Challenge: Maximizing the Play Value of Your Playground

There’s a lot to consider when building or remodeling a playground: what will the children like, what kind and how many slides should you have, what color scheme should you use, what surfacing is needed, how far will your budget stretch, how do you meet ADA requirements, and so much more.

In short, how do you get the most “play value” for your money? 

You can maximize the play value of your playground by creating an intriguing space children want to come back to over and over again. It should allow for group play and individual play while encouraging different types of physical activity to build fine motor skills, strength, and coordination. 

Sound like a tall order? Below are some important things to consider to achieve your play value goals.

Where do you start? Focus on your playground structure first, rather than surfacing or freestanding pieces. It is the centerpiece of your playground and what will ultimately attract users to your playground. It will also require most of your budget. Surfacing and “free play” items can usually be completed at a later date when more funds become available.

How many children will be playing? To get the most play value from your structure, consider how many children can use it at one time. Ask your playground manufacturer if you’re unsure. Also consider the age range the structure is designed for.

How many different play experiences can you create? Another way to maximize your play value is to include various kinds of equipment that offer different play experiences—steps or nets for climbing, pieces that spin, different types and heights of slides, tall areas, low areas, places to go inside or underneath, drama play, and make believe are a great base to start with.

How much space is available? Make sure to allow plenty of space for future additions! There is a lot of value in having space for future projects. 

Don’t cram everything all together! While leaving room for future expansion is important, you should allow plenty of free space within the designated playground area. This provides a more open and inviting atmosphere and room for various types of games and play.

What can your donors see? If your project is using donated funds or tax dollars, your donors will want to see a well thought out playground that beautifies the community and encourages physical activity and a gathering area for children to safely play.

Get children involved. Having children play an active role in the fundraising process will increase recognition of the playground for that generation and for when they have their own children someday. 

Does it have a “cool” factor? Admit it…today’s playground structures look like so much fun! Some have special themes or colors, dramatic looking slides, and unique spinners making you want to try them out yourself! Increase play value by creating an atmosphere that inspires children’s curious minds.

Is there play value in free play? Of course there is. But keep in mind that free play (deckles systems) can take up a lot of space and does not accommodate very many children at once, so the value is in the entertainment of the items.

Is bigger always better? Climbing to higher elevations provides the benefits of risky play for children but may not provide the greatest play value if budget is your greatest concern. Taller structures require more of your budget for things like decks, connectors, and bigger posts. Structures over 8 feet require that you enclose the top tier, so keeping your slides and climbers less than 8 feet high will save on your budget.

What about surfacing? The great thing about surfacing is it can be completed down the road when potential donors can see what a great job you did building the playground. Some states offer grants for certain types of surfacing, such as rubber mulch. There are many affordable and safe options to choose from. Combining two types of surfacing is a creative way of stretching your budget and space. For instance, you could install poured-in-place surfacing under the play system and rubber mulch under the swings and spring riders.

A playground is expensive; is it really worth the money? For the most part, a playground provides more play value than something like a splash pad. A playground is less expensive to build and maintain and is usable 90% of the year, even in the colder months unless it is covered in snow. A splash pad can only be used during the summer months. Playgrounds can offer fun for the whole family from toddlers to grandparents.

Ask us for more ideas on how to maximize the play value of your playground. From play attraction and retention to getting the most for your money, our knowledge in the outdoor play industry will provide the assistance you need for your project.

Sterling West is a park, playground, safety surfacing, and outdoor fitness representative company based in Gothenburg, Nebraska. Our mission is to experience the joy seeing people of all ages have fun and stay fit, knowing we have enriched the lives of others. For more information or for a free consultation, call Sterling West at 877-537-3470 or check us out at

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