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Playground Design

Course CodeBHT216
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Study Playground design and learn how to -design Playgrounds, for parks, schools, child minding centres, home gardens, etc

  • Course developed by John Mason (Playground designer for over 35 years) and an international team of experts
  • Gain insights into child development, the importance of play; and how to create environments that are sympathetic to a child's needs
  • Expand your skills, further your career, start or expand a business


Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Overview of Parks and Playgrounds
  2. Playground Philosophy
  3. Preparing a Concept Plan
  4. Materials
  5. Park and Playground Structures and Materials
  6. Local and Neighbourhood Parks
  7. Community Participation in Park Development
  8. Special Assignment

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Determine the procedure to plan a park development, including a playground and other facilities.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a park or playground.
  • Assess the design of park components, including materials and equipment used in parks and playgrounds.
  • Determine appropriate design characteristics for a local or neighbourhood parks.
  • Determine legal implications involved in the design of a playground.
  • Design facilities to cater for movement throughout a park or playground.
  • Manage appropriate community participation in development of a park or playground.

What You Will Do

  • Explain how an understanding of play theory can be applied to the design of a playground.
  • Explain how the concept of recreational planning may influence the design of a specified park.
  • Determine factors which distinguish park design from home garden design.
  • Compare different planning processes used for developing designs for public landscapes, including: advocacy planning, strategic planning and community participation.
  • Explain historical influences upon park design, in your locality, including:
    • local history
    • national history.
  • Evaluate the functional depreciation of a specified playground over a period of at least ten years.
  • Explain the significance of demographic considerations on park design, in a specific locality.
  • Evaluate the designs of two different established parks, and two established playgrounds, visited by you.
  • Develop a brief for a park plan, through an interview with management of a specific site.
  • Collect preplanning information for a proposed park design; through surveying the site and interviewing both managers of the site, and intended users of the site.
  • Develop three alternative concept plans for a proposed park development; in accordance with a real design brief, either prepared by you with a client, or obtained as a brief for a job being put to tender.
  • Compare three alternative concept plans in an interview with a client, or prospective client, for a proposed park development; recording the interview session on audio tape.
  • Describe the design features of four different items of outdoor furniture intended for use in parks and playgrounds.
  • Compare the suitability of different barriers inspected by you, including bollards, fences, plantings and walls, used in three different parks and/or playgrounds.
  • Assess the design of garden constructions inspected by you in a childrens playground.
  • Compare various ground surfacing materials in terms of their application in park or playground design.
  • Explain design considerations for earth forming, in a specific park and playground.
  • Design a park plan for a specified site of 1,000 to 10,000 square metres, incorporating a themed play area.
  • Prepare a costing for the construction of a themed play area, designed by you.
  • Compare the appropriateness of fifteen different plants for use in a playground in terms of
    • play possibilities
    • hardiness
    • toxicity.
  • Determine appropriate design criteria for the use of water in playgrounds.
  • Determine appropriate functions for neighbourhood parks.
  • Determine inappropriate functions for a neighbourhood park.
  • Analyse two neighbourhood parks by both; surveying users and observing users.
  • Evaluate the design of two different neighbourhood parks, visited and studied by you, against specified criteria.
  • Recommend design modifications for a surveyed neighbourhood park.
  • Explain the significance of danger to the childrens learning experience.
  • Determine how two different specific playground designs have been affected by concerns about legal liability.
  • Conduct a legal risk analysis of a playground which has been established for more than ten years.
  • Develop guidelines for minimising legal liability in playground design, for an authority responsible for a specific playground.
  • Determine design criteria for different types of trails in parks including:
    • Fun and fitness trails
    • Environmental interpretation trails
    • Cycle paths
    • Roadways.
  • Compare the construction of three different specified paths within parks with reference to:
    • Durability
    • Safety
    • Function
    • Maintenance requirements.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a "specialist trail" in a park, such as; a fun and fitness trail, a cycle path or an environmental interpretation trail, following design standards in the industry.
  • Determine factors which impact on the success of a park/playground development that involves community participation.
  • Analyse community attitudes to a park or playground development, which has used community participation, by either
    • survey
    • discussion with local Parks Department management.
  • Explain how to promote community involvement in park development in a way which will optimise the chance of success.
  • Determine a procedure to involve a community in the development of a park/playground facility, on a site you visit.

