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Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment

Distance Learning Playground Design Course

Learn how to design and construct 'effective' playgrounds

This course develops a sound understanding of the design and construction of small community parks and playgrounds.  A valuable course for parks managers or designers, .the course covers playground philosophy, design of play structures (for function and safety), materials selection, community participation and park design.

This course was developed by John Mason, author of "The Environment of Play" and former Playground Designer with PRAV. Mr Mason was Australia's representative for the International Play Association in the late 1970's, and has maintained a keen interest in children's playground design since that time.

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Study parks and playgrounds, playground philosophy, concept plans and plans for playgrounds, structures and materials and more.

    Learn to Design Playgrounds, for parks, schools, child minding centres, home gardens, etc.
  • Course developed by John Mason (Playground designer for over 35 years) and an international team of experts.
  • Gain insights into child development, the importance of play; and how to create environments that are sympathetic to a child's needs.
  • Expand your skills, further your career, start or expand a business.

This course develops a sound understanding of the design and construction of small community parks and playgrounds. A valuable course for parks managers or designers, the course covers playground philosophy, design of play structures (for function and safety), materials selection, community participation and park design.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Overview of Parks and Playgrounds
  2. Playground Philosophy
  3. Preparing a Concept Plan
  4. Materials
  5. Park and Playground Structures and Materials
  6. Local and Neighbourhood Parks
  7. Community Participation in Park Development
  8. Special Assignment

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Course Aims

  • Determine the procedure to plan a park development, including a playground and other facilities.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a park or playground.
  • Assess the design of park components, including materials and equipment used in parks and playgrounds.
  • Determine appropriate design characteristics for a local or neighbourhood parks.
  • Determine legal implications involved in the design of a playground.
  • Design facilities to cater for movement throughout a park or playground.
  • Manage appropriate community participation in development of a park or playground.

What You Will Do

  • Explain how an understanding of play theory can be applied to the design of a playground.
  • Explain how the concept of recreational planning may influence the design of a specified park.
  • Determine factors which distinguish park design from home garden design.
  • Compare different planning processes used for developing designs for public landscapes, including: advocacy planning, strategic planning and community participation.
  • Explain historical influences upon park design, in your locality, including:
    • local history
    • national history.
  • Evaluate the functional depreciation of a specified playground over a period of at least ten years.
  • Explain the significance of demographic considerations on park design, in a specific locality.
  • Evaluate the designs of two different established parks, and two established playgrounds, visited by you.
  • Develop a brief for a park plan, through an interview with management of a specific site.
  • Collect pre planning information for a proposed park design; through surveying the site and interviewing both managers of the site, and intended users of the site.
  • Develop three alternative concept plans for a proposed park development; in accordance with a real design brief, either prepared by you with a client, or obtained as a brief for a job being put to tender.
  • Compare three alternative concept plans in an interview with a client, or prospective client, for a proposed park development; recording the interview session on audio tape.
  • Describe the design features of four different items of outdoor furniture intended for use in parks and playgrounds.
  • Compare the suitability of different barriers inspected by you, including bollards, fences, plantings and walls, used in three different parks and/or playgrounds.
  • Assess the design of garden constructions inspected by you in a children's playground.
  • Compare various ground surfacing materials in terms of their application in park or playground design.
  • Explain design considerations for earth forming, in a specific park and playground.
  • Design a park plan for a specified site of 1,000 to 10,000 square metres, incorporating a themed play area.
  • Prepare a costing for the construction of a themed play area, designed by you.
  • Compare the appropriateness of fifteen different plants for use in a playground in terms of
    • play possibilities
    • hardiness
    • toxicity.
  • Determine appropriate design criteria for the use of water in playgrounds.
  • Determine appropriate functions for neighbourhood parks.
  • Determine inappropriate functions for a neighbourhood park.
  • Analyse two neighbourhood parks by both; surveying users and observing users.
  • Evaluate the design of two different neighbourhood parks, visited and studied by you, against specified criteria.
  • Recommend design modifications for a surveyed neighbourhood park.
  • Explain the significance of danger to the children's learning experience.
  • Determine how two different specific playground designs have been affected by concerns about legal liability.
  • Conduct a legal risk analysis of a playground which has been established for more than ten years.
  • Develop guidelines for minimising legal liability in playground design, for an authority responsible for a specific playground.
  • Determine design criteria for different types of trails in parks including:
    • Fun and fitness trails
    • Environmental interpretation trails
    • Cycle paths
    • Roadways.
  • Compare the construction of three different specified paths within parks with reference to:
    • Durability
    • Safety
    • Function
    • Maintenance requirements.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a "specialist trail" in a park, such as; a fun and fitness trail, a cycle path or an environmental interpretation trail, following design standards in the industry.
  • Determine factors which impact on the success of a park/playground development that involves community participation.
  • Analyse community attitudes to a park or playground development, which has used community participation, by either
    • survey
    • discussion with local Parks Department management.
  • Explain how to promote community involvement in park development in a way which will optimise the chance of success.
  • Determine a procedure to involve a community in the development of a park/playground facility, on a site you visit.

Why Do We Need Playgrounds?

What is the Purpose of a Park or Playground?

