Playgrounds are a regular feature in both rural and urban environments, but you'd be forgiven for assuming that they're all pretty much the same, with swings, climbing frames and other equipment slotted in more or less at random.
However, you might be interested to learn that this often isn't the case. We can't speak for them all (and everyone has been in a playground that has no discernible design features whatsoever and seems somehow all wrong aesthetically), but some recreational spaces are now being carefully laid out to ensure maximum benefits for the children that use them.
What are Playscapes?
Researchers at the US's University of Cincinnati recently took a look at these 'playscapes', which have strategically placed equipment, are dynamic in terms of the way children move through them and have plenty of specially planted vegetation.
They drew some interesting conclusions. Youngsters within such environments were found to be learning about scientific inquiry, maths and also environmental stewardship, as well as benefiting from sharpened attention skills, lower rates of depression and - in children already displaying them - reduced symptoms of attention deficit disorders.
Study authors Victoria Carr and Eleanor Luken said: "The advantages of building playscapes over traditional playgrounds are considerable. They provide a sense of play that also addresses parental concerns about safety, creates pleasant play environments, supports child development and nurtures nature exploration. It appeals to a child's sense of being in a special place, promotes curiosity and demonstrates sustainable practices."
This isn't the only study published lately to look into playground design either. A team at RMIT University in Australia examined recreational areas that included everyday items as well as traditional play equipment.
These were things that might not necessarily be associated with playgrounds, including buckets, pipes and swimming pool floats (or 'noodles'). It was found that youngsters in playgrounds that included these items cut their sedentary behaviour by half, demonstrated improved creativity and problem-solving skills and also played more creatively than before.
Placing unusual objects within reach seemed to allow them to branch out with their imagination and play games they might not have thought of before.
Applying the ideas yourself...
Of course, you can't change the layout of your local public playground, nor will you probably want to cart objects like buckets with you when you head there with your little ones.
However, you can take these clever design principles and implement them in your own playground - your garden.
The key features mentioned by the playscape researchers included open lawns on which to run, a sensory garden for nature appreciation and a fort where children can "play, hide and look out over the landscape".
It's easy to incorporate these aspects into your outdoor space with a few packets of flower and grass seeds - and TP Toys can help you out with the fort part too. Check out our Playhouses for instance, which is the ultimate adventure base for boys or girls.
You can then mix in some traditional playground features (a Seesaw is always a winner, we find) and finally more random items that will help to spark off their imagination as per the Australian research.
Use your own imagination for this too, taking a look around the house to see what you could put outside as unusual playthings. Could your old yoga mat become a raft across seas full of tropical fish? Perhaps that cardboard box you've been meaning to put in the recycling might morph into a robot or a sports car in the hands of your offspring.
It never ceases to amaze us what kids can come up with using just a few household items that look like junk at first glance, so try anything as long as it's safe for them to use - and get the camera ready for the results!
We'd love to hear about any unusual playscapes you've seen (anywhere in the world), as well as what you've designed for your garden, so do feel free to get in touch with us on this topic.