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Child-friendly outdoor areas

Published Aug 15, 2018


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A children’s playground won South Africa’s top landscaping award this year. The award heralds a new era in which landscapers and landscape architects are being contracted to design, build and install children’s playgrounds in association with child development experts.

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What's behind the wave of newly-designed playgrounds being commissioned in parks and schools across South Africa?

Children are spending more time watching TV and playing games on electronic devices. Increasingly, they arrive at school, for the first time, with such low muscle tone that they lack the core strength to even sit at a desk for any length of time.

To get them outside and engaged, designers need to think outside the box to come up with playground equipment which not only benefits development skills, posture and muscle tone, but is also engaging and fun.

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“Children naturally learn through movement and exploration of their environment,” says occupational therapist Kimberley Horsten. “If they are not allowed to explore their surroundings, this can negatively affect their gross motor development, sensory integration and motor planning.”

Designing playgrounds

The science, technology and art of playground design has reached new levels. In June, the design and installation of an educational playground at the American International School of Johannesburg received the country’s top landscaping award for 2018. The playground equipment caters for children's specific developmental needs.

Top industry award

The annual South African Landscapers Institute (ALI) Awards of Excellence give landscapers a chance to showcase their skills and professionalism to potential clients and colleagues within the green industry. This year, 137 projects were submitted.

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The SALI Shield for Excellence in Landscaping was presented to Tswellapele Plants (Plantwise) and Microzone Trading.

“The standard of this playground project at the American International School of Johannesburg is at an international level not seen before in our country,” said SALI national judge Morne Faulhammer.

Jenneth Prinsloo of Plantwise said: “Winning the award was very humbling, but made us ecstatic. We have worked very hard in the background all these years with challenging projects, so to be recognised at last was amazing and motivating for the future.”

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Project manager Jak Prinsloo said the project had had a challenging eight-week deadline.

“We often had to work for extended periods with installations running into the early hours. All the elements arrived and everything fit perfectly together."

Important gross motor skills

Horsten says gross motor skills form the basis for a child to develop its fine motor skills. “Jungle gyms help develop a skill called motor planning or learning how to use your body successfully to perform a task."

Create a play area

Prinsloo urged parents to get their children outdoors by introducing play equipment in the garden.

“Choose equipment according to a theme that is aesthetically pleasing."

Consider the size of your garden, plan a play area and build a fun, green space for your child to enjoy.

For large gardens:

Create a dedicated children’s garden. Include playground equipment and other aspects of outdoor learning. If you have a large tree in the garden, consider a treehouse with ropes and bridges.

“Climbing ropes and bars help develop muscle tone and endurance,” said Horsten. “Monkey bars help develop shoulder stability which leads to adequate fine motor skills.”

Stimulate your child’s senses; include fragrant plants, like mint or rosemary, and edible plants. Plants which provide different textures, like the soft, woolly feel of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine) can also be included. No poisonous plants or plants with thorns should be found in this garden. Bee plants should also be placed elsewhere.

Children enjoy touching the woolly leaves of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). Picture: Lukas Otto

For medium-sized gardens:

Find an area that flows towards a separate space and create a children’s garden room. Use trellis with climbing plants to section off or lead into the area with an arbour, pathway or moon gate. Choose playground equipment based on your child’s age and development needs. Horsten suggests a dome-shaped climbing frame with ropes and ladders.

For townhouse gardens:

Incorporate one or two smaller pieces of equipment, for example, a climbing wall or frame alongside the patio or a ladder with monkey bars that forms a pergola over a walkway. A sturdy platform, with a ladder and fireman’s pole, requires limited space. “Poles, slides and swings assist in developing a child’s vestibular system, a system important for developing muscle tone and balance,” says Horsten.

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