Learn to design playgrounds in this online distance learning course. Design play equipment and adventure gardens for children.

Course Code: BHT216
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Playgrounds are vital places for children explore their imaginations, role play, socialise, get exercise, and learn about the limits of their physical capabilities. Playgrounds may be large or small, they can be within the grounds of public gardens or parks, or purpose-built neighbourhood playgrounds. They provide a space for children and their families to interact, and for communities to thrive. 

The design of playgrounds is crucial if they are to be safe and popular spaces. Playground designers must not only factor in the needs of the users and the community, but they must follow principles to make the best use of the available space and must observe health and safety guidelines to ensure playground components are low risk.   

This course examines all aspects of playground design from the plantings through to the equipment and surfaces, and general layout. It emphasises the design and construction of playgrounds and small community parks. This is a valuable course for parks managers or landscape designers. It includes playground philosophy, design of play structures (for function & safety), materials selection, community participation and park design.

Lesson Structure

There are 7 lessons in this course:

  1. Overview of Parks and Playgrounds
    • Types of Playgrounds
    • Big Toy Playgrounds
    • Community Playgrounds
    • Adventure Playgrounds
    • Manipulating the Environment to provide for play
    • Play Forests; bamboo, pine, eucalypt, deciduous
    • Evaluating a Playground's value
    • Checklist for Functional Value of a Playground
    • Site Planning Process
    • Planning and Design
    • Insurance Considerations
    • Planning Theories: comprehensive, structure, systems, advocacy
    • Central Place Theory
  2. Playground Philosophy
    • What is Play
    • Children interacting with the Environment
    • Nature and Scope of Adventure Playgrounds
    • Establishing an Adventure Playground
    • The Adventure Play Leader
    • Site Design
  3. Preparing a Concept Plan
    • Planning for Play; planning levels, planning participants, processes
    • Stages of Planning
    • Project Questionnaire
    • Planning Principles
    • Design Procedure Step by Step
    • Minimising Costs in a Playground Development
    • Catering for Disabled People
    • Special Playgrounds
    • Case Study Playground in a Child Care Centre
    • Case Study in a Public Park
  4. Playground Construction Materials
    • Characteristics
    • Comparing and Choosing Options for Construction Materials
    • Barriers and Walls
    • Fences
    • Surfaces, paths and hard surfaced areas
    • Safety Characteristics of Different Surfaces
    • Construction with Wood
  5. Park and Playground Structures and Materials
    • Components of a Playground
    • Further Design Factors
    • Using Plants in Playgrounds
    • Buildings and Structures; gazebos, outdoor rooms, cubbies, shelters, sheds, belvederes, pergolas etc
    • Planting around a Building
    • Siting of Buildings
    • Building Floors
    • Deciding what building to use
    • Earth Forming, Shaping and Earthmoving Equipment
    • Checklist for Construction Issues to Watch Out For
  6. Local and Neighbourhood Parks
    • Considering Local Needs
    • Fun and Fitness Trails
    • Skateboarding Facilities
    • Multi Purpose Courts
    • Park Interpretive and Environmental Facilities
    • BMX Facilities
    • Motor Vehicles
    • Case Study: Community Play Park
  7. Community Participation In Park Development
    • History, Attitudes, Philosophy
    • Making a Working Bee Successful
    • Community Gardens


  • 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.
  • Evaluate the designs of different established parks, and their respective established playgrounds.
  • 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 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 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 different items of outdoor furniture intended for use in parks and playgrounds.
  • Compare the suitability of different barriers, including bollards, fences, plantings and walls, used in three different parks and/or playgrounds; which you visit.
  • 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 many different plants for use in a playground in terms of different factors including: -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 different neighbourhood parks by both; surveying users and observing users.
  • Evaluate the design of different neighbourhood parks, visited and studied by you, against different criteria including: *Function *Aesthetics *Maintenance requirement *Environmental sympathy.
  • Recommend design modifications for a surveyed neighbourhood park.
  • Explain the significance of danger to the childrens learning experience.
  • Determine how different specific playground designs have been influenced by concerns about legal liability.
  • Conduct a legal risk analysis of a playground which is well established.
  • 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 *Linkages between parks *Roadways.
  • Compare the construction of 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 which 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 visited by you.

Working in Playgrounds

The playground industry is larger than what most people would imagine; and around the world, there are tens of thousands of people who build their careers based upon working in playgrounds.  These include play leaders, playground equipment suppliers, playground designers and others. 
Playground equipment is manufactured and supplied to schools, parks, homes, commercial properties and other places. It is also custom built, on site in many situations.

Play leaders work in after school and holiday play programs, child care centres, adventure playgrounds and other places.

