Seven principles of playground design

Lion sculpture in Aaholm school playgroundI really appreciate the thoughtful comments to my last post about playground design. It prompted me to summarise my own views in the form of seven design principles (plus an extra one for luck). What do you think of them? Feel free to continue the conversation!

1) Design is a creative process, not a mechanistic one. So it is simply wrong to try to limit designers in advance. While I have some worries about designer ego, I would be much more worried if designers with an urge to be creative felt their wings were being clipped at the outset. All great play spaces have something special about them, and many have hidden meanings and a sense of place, of depth and of mystery. I find the idea of ‘genius loci’ (or ‘spirit of place’) helpful, as introduced to me by my friend, Danish landscape architect Helle Nebelong. (You can see a few of my photos of her work on my Flickr site).

2) We should not place the burden of designing on children. That is our job as adults. Designers may want to gain inspiration from engaging with children, but that should be linked to a designer’s wider intentions and approach.

3) Children may have useful things to say about design – and also about location. (Sadly, all too often the location of a site is a given, when it should be a critical topic to explore.) If you plan to involve children in design, it is vital to be thoughtful and creative (as Felicity and Tom point out in their comments on my original post). Asking them ‘what equipment do you want?’ is almost guaranteed to lead to an unimaginative shopping list of pieces of kit. We all know how much children like splashing about in the rain. Yet no child would ever say “I’d like a puddle in my play area please”. (Which doesn’t mean kit has no value. It does. But that is a line of thought for another time.)

Children making models of play equipment

4) It may be helpful to capture children’s views as part of an awareness-raising process aimed at adults. This may well encourage parents, residents or decision-makers to revisit their ideas about what makes for a good place for play. But it needs to be done thoughtfully, in ways that recognise both children’s abilities and qualities, and their limitations. As Grace comments, “children are not great at self-analysis or meta-cognition.”

5) We should ground our designs in a sound understanding of the depth and richness of children’s play, based on (amongst other things) extensive, thoughtful observation of different children at play in different kinds of places (yes, Arthur and Bob) and on our own childhood memories (yes, Nancy).

6) Form should follow function: the Bauhaus design ethic quoted by Aileen is not a bad place to start. Different types of project – a small neighbourhood play area, a destination park, a nursery garden, an inclusive play space, a staffed adventure playground – need different approaches and have different constraints.

7) The views of parents, other residents, staff, facility managers, regulators and other adult stakeholders are important. They cannot and should be ignored. But they should not distract designers from the central job of a play space: to offer great play opportunities for children.

One final thought: my hunch is that play spaces would be much more scruffy (to quote Aileen again) if we paid more attention to the kinds of places that truly spark children’s playful impulses.

44 responses to “Seven principles of playground design

  1. Pingback: Whose playground is it anyway? | Rethinking Childhood

  2. A well designed playground is one in which parents (if they must be there) play their role from the sidelines – i.e.: looking appropriately worried, waiting for the inevitable fall and cringing at the very moments most children screech with joy. At best, playgrounds of merit are those which have been designed with no parent presence in mind.  Let “them who insists” on overseeing play – something about which they know nothing – stand – wishing they were home. . . where they should be anyway.

  3. I had a great request from the head teacher Nicky Godetz of Cypress Junior School in South Norwood. She asked me to get rid of the idea of having seating around for the parents, to urge them to become more involved with their children’s play. I think she had a good point.

    • Hmm, not sure about this Tom. I think kids should be playing with kids – if anything, that’s what they are missing out on. So I’m quite happy when I see the adults sitting round the edge letting the kids get on with it and not interfering too much. [Update: as Bernard says in his comment – which I have just reread!] Though maybe it’s a bit different in a school, and for very young children.

      • Mirjana Petrik

        Although, city playgrounds are primarily made for children they are public spaces and grownups spend their time here too. In my opinion designers should pay attention to grownups convenience more than just placing few benches at the side.
        Sometimes its enough to place those benches in such a way that grownups can socialize more among themselves.
        However interconnecting the playground with other city space is even a better way. A playground open to the park, square, a playground with a cafe – it could be a place where not only parents but working people may want to have their lunch break or where elderly citizens would like to rest.
        So my additional point to playground design would be to find a way how to combine these different city spaces paying attention to transition zones between them. In order to make playgrounds part of city public space.

