Age-Appropriate Design

Child development experts and parents agree play is an essential part of childhood. Outdoor play areas can help children develop physically, emotionally, socially,and intellectually.

NPPS recommends that adults be proactive in selecting age appropriate equipment and requesting separate play areas for different age groups - 6 months through 23 months, ages 2 to 5, and 5 to 12. These areas should be marked by signage indicating the age-appropriate areas.

Please consider the following factors when selecting equipment in order to help make America's play areas developmentally appropriate, more enjoyable, and safer for children.

Physical Development

Children are developmentally different in size and ability. Outdoor play areas can facilitate physical development.

  • Ages: 6 months - 23 months

Play areas for children 6 months through 23 months should offer places where children can have space to move and explore. Appropriate play areas for this group should provide places to crawl, stand, and walk.

  • Ages: 2-5 years

Play areas for children ages 2-5 should offer areas with smaller steps and crawl spaces. Appropriate play areas for children ages 2 - 5 could include: areas to crawl; low platforms with multiple access such as ramps and ladders; ramps with pieces attached for grasping; low tables for sand, water and manipulation of materials; tricycle paths with various textures; flexible spring rockers; sand areas with covers; and shorter slides (usually no taller than 4 feet).

  • Ages: 5-12 years

Developmentally appropriate play areas for school-age children could include: rope or chain climbers on angles; climbing pieces; horizontal bars; cooperative pieces such as tire swings, slides and sliding poles; and open spaces to run and play ball.

Emotional Development

Well-designed play areas can help create positive emotional development for children. Appropriately designed play areas allow younger children to explore new ideas. Parents can help nurture positive emotional development by observing, supervising, facilitating, and complimenting.

Social Development

Outdoor play areas may be one of the first social experiences for some children. Good play areas offer children opportunities to play alone or with other children. The playground should allow younger children to easily manipulate items, explore spaces, and begin to interact with others. Play areas for school-aged children should encourage social growth and cooperation.

Children of all ages can develop social skills by working together to maintain their play areas. Tricycles, loose parts, and dramatic play parts should be used and placed in designated areas.

Intellectual Development

Playgrounds are a fun way for children to develop intellectually. Playgrounds offer opportunities to learn problem solving skills, to explore, and to manipulate items. Exploration areas include nature trails, large composite structures, and play houses. Manipulative equipment includes sand boxes, sand diggers, water-wheels, loose parts, and construction materials.

Accessibility and Play Opportunities for all Children

With the 1991 passage of the American with Disabilities Act, many play areas are being planned or modified to give children with disabilities an opportunity to play on play equipment with other children. The Recreation Advisory Committee of the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board has guidelines on accessibility and playground equipment.

The guidelines specify the minimum level of accessibility required in the construction and alteration of play areas covered by the law. For further information, contact the Access Board. Play areas should offer some stable paths paved with a certified material that has been tested to meet ADA guidelines.

Equipment NOT Recommended for Children Ages 2 - 5 (CPSC, 6.3)

  • Chain or cable walks
  • Fulcrum seesaws
  • Log rolls
  • Track rides
  • Swinging Gates
  • Free standing arch climbers
  • Free standing climbing events with flexible components
  • Overhead rings
  • Parallel bars
  • Long spiral slides (over 360+)
  • Vertical sliding poles


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Age-Appropriate Design Video

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