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Contemporary versus Traditional School Playground Design Ideas

Published 14/6/19


Just like every industry, school playground equipment, design and construction are constantly improving and developing. As new materials become available and new research is performed, school playgrounds will continue to change and develop to incorporate this invaluable, newfound knowledge.

At Kompan, we strive to leverage our own detailed research as well as industry studies to develop, manufacture and install exceptional school playground equipment that is backed by science and achieves results. However, hindsight is an incredibly powerful tool and whilst we continue to grow and develop new techniques, it’s always important to compare new methods and results with the playgrounds of the past.

Our Kompan team aims to investigate the key differences between modern, contemporary playgrounds and their traditional counterparts, supplying stimulus for design ideas to help you craft the perfect school playground.

Traditional School Playgrounds

Whilst the first dedicated children’s playgrounds were opening in the mid and late-1800s, the image of a traditional school playground that many currently recognise became more solidified in the early 1900s. These playgrounds centred around simple contraptions that used balance and movement to encourage physical activity and enjoyment with merry-go-rounds, Giant Strides, slides, sand pits and see-saws dominating the landscape.

The primary difference between the traditional playgrounds of today and those of a century ago are the materials used. Whilst our traditional playgrounds still make use of slides, swings and other recognisable children’s school playground equipment, they are made with plastic as opposed to the galvanised steel that was popular during the birth of school playgrounds. Furthermore, the school playground equipment in use today is much more heavily regulated from a safety perspective, with every safety angle considered in advance of installation. 

Aside from these minor differences, the majority of traditional school playgrounds and the equipment within them is very similar to that of the past.

Key Features of Traditional School Playgrounds

  • Flooring and Surfaces – Higher-tech, shock-absorbent flooring options aren’t used in traditional playgrounds, with cheaper and more basic surfaces like grass and concrete seeing use instead.
  • Floor Markings – Traditional games like hopscotch were easily included into the traditional school playground setting through floor markings utilising chalk, stones or any other available method.
  • Basic, Movement-Driven Equipment – Traditional school playground equipment usually centred around balance and motion, with common features including swings, slides, see-saws, roundabouts and carousels. The only exceptions to this rule being the sand pit and the playhouse, which are the only truly imagination-driven traditional equipment available.


Traditional School Playground Design Ideas

Having briefly looked into what makes a traditional school playground, we can now start investigating a few of the best school playground ideas you can use in your own outdoor space.

Carousels and Spinners

Spinners are incredibly useful additions to any traditional school playground. Not only do carousels usually look appealing and entice students, but they also benefit from offering a completely new challenge for children to tackle. Whilst the majority of traditional play equipment focuses on a vertical or lateral motion like swings or see-saws, carousels introduce children to the sensation of spinning in a safe and healthy environment.

This is particularly effective because children also have to manually create the spinning action using their body. For developing minds, the ability to discover how the world works through action is incredibly valuable and understanding how things spin is particularly useful for shape recognition, classroom activities and general hypothetical understanding.


Whilst seesaws may not initially leap out to you as a particularly amazing traditional playground design idea, they are more effective than you would think. Seesaws offer a fine balance of physical exertion and development combined with social opportunity. The majority of traditional school playground equipment can be used alone very easily – the seesaw is one of the only examples of equipment that demands multiple children use it at the same time. This promotes cooperation and social interaction, two exceptionally important life skills that will benefit children greatly.

Organic Robinia Wood Playhouses

Wooden playhouses are a must for any traditional school playground. As mentioned previously, playhouses are one of the only traditional equipment examples that promote imaginative play and development. Presented with the right setting or stimulus, a child or group of children will happily roam freely and create incredible stories, usually involving other children too. This is incredibly valuable from both a cognitive development perspective and a social point of view, encouraging children to play together and act out hypothetical situations.


With traditional school playgrounds discussed, we can now move onto contemporary playgrounds. Particularly over the last few decades, playgrounds have seen a huge amount of change, driven by alterations to regulations, the versatility of newly available materials and the power of newfound research. Contemporary school playgrounds are designed and constructed with both enjoyment and scientific evidence at their core, from the surfaces in use all the way through to the colours used on the equipment itself.

In almost every sense, contemporary school playground design differs wildly to its traditional counterpart and in turn, so do the ideas we will provide you with.

Key Features of Contemporary School Playgrounds

  • Flooring and Surfaces – With a newfound emphasis on safety, contemporary playgrounds rarely use natural grass or concrete because they do not offer enough support for children who fall or stumble. Instead, shock-absorbent flooring surfaces are used like rubber tiling or artificial grass with a rubber underlay. This ensures that children can fall from a moderate height and remain uninjured, superficially or otherwise.
  • Meeting Points – One of the major differences between contemporary school playground and traditional ones is the focus on child development. In particular, social and emotional development is incredibly important to help children build meaningful and healthy relationships in the future. To this end, most modern playgrounds have enticing and interesting seating or meeting points where students are encouraged to sit and engage with one another.
  • Attractive and Imaginative Equipment – Modern playground equipment combines physical challenges with eye-catching design to capture the imagination of the students and attract them more than ever. Climbing equipment is particularly popular as it offers a unique, full body challenge whilst other options like adventure trails help students create their own stories whilst simultaneously expending energy.

Contemporary School Playground Design Ideas

The best contemporary school playground design ideas are those that step outside the box and combine basic ideas with a new approach, creating multi-faceted equipment that helps children develop in multiple ways.

COROCORD™ Rope Equipment

Kompan’s COROCORD™ Rope Equipment is a great example of this. Climbing equipment is not a particularly new invention, however, presenting it in a new and interesting way is an effective method of getting children involved and encouraging them.

COROCORD™ Rope is hardy and offers a very unusual climbing challenge that children aren’t used to, helping them to physically develop in different ways. Similarly, due to the nature of the material, the shapes and designs of the equipment can widely vary, enabling some truly spectacular structures to be produced.

Through this, students are drawn to the equipment and are then able to develop themselves in new and unique ways whilst they are using it; everything a modern school playground aims to do.

Enticing Social Spaces

Promoting social interaction between students is an essential part of teaching empathy and reducing egocentrism. Meeting points are a perfect way of achieving this, providing a school playground with a more unusual seating place that the children are drawn to and, in turn, naturally use to talk and engage with one another.

Themed Play Equipment

Young minds are full of imagination and leveraging that imagination to help them understand concepts or practice specific skills is a key part of any successful educational institution.

Themed play equipment is the best way of achieving this within the playground space. Providing children with space and a theme gives them the room to formulate their own stories and discover the world in their own way. Again, this allows pupils to practice hypothetical thought and also ngaging with other school children around them – invaluable for practicing key life skills.


Both traditional school playground and contemporary school playgrounds have their advantages and disadvantages. Similarly, the equipment that each type of playground utilises also has its own strengths and weaknesses. The key to a strong, beneficial school playground is combining the two and creating a playground which is built in response to your school environment.

Kompan has spent decades designing and building school playgrounds from the ground up. We have worked on projects for a host of different school spaces tailoring our service and advice to our client’s goals, budget, and requirements. Discover more about our school playground service or get in touch with our team and we will gladly help you create the right school playground for your outdoor space.

Need advice?

We have nearly 50 years of experience, and will support you throughout the project.


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