s basic social, physical and cognitive needs?
  • Provide an inclusive environment for children of all abilities?
  • Encourage interactions between children?

The layout of the ideal school playground should be centred around safety. Having adequate run-off areas between equipment is key, as well as avoiding any of the hazards previously discussed.

You can also split your playground into sections if you have the space to. Keeping all the early years equipment in one area will lower the risk of injuries through collisions whilst also allowing them to play in the same place as the older children, which is great for confidence at that age.

The playground layout should cater to children of all abilities, using inclusive playground equipment where possible. Your school playground should provide a safe, enjoyable and inclusive play area for children of all abilities.

Written by: Andy Prentice
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