The easiest way to determine what type of playground equipment you should be installing is by first looking at the equipment itself. All manufacturers of commercial playground equipment will design equipment with a specific age group in mind. These age groups usually will be: 6-18 months, 2-5 years, 5-12 years and 2 -12 years. Contrary to popular belief, it’s more important to be sure not to install equipment designed for younger children on a playground intended for older children than the other way around, and here is why.

During early childhood, the physical abilities of children even just a few months apart in age can be dramatically different. Along with the differences we see in the physical abilities of young children, we will see the same differences in what they find to be interesting, and what they consider to be old news. With this in mind, it is important to be sure when you start designing your playground, it its appropriate for all of the ages you hope to target and have using the equipment.

Children have a sense of fear and intuition very much the same as adults, they are born with it, it’s a natural defense mechanism that is wired into them, much the same as it is in you or me. In addition to this, a child’s physical development will determine what he or she attempts and potentially succeeds at scaling on a playground. This means that if you place playground equipment that designed for a five year old on a playground for two year olds, chances are things will work out fine. The equipment design age is not necessarily indicative of safety, but more of ability to use. This means that most of the two year olds will never attempt to use the piece of equipment, if they do, they will quickly realize they are not capable and just simply move on to another activity. However, if we reverse the situation, here is what happens.

Let’s say we take the same scenario above, but reverse the age group. We now have a playground designed for five year olds, filled with equipment made for two year olds. You may be thinking, “that sounds like a good idea, nice and safe”. Your thinking is wrong. There are only two outcomes to this scenario. The first is that the five year olds are not impressed with the playground equipment designed for two year olds, rather than play with it, the simply ignore it. All of that money wasted. The second and more likely scenario is that upon realizing the playground equipment is no fun to play with in the manner it was originally intended, they devise a more interesting, and usually far more dangerous way to play on the equipment. This results usually in injuries.

So, how can you make sure you have the right equipment on the playground? The first thing is to really know your target age group. If the playground equipment is going to be used by a specific age group, then include primarily playground equipment designed for that age group, but it is also wise to include at least a few pieces of equipment that are intended for older children, this will provide an outlet for the children who display a higher rate of development either mentally or physically. If you are building a playground for multiple age groups, then choose equipment accordingly. It is wise to try and separate both playground equipment and children with a large difference in age. This will promote safety and preserve the equipment.