  4. More or less agree, Tim, but I do take issue with your wording in Item 2. I’ve yet to meet a designer who places the burden of design onto children so am curious to know what you mean by that?

    My experience tells me that in fact most children feel disenfranchised by traditional decision making as it relates to their needs; to begin with, their needs are generally not high on a decision maker’s priority list (no matter what they claim) and adults are far too quick to assume that children are unable to articulate their thoughts. In fact, children of all ages are able to provide information that can be interpreted by skilled practitioners – I think back to Alison Clark ‘s work on the Mosaic Approach and Gail Ryder Richardson’s work adapting it for early years settings in Kent.

    There is of course more to design than landscape architecture / architecture / interior design. Purchases are often made ‘for’ children, with very little reference to them as consumers or even as people with the ability to express choice, despite society’s current obsession with ‘choice’. I don’t claim to be a paragon of virtue in this field but I see a significant difference between consultation and participation, and the latter has always been my preferred approach. Consultation implies a listening exercise that may have no effect on outcomes; participation suggests that all parties will influence outcomes (even if all roles are not equal!).

    I think we have a long way to go before designers place the ‘burden’ of design onto children. But perhaps I’ve misinterpreted what you meant – I’d be interested to hear more.

  5. Hi Jules, thanks for this. I may not have worded it well, but what that principle had in mind was the idea that the ‘best’ form of involvement of children is when they have maximum say. In my mind it’s linked with the idea that children are ‘experts in their play’. I think both these ideas are wrong. Children play. They experience play from the inside. It gives them a distinct perspective. But it doesn’t make them experts, at least not in the sense of being people who have expertise: who are able to give informed commentary or observations on their play. Likewise, participation (or engagement, or consultation) needs to fit the situation. Interestingly, Paige Johnson in her latest playscapes blog post comments approvingly on Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation, which I daresay you and some other readers are familiar with. But I think a ladder is the wrong metaphor, if it implies that higher up means better. I think instead of a spectrum of participation. Not that I’m defending tokenism of course, but I think the ‘more is better’ line of thought fails to do justice to the complexity of the relationship (or potential relationship) between children and designers.

    • To design, is to contrive or engineer, an intent. Who’s intent? It comes about through observation of the space and its context and observation of the interaction of those who use it and it is therefore always limited by these factors. Unrestricted play comes about when children have the spatial dimensions that suggest no limtations, but that they place upon themselves. Everything else is a compromise.

    • “But I think a ladder is the wrong metaphor, if it implies that higher up means better.”

      Actually it isn’t Rogers, it’s Sherry’s.

      – google it.

      Hart’s is distinguished from Arnstein’s by the addition of the word children: “Ladder of Children’s Participation”

      And In that original (Arnstein) context, ladder was the right term, and from memory I think her original was reversed – power devolving to the citizen at the bottom being best, power held by the government worst.

      Roger applied it in his field, which I think is described as children’s participation – I think that is misleading – I think his work is in more of a children’s rights context, but its not my field, so i’m merely an outsider complaining about someone else’s valid terminology.).

      Arnstein’s context was citizen action (community action). Like you I think ladder was probably not as pertinent or germane in Roger’s context.

      Since then others have sought to apply it in a further subtly different field – consultation in play provision.

      At each step the original idea loses focus, context, integrity and richness. A bit like a photocopy of a photocopy.

      I don’t think Roger has ever personally claimed to be the author but he is often described as the author. Play Wales did it again last year in their magazine. I think this happens as a misguided kind of compliment. An example: ‘lines of desire’ is a term coined by a planner or an architect, AFAIK. But in the play field, some insist on referring to Mick Conway as the author. That’s because Mick often used to talk knowledgeably and pertinently about the idea. If people check with him he’ll gladly tell you what two of us already know – he isn’t the author.

      Why does any of this matter?

      1. Credit were due.
      2. It makes scholarly and professional knowledge-seeking and understanding that much harder.
      3. It dilutes our learning, in this specific case it deprives you of access to the profound and thought-provoking work of Arnstein. Now that I’ve told you, you can go read her if you want, or not, but you have access and choice.

      If I want to learn about the about the original concept, I won’t get very far googling . That will lead to a dead end in 1992.

      Actually, try it. Compare my two google searches. Result?

      You decide because thanks to Google the info is laid out for you. We can see clearly that she published in 1969, he in 1992 (actually a bit earlier I think, but at least 10 years after her, and he fully acknowledged her when he published)

      No crime of plagiarism by Roger. But perhaps PlayWales and all the other misattributors are committing a new crime which I shall dub ‘plagiarism by proxy’.

