Why is it so important to have age-appropriate play equipment for children?
Age-Appropriate Playground Equipment
Why is it so important to have age-appropriate play equipment for children?
Specially designed age-appropriate play equipment is not only an important factor in a child safety, but it helps children develop their physical and cognitive abilities, as well as improving their sensory organ responses when exposed to stimuli.
What makes play equipment age-appropriate?
Age-appropriate play isn’t only geared toward babies and toddlers. It should be designed to stimulate children at every age level. For starters, it’s not about making a playset smaller or larger. Many play equipment manufacturers simply take a large playset and scale it smaller calling it “preschool size” or infant age-appropriate. When designing age-appropriate play, a good designer will factor in safety guidelines, anthropomorphic data and cognitive and physical abilities of each age group.
How Nature of Early Play started designing age-appropriate child play equipment.
The experts at Nature of Early Play have conducted extensive research in early childhood development. In fact, it is because of this research that Nature of Early Play actually came to be. After a short Design Course at Harvard Design School, in 2009, the design team at Play Mart (our sister company) realized they were not designing products that were specifically geared toward the 6 – 23 months age group. In fact they realized there were almost no products offered by any playground manufacturer in America meeting all the criteria for good age-appropriate products.
So, Play Mart began to develop a specialty line of early childhood products that would meet safety guidelines for ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials). Specifically we looked at safety guidelines ASTM F2373 for children ages 6 – 23 months and ASTM 1487F for children 2 – 5 years. The products were so successful and filled a void in early childhood care and education that we choose to start a second company—Nature of Early Play, and incorporated in 2016.
We have taken the time to research the mental and physical abilities for both age groups: 6 – 23 months and 2 – 5 years. Our fully age-appropriate products allow a child care giver to provide supervised outdoor time in a safe and protected, but challenging environment for infants and toddlers.
What are the factors that determine age-appropriate play sets?
Anthropomorphic research is used to develop equipment heights and sizing to meet and exceed guidelines for ASTM F2373 for children ages 6 – 23 months and ASTM 1487F for children 2 – 5 years.
Seating and standing heights for Infants, Pre-Toddlers and Preschoolers varies a great deal. Each of our products is sized for each age group for each product and depending if the use is intended for seated or standing play.
For example, steps for infants need to be 7” rather than the 8” for preschool and elementary school age. To further illustrate, railing heights should be 24” for Infants, 29” for preschool and 38” for elementary school age. So each product must be carefully designed to meet specific code for each age group.
What challenges a 6-month-old mentally is very different from that of a 5-year-old. An infant can be mentally stimulated just turning a knob, whereas a 5-year-old would likely be unchallenged and bored. We’ve taken the time to incorporate a host of elements in our play equipment that encourages the mental acuity of children of all ages. Our Butterfly Hill playset has interactive gears and spinners help babies and toddlers develop coordination.
An infant may be just learning to roll or stand up with use of a grip. Our infant equipment is geared towards tummy time, rolling, pulling up and crawling. A 5-year-old needs climbing, balancing, challenging activities. The Nature of Early Play Pull Up Bars make it fun and challenging for infants and pre-toddlers to pull themselves up and stand.
Stimulation of Senses
To keep a child’s interest they need to engage more than one of their senses during play. Nature of Early Play products are designed to delight all of a child’s senses.
Along with material colors and photo panels we create visual interest. Some research suggests that small children and infants can become over-stimulated by too many bright colors. We offer several different color schemes for our play equipment, including more subtle colors. See our Color Palettes.
Our musical equipment such as chimes, bells, drums, and more stimulate a child’s auditory perceptions. For tactile development infants enjoy our Sensory Cube with a variety of shapes and textures. Toddlers and preschoolers naturally stimulate tactile nerve receptors while engaging with our Sand and Water, Paint Panels and Chalk Boards.
A young child’s olfactory sensory systems will be stimulated while digging in our Raised Garden Beds and growing plants or vegetables.
Gustatory System or Taste
Children can experience (maybe for the first time) a bite of a fresh vegetable they have grown in one of our Raised Garden Beds. Taking the play a step further, those veggies can be “purchased” from a fellow playmate and proprietor of our Farmer’s Market. Finally, children can prepare and “cook” their meal in any one of our Mud Kitchen components.
Balance and Spatial Orientation
The vestibular system, in vertebrates, is part of the inner ear. It is the sensory system that contributes to the sense of balance and spatial orientation for the purpose of coordinating movement with balance. Vestibular motion is especially important for young developing brains. Movement that changes an infant’s position or gently rocks, rolls, bounces, swings or spins will stimulate and strengthens the vestibular system. (Reference: BabySparks)
Very important during infant development, proprioception refers to a baby’s sense of perception of their own body movements and location in space. For instance, learning how one’s own body moves through sensory input from nerves, muscles and tendons. Child healthcare professionals encourage tummy time so a child learns how to lift its head, use its arms and legs to roll over, or grasp things. (Reference: BabySparks)
The Nature of Early Play equipment like the Belly Swing is uniquely geared to provide both vestibular and proprioceptive development. In addition, our Infant Modular Space provides all the elements for this kind of development and learning. A padded, safe, outdoor space with stimulating items to reach for—steering wheel, geometric shapes, natural rock hand holds, pull up bar. For rolling babies we can add the Rolling Hills (vinyl clad, padded) and a tunnel to either push, crawl through, rock or spin.
Our Infant T Swings offer this vestibular sensory perception and motion for infants and toddlers. The swing seats can be purchased as full bucket (infants) or chain front seats (toddlers) and are hung at the height which is easy for a care giver to push to and fro.
Finally, for play equipment to be truly age-appropriate it must allow for safe play and development at the same time. Potential fall heights are very different for infants versus toddlers versus older children. We have developed special materials for all of our crawling equipment. Padded HDPE Cloud material is used on all climbing and crawling surfaces. This rubberized texture is gentle to infant feet and knees, while it helps to prevent slips. The material also flexes under pressure, providing a friendlier feel. So, if little ones do take a tumble, the fall won’t be quite so traumatic.
A lot goes into making play equipment age-appropriate.
A goal of Nature of Early Play as a play equipment manufacturer is to create products that fully accommodate the needs of day care facilities, child development centers, preschools, Head Start and Early Start programs and more. Since 2009 when we first began designing age-appropriate playsets, we have successfully installed projects in thousands of facilities worldwide. This was the reason Nature of Early Play was selected as the sole provider for master site plan design, play equipment, surfacing and installations at over 150 U.S. Army Child Development Centers.
We at Nature of Early Play are constantly developing new and exciting play systems for small children. Our products are designed and manufactured right here in the USA. We believe in helping to stimulate learning and development in children of all ages. Our line of products specifically designed for infants, toddlers, and preschool age children make learning and developing fun!