Comedian Simon Holland once said, “There should be an energy drink called 6 AM Toddler.” Any parent of a child under the age of 5 can relate; toddlers have endless reserves of energy and always seem to be on the go. A toddler playground is the perfect outlet for children ages 2-5 to cut loose and have fun — and it offers other crucial benefits, as well.
The Importance of Early Childhood Play
The toddler years are a key developmental period for children. During this bridge between infancy and the elementary school years, they’re experiencing physical and emotional growth on an unparalleled level. Early childhood play is a great way to encourage social and cognitive development and boost motor skills. It sets the foundation for future learning and development (and gives weary parents a much-needed break).
At this age you can’t just open the door and let kids roam around unsupervised. You might be tempted to take them to the playground instead, but keep in mind that not all play structures are appropriate for all ages. Toddlers have unique needs, and playgrounds designed for older children aren’t designed to meet those needs.
The solution is a toddler playground. More than simply a miniature version of a school-age playground, a toddler playground is intentionally built for children under the age of three, with features designed specifically for their unique needs.
Choose Suitable Toddler Playground Equipment
Most playgrounds today include a combination of features to promote strength, coordination, critical thinking, social interaction, and inclusivity. Swings, slides, climbing structures, and sensory panels are all common elements.
A toddler playground is no different, except for the type of equipment used. Play events to consider could include:
- Crawling Equipment. Though most toddlers have mastered walking and running, crawling is important; it gives young children the confidence to explore on their own and stimulates the imagination. Tunnels, ramps, and playhouses — anything a toddler can crawl over, under, or inside — are perfect.
- Climbers. Climbing structures help build strength and foster independence. For toddlers, choose shorter climbing equipment that is angled for easier access. Ramps, small platforms, and stepping pods are all great choices.
- Slides. Sliding isn’t off-limits to toddlers; they’re just right-sized for children in the 2-5 age group! They incorporate features like flat steps or ladder rungs, gradual slopes, and low heights for access to the slides.
- Activity Panels. Activity panels stimulate a child’s imagination and teach them concepts such as colors and shapes. Spinners, buttons, mazes, and windows add a fun, educational component and offer opportunities for parallel and cooperative play.
BCI Burke’s Synergy Imagination 4ME® series incorporates these elements in a variety of configurations. These bright and colorful play structures were designed with input from early childhood educators and emphasize sensory and motor skill development.
Stimulate the Senses
Sensory equipment is an especially popular addition to toddler playgrounds. Stimulating the various senses helps toddlers develop visual, tactile, proprioception, and vestibular skills, and allows children of all abilities the opportunity for interactive play.
Toddler playgrounds with sensory equipment feature elements designed to stimulate all five senses. This helps children recognize different colors, shapes, and textures; develop balance and coordination; and hone fine motor skills, in a calm and soothing environment that promotes curiosity and encourages creativity. Equipment might include mazes, tunnels, sensory panels, musical instruments, climbers, and sand and water play events.
BCI Burke’s Sensory & Exploration Stations rely on shapes, colors, movement, and games for stimulation and learning. They foster independent play in a safe environment and can be used indoors or outdoors for year-round fun.
Think Outside the (Sand) Box
Designing your toddler playground involves more than just choosing age-appropriate playground equipment. Additional factors to consider include:
- Site amenities. Even the most rambunctious toddlers need a break once in a while. Consider site amenities such as benches, picnic tables, bicycle racks, and trash cans to appeal to as wide an age range as possible.
- Restroom facilities. Toddlers might be so wrapped up in having fun, they forget about potty breaks until it’s too late. Building your playground in close proximity to restroom facilities that include toilets, diaper changing stations, and sink or sanitization areas is a wise idea.
- Protection from the elements. Toddlers are more sensitive to warm temperatures and direct sunlight, so adding shade structures or freestanding shade will help improve their comfort and protect their skin from harmful UV rays.
- Age separation. Playgrounds are often built to accommodate a wide range of age groups. If this is the case, clearly mark which areas of the playground are suitable for toddlers…and make sure an adult is able to supervise at all times.
With a little planning and imagination, you can create a toddler playground that will promote play, movement, imagination, creativity, independence, socialization, and learning for years to come.
Check out the all-new Early Childhood Design Guide and contact us to bring play to the 2-5 year olds in your community!