      That’s why this stuff matters.

      I look forward to Tim Gill’s “Spectrum of Consultation (based on Arnstein and Hart)”. Sounds like a Broadway ballad.

      • Arthur: Hart/Arnstein – I did google. You’re right, and I’m grateful for the enlightenment. I had no idea. I agree with you that this stuff matters, and I will try to make sure my attribution is more accurate in future.

        • thanks Tim, l well said.

          I checked also, because I piqued my own curiosity,
          and I was right:

          Roger reversed the polarity.
          Sherry has manipulation by ‘the man’ at the top,
          Roger has it at the bottom.

          2 interesting and potentially useful conceptual frameworks – both very different, both very valid, in their contexts.

        • Thank you, can’t really ask for more than that.

          But hey, in this case, you were hardly in a position to doubt what you were given, were you? That’s why I thought it important to offer the clarification when the opportunity presented itself – you did your best by referencing your source.

          Unfortunately there are many more misrepresentations out there, and not enough Attribution Police. Probably all inside filling in risk assessments.

  6. I have to agree that children will often not choose what they actually play most, and have the most fun with – as they tend to think of things rather than of the play – especially the preschoolers that I work with.

    Just about every preschool I have ever worked at here in Sweden has wanted to improve the outdoor play area – and when the children have been asked what they would like in the play area it has been giant slides, swings and swimming pools – mostly swimming pools which makes me laugh thinking how much of the year is snow and ice here!

    Just as anywhere else – it is sand, mud and puddles and making dens, as well as running around chasing that seems to be the most played.

    I agree that we adults need to take the designing responsibility and make sure that we take it from observations of the children’s play – as well as showing the children what they like doing the most through documentation – so that they can understand the thought processes of the designer.

  7. I think we need to think through what ‘designing;’ a play space actually should entail. For me, the two qualities that a designer needs to have that should be feeding their actual design skills are 1) an appreciation and understanding of children’s play and 2) an appreciation and understanding of the space available – i.e. its characteristics and the characteristics ( social, geographical, historical etc) of its context. Many play space designers lack an understanding, appreciation or even any real interest in children’s play.In terms of 2) , unless the designer already knows the area quite intimately this simply requires research and – yes- consultation. but not the superficial grasping at a cliche ( pirate ships in seaside destinations spring to mind). Both 1) and 2) require real interest and real engagement and from this , hopefully, will develop a play space with soul. Do we mean ;superficial design’ rather than ‘ over design.?

  8. OK, here are my principles, today anyway.
    1. only involve children if asked.
    2. involve all stakeholders enough to give them a sense of ownerships for the Design choices you make, Basically, lead them to where you want to go but make them feel it was thier idea to go there.
    3. be realistic for the situation and stick to the budget
    4. every project learn something new about children, materials and yourself
    5. as much a possible, with every new project, do something diferent and challenge yourself and hope, as little as your experience and talents will allow, you limit the phrase” I did not think about that”
    6. never forget the foundation that all play is based- movement, imagination and most importantly TAG and HIDE and SEEK, which should, sometimes encourage and provide for, participation by the parents.

  9. Well done, Tim, for kickstarting something.

    My first reaction, when I got the email tellling me of this blog – just the title, before I actually read it – was this:

    I hope this isn’t presented in some way as an authoritative list or an expert list.

    By which I mean NOT that I am anticipating Tim to be posing as an authority, but rather that any list like this is of its nature not authoritative, so I was hoping that Tim had taken pains to avoid this – and I expect that he will have.

    So I was heartened to see lots of comments and lots of disagreement.

    Here’s my opinion on all this (maybe I should make a list of list making principles):

    1. The good stuff emerges from the many.

    (not crowdsourcing, but a bit reminiscent of that; there are lots of important differences).

    Lists like this can only be close to authoritative if they emerge from a group process of some sort. This can be some big fancypants consultation, or something like the process for the well-known UK Playwork Principles, or just a bunch of folk chatting or commenting like this on a blog.

    So I applaud all the contributors, let’s have more,


    please join me in exhorting Tim (or someone) to compile a revision.

    2. Linked to point 1 is the principle of provisionality.

    LIsts (and manifestos, and policies, and principles, etcetera, etcetera) should not be final, but merely latest.

