Top Seven Park and Playground Trends for 2021

7 playground design trendsPlayground installation by: ForeverLawn of Puget Sound 

Playgrounds are so much more than spaces for play — as important as playtime is in its own right.
Time spent on the playground can help kids build self-esteem and boost collaboration skills. Through play, kids are able to explore their environment and themselves, testing out new ways of interacting with others and taking risks. It’s a space where so much development happens, not just socially, but emotionally, mentally and physically, too.

Not only that, but playgrounds can also benefit parents, caregivers and entire communities. A natural gathering spot, playgrounds bring folks together, get them outdoors and take their attention away from screens. Even a simple 30-minute stop at the playground can help you take a break from life’s stressors, all while giving kids a healthy (and fun!) outlet for growth.

Want to create a turf playground that lets kids and communities tap into playtime’s richest benefits? While there’s nothing wrong with the traditional slide-and-swing combo, feel free to get inventive and let your imagination take the reins here. If you’re looking for some inspiration to do just that, we’ve rounded up seven of the biggest turf playground design trends of 2021.

1. Sustainable, nature-inspired turf playgrounds

Both recyclable materials and playground designs that incorporate nature are good for play and for the planet. By using natural, responsibly sourced materials for your equipment, like reclaimed wood, you’re keeping trees from being chopped down and keeping existing scrap wood out of landfills. Natural playgrounds have also been shown to inspire longer, more imaginative and more active play in kids, and they benefit the health of the ecosystems they’re in, too. In New York City, for instance, playgrounds were designed to covertly capture stormwater, and nature-based playgrounds that incorporate local plants and flowers add to an area’s biodiversity.

For a truly sustainable playground, the surfacing material you pick matters. That’s one reason eco-friendly playground developers often opt for artificial grass for playgrounds, as a well-installed playground turf is durable and doesn’t require water. But your turf system — which includes not just the turf itself, but also your infill product and pad — is only as sustainable as all of its components. By choosing a proven non-toxic infill that’s recyclable, like Envirofill, or biodegradable and 100% organic, like Safeshell, you can be sure you’re using an infill product that, at the end of its long life cycle, will stay out of landfills.

2. Play structures that tower

What’s more thrilling as a kid than climbing high above adults’ heads? Mega-sized towers and multi-story play equipment — ones that use all the necessary guardrails, walls and netting — can quickly turn an average play area into a destination playground. Case in point: the 35-foot treehouse tower at Nashville’s Jungle Gym playground, or the 30-foot tall climbing pyramid at Utah’s Neptune Park. When incorporating a tall play structure into your playground design, keep in mind that your playground's surface material will play a huge role in safety and critical fall height protection.

3. Interactive elements

For an immersive play experience that fully engages kids’ senses, make parts of your playground interactive. An easy way to do this is through music — which is why more and more playground developers are incorporating instrument-like elements into their designs. Whether in the form of bells, drums, chimes or keyboards, musical features add an exciting sensory and tactile dimension to your play area.

Music can also add to your playground’s inclusivity, since it's for kids of a range of abilities. While most playground equipment is designed for small climbers, jumpers and runners, kids with special abilities can participate right alongside able-bodied kids when playing an instrument. Not only that, but auditory stimulation on playgrounds has been shown to benefit kids on the autism spectrum, in particular.

4. Themed playgrounds

Playgrounds are, by definition, a space for kids to let their imaginations run wild. And a themed playground only takes that to the next level.

As a child, there’s a special thrill to seeing your imaginative games and favorite stories reflected back to you by your surroundings. You could give your playground an oceanic theme, turning the playhouse into a boat or pirate ship, or opt for an outer space theme with a rocket ship. Picking a favorite childhood story as a theme — like Prince George County, Maryland, did with their incredible “Wizard of Oz”-themed playground — is another surefire recipe for a destination playground. The more whimsical, the better!

5. Artificial grass playgrounds that feature green space — and lots of it

To unlock the full benefits of unstructured playtime, not every part of your playground should have, well, a structure. Green space allows room for games of tag and kickball, and it can also be an area where blankets are spread out for snack time.

While using real grass on playgrounds is impractical, messy and possibly even harmful — since hard, packed earth doesn’t provide kids with adequate protection from critical fall heights — artificial turf creates the look and feel of lush green space without the potential hazards and drawbacks. Plus, unlike real grass, there’s minimal maintenance and no costly upkeep required — which is perfect for a space designed to welcome so many small, running feet.

6. Visually interesting designs

For a modern playground with a fresh feel, get creative — and encourage kids to do the same — by opting for visually interesting designs in your equipment and playground surfacing. For a turf playground, consider laying out turf in alternating stripes, or insert polka dots of multi-colored turf throughout your green space. Other playground surfacing options, like pour-in-place rubber surfacing, can be laid out in interesting swirls and patterns, too.

7. Truly inclusive turf playgrounds

For an inclusive play space, it’s essential that it be ADA compliant. A well-installed artificial turf playground — unlike playgrounds that use loose-fill surfacing, like wood chips or pea gravel — is a space that kids of all abilities can access for safe, inclusive playtime. Beyond your playground’s surfacing, equipment should include ramps and transfer points that allow for wheelchair access. But rather than having your accessible equipment be separate from the rest of the playground, integrate it seamlessly into your playground as a whole; that way, kids of all abilities have opportunities to play together and mix.

Beyond including kids regardless of physical ability levels, when designing a truly inclusive playground, expand your definition of inclusivity to encompass kids with “invisible” special abilities, too. What does it look like to create a play area that can be used by children with autism or sight and auditory impairments? Playgrounds that offer opportunities for sensory engagement — from interactive lighting to maze games and music stations — allow richer opportunities for play for everyone.

Ready to build an artificial turf playground that’s sustainable, creative, and inclusive?

Contact us to learn more about infill and work with one of our Certified Playground Safety Inspectors to ensure your playground design is safe for all!

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Picture of Ashley Schriefer
Written by Ashley Schriefer

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