Play for all ages

Over the last 25 years, the lives of toddlers have changed. Because of increasingly sedentary lifestyles among toddlers, childcare professionals and specialists are seeing delayed physical, social and language development. Experts agree that more outdoor play benefits toddler development.

The right sized challenge
When planning playgrounds for toddlers, it's important to remember just how SMALL these children are. The average two-year-old is only about 90 cm tall, and has a comparatively larger head and shorter arms and legs than adults. Toddler play equipment and areas should be designed with this in mind.

More body than mind
At birth humans are more body than mind, which is why physical exercise is so essential to developing mental capabilities. Many children are starting academic schooling earlier today, but this is not necessarily beneficial if it takes up time that would otherwise be spent at play.

Sense of space
A toddler's spatial awareness is not yet fully developed. They need to move up and down, position themselves above and below, climb over and under, and be seated higher and lower to build up an understanding of spatial relations, which will be basic for instance for learning math later.

Sense of touch
Toddlers' nerve responses are slower than adults'. This affects their sense of touch. Hand-eye coordination needs to be stimulated, supported and practiced. High-quality play areas and equipment are designed with these needs in mind.

Beginners in friendships
Research has found that toddlers engage in social interaction, despite their limited use of spoken language. They make up repetition games and play them in groups, repeating each others actions and sounds. Activities such as springers, small seesaws or stomach swings placed in pairs to encourage eye contact and play in groups of twos or threes can promote this.

Evolving language skills
A key driver of language development is adult-child interaction: naming objects, comparing objects and describing objects and situations. Playgrounds and play equipment can spur this important verbal interaction - especially when they resemble familiar situations and support imaginative themes and emerging role-play. Elements that can be described, reported about, named or compared also help toddlers acquire these crucial early skills.

Keywords in development and play design for toddlers:

  • Practicing sensory motor skills
  • Elements that support language development
  • Play involving cause and effect

Recommended play activities
Gross motor, spatial and balance practice: Climbing, crawling up and down, rocking, sliding, balancing, swinging, fine motor stimulation - nets hills, stairs, rocking elements, slowly spinning elements, slides.

Elements that promote fine motor skills and language development: parts of different materials that toddlers can manipulate, sand play items, thematic structures.

When landscaping, consider providing:
Small hills, different levels and shade (e.g., from fruit trees). Scented plants. There should be a variety of soft-surfaced materials such as sand, grass, rubber and wood chips, as well as hard-surfaced paths for tricycles and walkers.