The Effect of Playground Design on Child Development

A common misconception regarding playgrounds is that their sole purpose is to provide children a break from learning. However, the outdoor environment playgrounds provide is simply an extension of indoor educational programmes. Through play structures, interactions with themselves, and interactions with others, children cultivate cognitive and social skills imperative to proper development.

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Studies have been performed in attempts to determine the most effective designs of play environments in relation to child development. According to Moor and Cohen, activities should allow for a flow of movement through multiple branches and options at decision points (Brown and Burger 1984). In the design, space needs to be designated for a range of social scales. At a young age, children face emotional anxiety, so it is pertinent areas for role-play are set aside. During play, children can experience the need to remove themselves from areas of high social stimulation. By providing solitude areas directly off of an activity, children can experience alone time while still observing others. Fostering a clear sense of accomplishment throughout the areas of play is critical in motivating children to challenge themselves as well. Similar to set play structures, having loose parts such as puzzles and wood allow for dynamic and manipulative play encouraging creativity.

In addition to what elements need to be included in a play area, the flow of activity is important to take into consideration. A study performed by Hill, as reported in Brown and Burger 1984, identified four categories of play including physical and social sections should be placed in close proximity while creative and cognitive sections are best placed separate to avoid interruption from areas of higher activity.

Playgrounds advance a wide range of basic social skills necessary for the developmental process of children. Areas of role-play, loose parts, and obstacles allow children to relate to themselves as well as others, maturing their interpersonal skills. Being exposed to living things as well as the ambient environment provides opportunities for children to understand proper non-human interactions. This can be achieved by including garden areas, swings, water play structures, and slides. Lastly, playgrounds aid in evolving a child’s understanding of their relation to the physical environment spatially. The inclusion of elevated structures, containers such as tunnels, boundary settings like fences, and circulation systems such as bridges and pathways all promote this behavioral development.

In a study by Thomas R. Garth and Electa Penina Porter in the American Journal of Psychology, the team learned how different colors can physically and mentally affect children at a young age. The experiment consisted of 1032 children ranging from 1-7 years old. Each student chose the color they liked the best and so on. In the figure below we can see that out of the 62 children age 1-2.9 years old the majority were drawn to Orange, Green, and Red, while the 124 children aged 3-3.9 years selected Red and Blue to be their favorites, and the 128 children aged 4-4.9 years old ranked Red, Blue, and Green as the top three (Garth and Porter 1934).

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Color Preferences of Youth

This study from the American Journal of Psychology focused on American children. The team has decided that they will keep this study in mind when designing the physical appearance of the playground. The team will create a playground that is aesthetically appealing as well as intriguing and challenging for the children. The team has also decided to create a Playground Catalog that will visually show community members different options for play construction.


Brown, J. G., & Burger, C. (1984). Playground Designs and Preschool Children's Behaviors. Environment & Behavior, 16(5), 599-626. doi: 10.1177/0013916584165004
Garth, T. R., & Porter, E. P. (1934). The Color Preferences of 1032 Young Children. The American Journal of Psychology, 46(3), 448-451. doi: 10.2307/1415597