    So Tim’s list is merely version 1.0. When a revision is done, it will be version 1.1, or if it is major, maybe version 2.0. It’s an exact analogy to software version releases. You get the drift. Put the version number and the date at the bottom of every page:

    “Version 1.3, Latest draft of documentnamehere, issued on datehere”

    That kinda thing.

    Why? Lots of reasons: here’s a few:

    a. nothing is original, standing on the shoulders of giants, blah blah.

    b. we can improve it, so let’s say – “this is the best we have – FOR NOW”, not ‘the best’.

    (Yes, that is a whiff of Popper you’re getting).

    c. it invites people in,
    There is no boat to have missed, no in-crowd to be not in.


    Finally, a confession – I haven’t read it yet!

    I shall, and I might have some things to add, but for now, I merely wanted to exhort you other folk to see the list as a group-work in progress. Well done, Tim, for kickstarting something.

  10. Ooops, forgot to say:

    Vesion 1.0 of my comments, Wednesday, February 20, 2013 23:29.

  11. For the “scruffy” thing, and reinforcing Suzanne’s point, look at what’s probably the definitive Playground Of Choice, and one which people will travel for hours to get to and spend hours at: the beach.
    No design, no concept, no theme, no child input, no constructions. Lots of space, lots of free-form building material, lots of water. Possibly rocks or dunes.
    of course, you can’t have that much space and that much building material in a typical playground setting… Should you try and get as close as you can, or realise you’re on to a hiding for nothing and take a different direction? I don’t know, I suspect the answer may be “it depends”…

  12. I’m enjoying this ride! Again, lots to chew over. I’m going to start by responding to Arthur [plexity]. It’s about process. Here’s what happened after my last post. I started drafting a comment of my own. Then I thought ‘hmm, this is quite long, maybe it deserves a post in its own right.’ Then having drafted it I thought, ‘hmm, these look like a set of points, maybe I should stick my neck out and rework them into that format.’ Not quite at the back of my mind – though not at the front either – was some advice I’d read somewhere about blogging and how readers love ‘seven principles of…’ and ‘ten top tips for’. I take that kind of stuff with a BIG pinch of salt, but on this occasion (my 96th post, so WordPress reckons) I thought ‘what the hell’? Especially as the initial post was more open-ended – with less of a ‘line’ – than many of mine. Whether it’s a consequence of this or not, the flow of debate, and the range of views, over the two posts has been great to see, and to take part in. One of the things I’m realising about blogging is that as a writer, it is a more contingent medium: I don’t have to feel my ‘seven principles’ are *really* the only seven, or the right seven. Design for Play had ten, and very good they are too.
    Also: Sue – yes: your second point is genius loci, I guess. Bob – yes to some of your points, ‘hmm’ to others, eg your last point on parents. As I said to Tom above, I’m nervous about the idea that designs should try to corral parents into being playmates, especially if that means children have less chance to play with each other because the pesky grown-ups keep interfering. Peter: beaches: yes! Showing a picture of a beach is one of the tricks I have up my sleeve for a ‘light bulb moment’ in presentations or workshops about play space design.

  13. We do not propose that children should determine for themselves what they eat at, say, school lunch. We have a pretty shrewd notion that their choice – responding perhaps to a ‘consultation’ – would be for pizzas and chips. We – adults – are clear that such a diet would not be good for children. (Were the food processing industry to offer colourful, food preference consultation packs, it is likely we would politely refuse the offer. We may perhaps wonder whether we should be equally discriminating when play equipment manufacturers proffer assistance with consultation.)

    Nor would we be moved to change our minds about diet were it to be suggested that children are ‘experts’ in their own appetites and food preferences. We see that this is to mistake the nature of expertise. We are also clear that it is an adult responsibility to have a view about what constitutes a good diet for children – and to create the context for them to have access to it.

    Implicit in the view that adults must take responsibility for what they believe in and what they know, is the understanding that we are creating an inheritance – aiming to pass on a set of values about what we believe constitutes the ‘good’. The current focus on getting kids to engage with nature is one example of this. Were a child to say they don’t like or want to engage with nature, we would not accept this. We would try and find ways to entice them to engage with it for reasons that are both wide and deep. Any consultation that found children had a disdain for ‘nature’ would prompt us to find ways to change their minds, not to meet their preferences.

