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Guide to designing inclusive playgrounds

This inclusive play design guide has been created in collaboration with playground and child development experts as a resource to help create great outdoor play environments for children of all ages and abilities.

What is an inclusive playground?

Inspiring all to play together

Inspiring all to play together is at the heart of what we do, and inclusive play spaces should provide opportunities for everyone to play together. Inclusive playgrounds should be accessible, engage children of all ages and abilities and encourage them to interact with each other.

Playing is one of the most important ways that children stay active, learn, make friends and socialise. It is also fundamental to children's development and wellbeing.

We believe that more inclusive play spaces allow children to connect with others in a positive way, relieve feelings of stress, stimulate creative thinking and exploration, boost confidence and enable children to enjoy the pleasure and benefits of play.

The Five Principles for Designing an Inclusive Playground

All children have a right to play. Everyone should have access to a well-designed playground that meets their developmental needs.

At HAGS we believe there are five fundamental features present in a playground for all:

1. Multi-sensory elements

Include at least one piece of equipment that stimulates the following sensory systems:

  • Auditory - Auditory processing relies on how the brain interprets, recognizes and differentiates sound stimuli. Related equipment includes our musical instruments and talking tubes.
  • Proprioceptive - The proprioceptive system consists of sensory information caused by contraction and stretching of muscles and by bending, straightening, pulling and compression of the joints between the bones. Examples of equipment include climbing products, climbing walls, nets & ladders on our UniMini and UniPlay and jumping devices
  • Tactile - Touch is a perception resulting from activation of neural receptors, generally in the skin, including hair follicles. Related equipment includes our climbing rocks due to their texture, sand play and a variety of play panels
  • Vestibular - The vestibular system explains the perception of our body in relation to gravity, movement and balance. Examples of our products include spinners, swings and balancing activities
  • Visual - Visual perception is how the brain processes what the eyes see – recognizing, differentiating and interpreting visual stimuli through comparison with experiences made earlier in life. Related equipment includes brightly coloured play panels, contrasting colours and telescopes which are installed in various UniMinis and UniPlays


A boy playing on a multi-sensory play panel in a playground

2. Accessibility

An inclusive playground needs to be accessible. Accessibility is about travel, movement and approach.

  • Choose appropriate surfacing materials that meets the EN 1176 and EN 1177 standards. Playground surfaces are designed with various purposes in mind, including play value, to reduce severity of injury from falls, access and aesthetics.
  • Have routes that are wide enough to allow wheelchair users, parents with strollers, and children who do not like to be touched to pass each other.
  • Ensure flush transition from one surfacing to another, this is to allow people using mobility aids to move freely between different areas of the play space and surrounding areas.


Inclusive playground with accessible surfacing

3. Play for all

  • Similar items with varying levels of challenge, such as spinning equipment, can be grouped together. This allows children of different abilities to take part in the same type of activity next to each other.
  • Playgrounds should engage children of all ages and abilities by providing a full range of equipment with various play values and different levels of challenge. Not every child is going to choose to play on every piece of equipment or have the ability to do so. But, it is imperative that every child has a real choice of what to play on.


Boy crawling through a tunnel in an inclusive playground equipment

4. Opportunity for calm

  • Secluded areas in the playground, which are still within the sightline, are great for when children experience sensory overload and need to retreat to a quiet place to recalibrate. Examples include areas under a multi-play structure, playhouses and other equipment where the child feels they are enclosed but the parent/carer can still see them.
  • Having an orientation path allows children to survey the play experience prior to engaging. These paths become a safe place where there is little activity and enables a child to enter and exit the play on their own terms.


Girl resting in a playground playhouse

5. Social environments

Playgrounds are wonderful places for children to practice social skills that may be difficult for them. Therefore, it is important to include at least one piece of equipment that encourages cooperative play. Other types of play to think about in a playground for all are: 

  • Solitary play: A child wants to explore and discover their world and will tend to play alone. Provide play equipment that can be used by one user and do not require anyone else for it to function.
  • Onlooker play: A child watches or converses with others at play without joining in. By placing equipment into groups, children can watch how others play and join in when they are ready.
  • Parallel play: Children play next to each other in the same area while engaged in their own activities, watching and listening to each other, such as on swings.
  • Associate play: Children will play independently while mimicking others, conversing and taking turns, but each child acts alone. This can be seen in sand and water play and around pretend play.


Two girls playing together on a rope swing

Designing an inclusive playground

Designing for inclusion requires a careful consideration of the overall design and elements within it. It should bring together play values and accessibility in creative ways.

The below sections outline some elements to think about and assess when creating an inclusive play space. This isn’t a rulebook, you or the play space designer may choose to emphasise one aspect over another and create strategies of your own that will best suit the needs of the users.

Play for all at El Prat de Llobregat, Barcelona

HAGS has chosen a selection of inclusive and accessible playground equipment that will cater for a large number of users and for children with different abilities.

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Inclusive Play at River Road Park, Brentwood, UK

This recently completed play area in Brentwood, UK, has been designed with inclusion high on the agenda. The playground has a fully accessible path and includes a broad range of imaginative and inclusive play opportunities for children of all abilities.

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Inclusive Tree House Themed Playground, Sweden

A fantastic inclusive playground in the city of Uppsala, Sweden, featuring a tree house-themed customised UniPlay unit.

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Nature Inspired Inclusive Playground, Australia

The new nature-based playground at the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens in Australia has won the State Award for Best Playscape Award (under $500,000) in the Park and Leisure Australia Awards of Excellence program. This now progresses through the national award finals to be decided in October 2019.

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