What is the Purpose of a Park or Playground?

There are many possible reasons why we might choose to create a park or playground; for example:

  • Somewhere children can play
  • A place that the community can meet and socialize in
  • A buffer zone (eg. between houses and other places)
  • A sanctuary for wildlife
  • Somewhere to play sport
  • Somewhere to walk
  • To make an area look more attractive
  • To enhance the physical environment (vegetation increases oxygen levels, and helps keep the air cooler in summer and warmer in winter).
There may be many other reasons.

“I have found that most people think parks are built for people to use; but most of the same people rarely use parks”

Everyone seems to think we need parks and playgrounds to go to and use.
As with many things though; reality is often different to what people assume to be the case.

If we are going to plan a park or playground anywhere, the first step is to identify what functions it is to serve.
Always remember what the public needs, and what it wants are two different things.
Sometimes needs and wants are in conflict.
The purpose which we want a park or playground to fulfil may reflect needs rather than wants of the community (or it may reflect both).
Once you know the functions which a facility should serve; you can then set about designing the facility to serve those functions.
You may not always be able to satisfy all criteria though; so you should perhaps prioritize criteria before you begin.


What is a Playground?
Playgrounds are in the broad sense, anywhere that people play.
Most people tend to think of playgrounds as something for children; but adult playgrounds have also been built at times, in some places.
Play is very serious business for children.
Play is in fact more important than schooling in the development of a child. They learn many things (both physical and intellectual skills) through play; and without adequate opportunities to play, a child will not develop properly (and in later life, can as a result, have problems).

Consider Risk
The risk involved with children playing has been more than what some authorities have been prepared to bear.
In the past some authorities have removed playgrounds, or at least some playground equipment from parks, rather than risk an injury that might result in an unbearable lawsuit.
This approach however, may be considered “short term thinking”. Without play opportunities, tomorrows adults might not be

  • A government authority may be held liable if a child suffers physical injury on playground equipment which they own.
  • A government authority might also responsible, maybe liable if a community grows up deficient in a range of learning opportunities because the authority failed to provide adequate play opportunities; or excessively restricted opportunities.


There has been a great deal of research undertaken into safety and play, over the last 50 years.
If a playground or park is designed well, the chances of any accident being serious will be greatly reduced.
Park and playground planners or designers must minimize risk; but not necessarily eliminate risk
Note: By eliminating all physical risk, you may be adding to psychological developmental risks.

We hope we have provided you with enough information on the course, but if you do have questions for the tutors, then please click here.


Meet some of our academics

John Mason Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant. Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and editor for 4 different gardening magazines. John has been recognised by his peers being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture in the UK, as well as by the Australian Institute of Horticulture.

Check out our eBooks

Working With PeopleA job and careers guide for people who like working with people -covering everything from counselling and personnel management to marketing, health and education
Garden Design Part 1This stunning full colour Garden Design ebook is full of useful tips, information and inspiration. It contains around 300 colour illustrations! It is comprised of three parts: Design, How a Garden Functions, and Aesthetics (making it look good). Let your inner designer out (outside). A great introductory text for garden designers. 299 high quality inspirational colour photos. 106 pages
How Children ThinkLearn more about child psychology and how children think. Have you ever tried to make a child clean up their mess, stop throwing mud or stop drawing on the walls? Then you will know that children think differently to adults. This book is for parents or students of psychology. Seven chapters cover: developmental stages, the influence of nature and nurture, creating balance, changing behaviours, problems and solutions, and staying up to date. 73 pages 40 colour photos
The Environment of PlayFirst published in the USA in 1982, this text has been used in the past as a university text (in landscaping and education degrees), and was completely revised in 2012. Full of inspiring colour images of playgrounds around the world, this book is ideal for designers, park managers, schools and parents! Play is the most important and effective method of learning for adults as well as children. It can be active or passive, planned or spontaneous. If you want to learn about the relationship between PLAY and the ENVIRONMENT, this is the ebook for you. Learn to understand children and design play spaces that function for homes, parks or school grounds. 187 pages