    So, children eat. Adults ‘know’ – or should know – about nutrition and making food flavoursome. Children, play. Adults know – or should know – about play and creating environments that are playvoursome (sorry!).

    As with diet, so with play. It is an adult responsibility to create the context – manipulate the environment – that will put before children things they will enjoy and from which they will benefit.
    What constitutes ‘benefit’ is a construct, a choice made, not a given. They are expressions of belief and some might add ‘evidence’. But often ‘evidence’ is deployed and interpreted simply to serve the beliefs we already have. But that is another subject.

    It seems to me that consulting children about what constitutes a good play environment is a distraction; often a distraction that is wasteful of precious resources, not least time. It is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for creating a good playable place. I’ve said a few more words about this at:

    Nothing said here is a comment on the wider question about the ‘rights’ of – and the courtesies due to – adults and children who are to be the beneficiaries or victims of a local design intervention. That, too, is a different question. Once we are clear about the (non) role of consultation in creating good playable spaces, we can concentrate on the wider, politically loaded, questions and pressures that limit and distort good design intent. My comments have mainly unsupervised settings in mind – parks, housing estates, nature reserves, urban fabric etc – and not schools, adventure playgrounds and so forth

  14. Thanks for such a long, considered response Bernard. I cannot find much to disagree with. I do think that as age of the ‘children’ we have in mind for a space goes up – and especially into the teenage years – there is a stronger rationale for engaging them, on grounds of competence and democracy, and also to increase the prospects of success. Even here though, the process needs to be coherent and meaningful.

  15. Sorry, Bernard, not to offend, but I have no idea what you just said. To Peter’s point, it is really that simple, the problem is that no one can make money from such simple solutions and we could not justify our importance to the solution and thier children’s salvation from obesity, non-communication, lack of confidence, isolationizm, electronic addiction and God forbid contact with Nature. I had a Inner City School contact me once to ask my advise on where they could take a class to experience the best public playground I knew of, in the local area, for a field trip. After some thought and of coarse the impulse to send them to one of my designs. I ended up sending them to a good friend of mine who owned a farm with rolling hills, a small stand of harvested corn stacks, a creek and an open field covered with those big round bales of hay to climb, jump off and run around playing tag and hide & seek. Probably the best playground idea I have ever come up with.

      I think I understand and agree with Bernard, Bob. I think he is pointing out that we do not trust children to design their diet, and is therefore by analogy questioning the wisdom of asking children to design their play spaces. I hope I’m not patronising you. I’m confused by Tim agreeing with Bernard, because I think Bernard is challenging Tim’s advocacy of the ‘child as expert of their own play’ in the context of play area design.

      My opinion – children are overrated as experts on play, let alone playground design. As someone said here, I paraphrase – observe a kid playing for two hours with sticks in a puddle, and 3 minutes on the monkey bars, and he’ll probably tell you the best thing was the monkey bars. Not all children are experts on their own play- Romanian orphanage children?

      When I advocated observation rather than consultation, Tim, I used the term ‘informed observation’, I didn’t say ‘thoughtful observation’ – because it is not the same. (An informed observer is a skilled observer informed by an understanding of a range of relevant theory and experience, an expert or trained observer, not merely a thoughtful observer. An informed observer is per se thoughtful and not naive. A thoughtful observer can still be a naive observer. And I think I am probably guilty of lack of clarity, but ‘informed observer was my best shot. I hope that helps.)

      Peter mentioned the beach. Well said, sir. Both myself and Perry Else are on record advocating the beach as the perfect play space.

      • Arthur – I see you’re getting stuck in. Good stuff. But have another look at my comment on children being experts and you’ll see that Bernard and I are in agreement on the topic.

        • I accept your clarification. If I did a Councillor Gary at the NVCCP meeting, and didn’t listen to the full nuanced thing, but just grabbed a half-assed soundbite slogan, I might say: “Tim Gill says children are the experts in designing playspaces”.

          That would be just as misleading as you saying: “The play field in the early nineties was advocating an adventure playground in every neighbourhood”.

          So, I won’t say that ‘children expert thing’ if you don’t say that AP on every corner’ thing.

          Do we have a deal?

          [Tongue is in cheek, smiley face]

    • Well, first, thanks Bob, no offence taken. Plexity’s got the essence right.

      My post may have been a little too wide-ranging and thus guilty of diluting its own intent: I’m afraid I couldn’t resist taking a quick side swipe at the superstition that everything can or should be ‘evidence-based’. That is another topic, really.