Adventure Playgrounds
Like the more organised play programme, the adventure playground is supervised - but unlike the case with a programme, the children are not strictly controlled in the activities they pursue. An adventure playground provides the trained eye of a supervisor along with a wide variety of materials and tools, but leaves the choice and development of play experiences up to the individual child's initiative.

The concept of the ‘adventure playground’ was born in the 1920's, 30's and 40's in Copenhagen. Over this period Professor C. T. Sorensen observed that children were simply not attracted to the traditional playgrounds of the day. They were, however, attracted to junk - to free areas where they could build and manipulate materials, creating their own environment. In his book "Open Spaces for Town & Country" (1931) Prof. Sorensen wrote:

"Perhaps we should try to set up waste material playgrounds in suitable large areas where children would be able to play with old cars, boxes and timber. It is possible there would have to be some supervision to prevent children fighting too wildly and to lessen the chances of injury, but it is likely that such supervision will not be necessary."

During the Nazi occupation of Denmark in 1943, the opportunity arose to try out Prof. Sorensen's ideas at Endrup, just outside of Copenhagen. Old timber, building materials, and other waste were brought on site. John Bertelsen was employed as ‘play leader’, and the first adventure playground in the world became operational.

Following the war, this idea spread throughout Europe and the United Kingdom and eventually to most parts of the world. Though still in its infancy in many countries, this concept is considered by much of the world play fraternity to be the ultimate type of play space.


Play Programs

In 1889, Jane Addams established Hull House in Chicago, which later allocated land for one of the first model playgrounds. This, and similar places in America, established outdoor recreation programmes for children including sporting activities and games, and making use of early models of play apparatus.

In 1913, at a public meeting in the Melbourne Town Hall, the Playgrounds and Recreation Association of Victoria was formed, marking the beginning of similar facilities in Australia. After World War I this association began to establish a network of permanent playgrounds and temporary programmes which laid the basis for a system which still remains today.

Similar developments occurred in other states of Australia, frequently inspired by the developments in Victoria. Many of these programmes are today located at or near schools and operated in an ‘after-school’ time slot. This arrangement had the distinct advantages in being both accessible to the children, fast and relatively easy to set up and a relatively low initial establishment cost. Play programs do however require play leaders, and in todays labour market, the labour costs can become a big limiting factor.

 Pre School Play Playgrounds

These include kindergarten, playgroup and child-minding centre playgrounds. In these areas, there is usually a fairly high degree of flexibility in what can be done by the children. Moveable materials are possible, either to be manipulated by the children (e.g. loose tyres or large building blocks), or to be moved by the supervisors (e.g. trestles and planks). This type of area should be planned keeping the following points in mind:

  • Visiting this playground is often the first time a child is separated from his mother AND also the first time he is exposed to a large number of children of his own age. These playgrounds should be warm, inviting and relatively small. While a regional playground might cater to hundreds at a time, a pre-school area should cater to no more than a couple dozen.
  • Because children are brought to these areas by their parents, and because the areas are almost inevitably fenced, the location is not so critical as with other types of play spaces.
Play Spaces Today

As always, children will often find places to play which may not have even been intended as a play space. In rural areas, nature offers lots of variations in the landscape, which can enhance and enrich opportunities for play. In urban areas though (where most children now live), it requires clever planning and development to properly cater for the needs of children.


Benefits of this Course

  • Understand what play is; and have a better insight into the minds of children when they play.
  • You will look at children's play in a different way, and understand more about how the environment can be a positive or negative influence upon play; depending upon how it is developed.
  • You will be more capable of evaluating, improving and designing playgrounds
  • Your awareness of career and business opportunities will grow
  • You will save time and money and learn more effectively in this course; because it is so flexible (study when & where you want) and you have unlimited support from our tutors (If you need help learning anything in this course; we have a team to support you, that includes people with extensive experience in landscaping, playground design, child psychology and playground development.

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Our principal John Mason is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture

Accredited ACS Global Partner

Member of Study Gold Coast

Institute of Training and Occupational Learning (UK)

Principal John Mason is a member of Parks and Leisure Australia since 1974 and a fellow since 1998

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

John Mason (Horticulturist)

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 edito

Gavin Cole

Gavin has over 20 years of industry experience in Psychology, Landscaping, Publishing, Writing and Education. Former operations manager for highly reputable Landscape firm, The Chelsea Gardener, before starting his own firm. Gavin has a B.Sc., Psych.Cert.

Adriana Fraser (Horticulturist)

Adriana has worked in horticulture since the 1980's. She has lived what she preaches - developing large gardens and growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs and making her own preserves.
In 1992 she formalised her training by graduating with a certif

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