Selecting A Site For Your Playground

Selecting A Site For Your Playground

Posted by Joseph Peyton on 2nd Jun 2015

The following factors are important when selecting a site for a new playground.

Site FactorQuestions To AskIf Yes, Then...Mitigation
Travel patterns of children to and from the playgroundAre there hazards in the way?Clear hazards.
Nearby accessible hazards such as roads with traffic, lakes, ponds, streams, drop-offs/cliffs, etc.Could a child inadvertently run into a nearby hazard?

Could younger children easily wander off toward the hazard?
Provide a method to contain children within the playground. For example, a dense hedge or a fence. The method should allow for observation by supervisors. If fences are used, they should conform to local building codes and/or ASTM F-209.
Sun exposureIs sun exposure sufficient to heat exposed bare metal slides, platforms, steps, & surfacing enough to burn children?

Will children be exposed to the sun during the most intense part of the day?

Bare metal slides, platforms, and steps should be shaded or located out of direct sun.

Provide warnings that equipment and surfacing exposed to intense sun can burn.

Consider shading the playground or providing shaded areas nearby

Slope and drainageWill loose fill materials wash away during periods of heavy rain?Consider proper drainage regrading to prevent wash outs

Shading Considerations

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, research indicates that one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime, and five or more sunburns double the risk of developing skin cancer. Utilizing existing shade (e.g., trees), designing play structures as a means for providing shading (e.g., elevated platforms with shaded space below), or creating more shade (e.g., manmade structures) are potential ways to design a playground to help protect children’s skin from the sun. When trees are used for shade, additional maintenance issues arise, such as the need for cleaning up debris and trimming limbs.

Playground Layout

There are several key factors to keep in mind when laying out a playground: 

  • Accessibility
  • Age separation
  • Conflicting activities
  • Sight lines
  • Signage and/or labeling
  • Supervision


Special consideration should be given to providing accessible surfaces in a play area that meets the ASTM Standard Specification for Determination of Accessibility of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment, ASTM F1951. Equipment selection and location along with the type of protective surfacing are key components to ensuring the opportunity for children with disabilities to play on the playground.

Age Separation

For playgrounds intended to serve children of all ages, the layout of pathways and the landscaping of the playground should show the distinct areas for the different age groups. The areas should be separated at least by a buffer zone, which could be an area with shrubs or benches. This separation and buffer zone will reduce the chance of injury from older, more active children running through areas filled with younger children with generally slower movement and reaction times.

Age Group

In areas where access to the playground is unlimited or enforced only by signage, the playground designer should recognize that since child development is fluid, parents and caregivers may select a playground slightly above or slightly below their child's abilities, especially for children at or near a cut-off age (e.g., 2-years old and 5-years old). This could be for ease of supervising multiple children, misconceptions about the hazards a playground may pose to children of a different age, advanced development of a child, or other reasons. For this reason, there is an overlap at age 5. Developmentally a similar overlap also exists around age 2; however, due to the differences in ASTM standards and entrapment testing tools, this overlap is not reflected. Playgrounds used primarily by children under the supervision of paid, trained professionals (e.g., child-care centers and schools) may wish to consider separating playgrounds by the facility's age groupings. For example, a childcare facility may wish to limit a playground to toddlers under 2 exclusively and can draw information from this guide. A school, on the other hand, may have no children under 4 attending, and can likewise plan appropriately. Those who inspect playgrounds should use the intended age group of the playground.

Conflicting Activities

The play area should be organized into different sections to prevent injuries caused by conflicting activities and children running between activities. Active, physical activities should be separate from more passive or quiet activities. Areas for playground equipment, open fields, and sand boxes should be located in different sections of the playground. In addition, popular, heavy-use pieces of equipment or activities should be dispersed to avoid crowding in any one area. Different types of equipment have different use zones that must be maintained. The following are general recommendations for locating equipment within the playground site.

  • Moving equipment, such as swings and merry-go-rounds, should be located toward a corner, side, or edge of the play area while ensuring that the appropriate use zones around the equipment are maintained.
  • Slide exits should be located in an uncongested area of the playground.
  • Composite play structures have become increasingly popular on public playgrounds. Adjacent components on composite structures should be complementary. For example, an access component should not be located in a slide exit zone.

Sight Lines

Playgrounds that are designed, installed, and maintained in accordance with safety guidelines and standards can still present hazards to children. Playgrounds should be laid out to allow parents or caregivers to keep track of children as they move throughout the playground environment. Visual barriers should be minimized as much as possible. For example, in a park situation, playground equipment should be as visible as possible from park benches. In playgrounds with areas for different ages, the older children’s area should be visible from the younger children’s area to ensure that caregivers of multiple children can see older children while they are engaged in interactive play with younger ones.

Signage and/or Labeling

Although the intended user group should be obvious from the design and scale of equipment, signs and/or labels posted in the playground area or on the equipment should give some guidance to supervisors as to the age appropriateness of the equipment.


The quality of the supervision depends on the quality of the supervisor’s knowledge of safe play behavior. Playground designers should be aware of the type of supervision most likely for their given playground. Depending on the location and nature of the playground, the supervisors may be paid professionals (e.g., childcare, elementary school or park and recreation personnel), paid seasonal workers (e.g., college or high school students), volunteers (e.g., PTA members), or unpaid caregivers (e.g., parents) of the children playing in the playground.

Parents and playground supervisors should be aware that not all playground equipment is appropriate for all children who may use the playground. Supervisors should look for posted signs indicating the appropriate age of the users and direct children to equipment appropriate for their age. Supervisors may also use the information in Table 1 to determine the suitability of the equipment for the children they are supervising. Toddlers and preschool-age children require more attentive supervision than older children; however, one should not rely on supervision alone to prevent injuries. 

Supervisors should understand the basics of playground safety such as: 

  • Checking for broken equipment and making sure children don’t play on it. 
  • Checking for and removing unsafe modifications, especially ropes tied to equipment, before letting children play. 
  • Checking for properly maintained protective surfacing. 
  • Making sure children are wearing foot wear.