      I do, though, want to hold fast to the view I tried to express which is that adults have a responsibility to stand by what they know and believe. Too often, ‘consultation’ is seen as some sort of free-floating good applicable to almost any situation. I think this a bad msitake, for at least the reason that I tried (and for some, failed) to make clear. By way of demonstrating this, I suggested that when we find that children doesn’t want to engage with things we believe is good for them, for example ‘nature’ or ‘healthy eating’, we aim to bend them – by diverse means and cunning stratagems – to our point of view. We do not follow their stated preferences.

      Nothing I said leads to the conclusion that we can just turn up in a neighbourhood, dispense what we take to be our design magic, and depart. And of course there will be insights and useful thoughts from children and adults about a design, and how it might work in their neighbourhood. But that can happen as the result of good conversations – which is not the same as saying that children, or indeed adults, know about designing good places to play.

      • Bernard, thanks for the clarification. My background was in Art and as an Artist I used to stick large poles in the ground to express my point of view. After graduation and moving back to my home town, I, by chance, fell into the Playground Design field. I discovered that if I took the same poles I used for my Art work, straightened them up, connected them with a platform and hung a slide from the structure, people would actually buy my Art Work. This is the real interesting reality of our profession today. There is really no recognized or established degree in Playground Design everyone seems to be an expert these days and who is there to challenge their claim. When I started there where very few people working in this field of Design. There was a handful of Structual Engineers working for a few large manufactures, designing play equipoment, that new nothing about play and how children approach and respond to new play opportunities. They and their bosses, where mostly concerned with mass production, low maintenance, beating out the competition or frightening Parks Officials and clients with the necessity for ever increasing liability requirements. As playgrounds became a big business both monitarily and philosophically, the flood gates opened wide and professionals from a moltitude of backgrounds came rushing in to fill a preceived void and need. For a long time we just hoped we could design play spaces and equipment that were a little more fun, challenging, accessible and safer. It was not so much about the rhetoric but about good results. I just get a little frustrated today,when I see the influx of educated professionals, who have shifted the focus to words rather than actions. I do not mean to downgrade this change, this field can use all the educated, creative and well intentioned advocates it can handle. However, even with all the changes, outcries, concerns,organizations,laws, proclamations, psycholgical and socialogical scrutinization, I still believe that there are still the same basic handfull of things children love to do, participate and find fun and engaging. That this list has changed little of the years. We never thought that what we were doing could fix or gaureetee a childs physical or emotional stability or have such positive or God forbid future, negative influences or detriments. We did not have to defend or justify play, maybe our methods and materials at worst. It is the adults and the grandiose scale of the business of play, that has changed. I will now take this opportunity to apologize for taking advantage of this conversation and fomat to get on my soapbox, sincerely,Bob

  16. Yes Tim, this was at children’s centre which is part of the school designed for nursery children. The headteacher wanted to encourage more interaction with parents and children. I suppose what I mean is, that every design is different and site specific to suit the needs of the clients.

  17. I have to confess that I find a lot of this commentary quite intellectually intimidating and moving away from my comfort zone of common sense (which is usually where I find you, Tim and why I like your blogs so much!).

    I am anxious about these seven points for good design. I think that the Play England Design principles are excellent and should be reinforced, whereas I feel that these both duplicat and maybe distract.

    Then there are the children. Reading through these comments you might be forgiven for thinking that children can only survive and play in delicately balanced ecosystems that are rare and misunderstood. It seems almost another version of the cotton wool approach. I know that isn’t the intention, but it is dangerous. I think that children are to be commended for finding play possible wherever and whenever they feel inclined and often it is the very fact that it is forbiden and almost impossible that creates the perfect environment. Just to see the creative way that KFCs get used is a revelation. So perhaps rule number one is that children are tough, robust, resilient and resourceful and will find a way to play wherever and whenever they want to.

    Finally on consultation. I am one of the cynics about consultation because of the way it has been abused in the UK, but reading this blog and the comments and Fiona’s email, makes me realise that I am actually quite passionate about it. I am sorry to blow my own trumpet but I have just written and article and a blog that talks about consultation which you will find if google Grumpysutcliffe. In Upton we did a great deall of consultation that was very interesting. We consulted with youg children, teenagers, their parents. We asked them the question “where is/was your favouite place to play, where are the paths that you use to get round the village and where do you feel most safe/least safe?”. We also used our eyes to find the tell tales of children playing, burnt out fires, paths through the scub, old cubbys etc. Then we built a map of the village and used that as the basis for our interventions with interesting results, sadly never really realised, but that is a different subject of adults, politics and funding!

    Well glad to have got that lot off my chest! now for a lovely weekend, to you too!


    • I like so much of what Robin Grumpy has said, which makes me hope I wasn’t one of the offending interlecturals, I fear I was. In my defense, if one is needed, I only talk like this with consenting adults.

      I loved you description of your ‘consultation’ at Upton. That wasn’t ‘consultation’! We need a better word for what sounds to me like that which I am pointing at with my phrase ‘informed observation’.

      I also applaud your ‘de-victiming’ of children. I’ve never bought that protectiveness doctrine, personally, though it lurks under the surface of much play advocacy.

      I totally applaud your rule number one.

      Rule 1.
      Children are tough, robust, resilient and resourceful and will find a way to play wherever and whenever they want to.

      Final point Robin – sometimes moving out of your comfort zone is cool…

    • Robin – thanks for stopping by. Your point about children being resilient – as shown by their creative (ab)use of dull play areas – is well made. But that doesn’t excuse poor design, as I’m sure you will agree. As for ‘consultation’: nothing I’ve read so far has made me change my view that what really matters is that design processes are driven by adults who understand children and their play, and are committed to the cause of creating great places for play. If that is in place, then there may or may not be good reasons to involve children in different ways (and there often will be) and there are better and worse ways of doing this. And having seen the outcomes, I can confirm that your approach in Upton was an impressive demonstration of what can be done through engagement.

      • Tim of course I do agree, there can be no excuse for bad design and definitely not money (a pile of sand and a bucket of water). I just felt that consultation was being misrepresented. It can be an important part of the vocabulary of design. I would certainly want to get the views of drivers and passengers if I were designing a car, but I agree, I would not let them design it.

  18. Pingback: The Garden of the Moorish King | Progress

  19. Here are my (not too serious) seven.
    1. Context is everything. If you are asked to design a play area on a beach, a sandpit might not be number 1 choice.
    2. I wouldn’t ask a driver to design a car. I wouldn’t ask a child to design a play space.
    3. Experts in a field have a stake in maintaining a need for experts in their field. Would I tell clients – you don’t need me?
    4. How do we know that what we think is better is better? Do we observe after as well as before?
    5. Place-making is the most important aspect of designing play spaces
    6. Under 5 adults near, over 5 adults far, over 10 no adults thank you.
    7. There is no such thing as bad weather only bad clichés.

    Michael Follett OPAL

    • Thanks Michael – brought a smile this cold Monday morning. “Under 5 adults near, over 5 adults far, over 10 no adults thank you.” – love it!

    • For point 4, as I tell my (degree level, bio-engineering) students, when you talk about “better” you need to start off by getting a clear idea of what actually constitutes “better”… As you say, context is everything.

  20. Very neat, Michael. I find it hard to disagree (damn it!). Perhaps, though, No.6 should be recast in terms of comepence of child rather than an age criterion. But can it be so succinctly phrased?

  21. If kids can’t have a beach,(and if they have experience of them) kids report that they really like adventure playgrounds.

    This doesn’t show up in most surveys, because the data isn’t fine-grained enough, but comparisons of areas with and without APs show this – I vaguely remember that Phil Doyle did some comparisons like this when he was at Tower Hamlets.

    Mind you, I don’t really expect an audience of playground designers to be that keen to promote them! (Smiley face)

    But the best are marvellous. They places were kids can do all that beach-type stuff without a beach.

    (Shame so many have closed in the last year – Battersea Park being the most famous example. Newcastle is shutting all its APs.)

    We know that some companies design whimsical forts and suchlike, taking some of their design cues from the structures on adventure playgrounds, which kinda misses the point. But is that all can be learnt from the adventure playground?

    It would be a shame if the undoubted influence of the adventure playground wasn’t more prominently acknowledged in Tim’s principles.

  22. Pingback: A century of rethinking childhood | Rethinking Childhood

  23. Hi plexity, i really appreciate your comment. I have read all of seven design principles. This seven tips is useful in playground design.

  24. We like to play with climbing frames and swing seats and much more. play in playground is beneficial to our health.

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