There are many possible reasons why we might choose to create a park or playground; for example:
  • Somewhere children can play.
  • A place that the community can meet and socialize in.
  • A buffer zone (e.g. between houses and other places).
  • A sanctuary for wildlife.
  • Somewhere to play sport.
  • Somewhere to walk.
  • To make an area look more attractive.
  • To enhance the physical environment (vegetation increases oxygen levels, and helps keep the air cooler in summer and warmer in winter).

There may be many other reasons.

“I have found that most people think parks are built for people to use; but most of the same people rarely use parks”

Everyone seems to think we need parks and playgrounds to go to and use.
As with many things though; reality is often different to what people assume to be the case.

If we are going to plan a park or playground anywhere, the first step is to identify what functions it is to serve.

Always remember what the public needs, and what it wants are two different things.
Sometimes needs and wants are in conflict.

The purpose which we want a park or playground to fulfil may reflect needs rather than wants of the community (or it may reflect both).

Once you know the functions which a facility should serve; you can then set about designing the facility to serve those functions.

You may not always be able to satisfy all criteria though; so you should perhaps prioritize criteria before you begin.

What is a Playground?

  • Playgrounds are in the broad sense, anywhere that people play.
  • Most people tend to think of playgrounds as something for children; but adult playgrounds have also been built at times, in some places.
  • Play is very serious business for children.
  • Play is in fact more important than schooling in the development of a child. They learn many things (both physical and intellectual skills) through play; and without adequate opportunities to play, a child will not develop properly (and in later life, can as a result, have problems).

Consider Risk

The risk involved with children playing has been more than what some authorities have been prepared to bear.

In the past some authorities have removed playgrounds, or at least some playground equipment from parks, rather than risk an injury that might result in an unbearable lawsuit.

This approach however, may be considered “short term thinking”. Without play opportunities, tomorrows adults might not be


  • A government authority may be held liable if a child suffers physical injury on playground equipment which they own.   BUT
  • A government authority might also responsible, maybe liable if a community grows up deficient in a range of learning opportunities because the authority failed to provide adequate play opportunities; or excessively restricted opportunities.

There has been a great deal of research undertaken into safety and play, over the last 50 years.

If a playground or park is designed well, the chances of any accident being serious will be greatly reduced.

Park and playground planners or designers must minimize risk; but not necessarily eliminate risk.  Note: By eliminating all physical risk, you may be adding to psychological developmental risks.

What Next?

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Meet some of our academics

Tracey Jones (psychology)B.Sc. (Hons) (Psychology), M.Soc.Sc (social work), DipSW (social work), PGCE (Education), PGD (Learning Disability Studies) Tracey began studying psychology in 1990. She has a wide range of experience within the psychology and social work field, particularly working with people with learning disabilities. She is also qualified as a teacher and now teaches psychology and social work related subjects. She has been a book reviewer for the British Journal of Social Work and has also written many textbooks, blogs, articles and ebooks on psychology, writing, sociology, child development and more. She has had also several short stories published.
John MasonWriter, Manager, Teacher and Businessman with over 40 years interenational experience covering Education, Publishing, Leisure Management, Education, and Horticulture. He has extensive experience both as a public servant, and as a small business owner. John is a well respected member of many professional associations, and author of over seventy books and of over two thousand magazine articles.
Diana Cole (Horticulturist)Horticulturist, Permaculturist, Landscaper, Environmentalist. Holds a Diploma in Horticulture, degree in geography, permaculture certificate and various other qualifications. Between 1985 and 94, Diana was a task leader with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Since 2001 she has been chairperson of the Friends of Mellor Park (with Stockport MDC). From 2005 she has worked exclusively in horticulture as proprietor of her own garden design and consultancy business in and around Derbyshire; and at the same time as part time manager of a small garden centre. Diana has been an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable tutor with ACS since 2008.

Check out our eBooks

Starting a Garden or Landscape BusinessExpert advice on how to get started in your own garden or landscape business! Packed with valuable business advice, horticultural and landscaping knowledge, and practical ideas - this book is a must have for garden lovers. It is great for anyone thinking about (or already involved in), a horticultural, landscaping or garden business. This updated re-print is only available as an ebook.
Garden Design Part 1The Garden Design ebook part 1 is an essential handbook for students and landscape professionals. A foundation guide to garden design, this book provides stunning full illustrations to demonstrate tips and examples on garden design, functional uses and aesthetics. Some topics that are covered in this ebook include 1/ Introduction to Garden Design, 2/ Appropriateness of garden design, 3/ Creating an impact, 4/ Designing to a budget, 5/ Choosing plants, 6/ Using the garden, 7/ Where the garden meets the house, 8/ Making the winter garden more comfortable, 9/ Gardens for children, 10/The secure home and garden, 11/ Lighting a garden, 12/ Dealing with shade, 13/ Garden Art, 14/ Pots and planters, 15/ Colour in the garden, 16/ Applications for colour and 17/ Garden furniture.
Garden Design Part 2Part 2 of the Garden Design Series is an inspiring accompaniment to the first book, but works equally well in its own right. The Garden Design Part 2 ebook is ideal for students and landscaping professionals. Brimming with ideas and practical advice for designing a wide variety of different gardens. You will learn about different styles of gardens and how to create a style to suit a site or client. Topics covered in this ebook include 18/ (Continuing on from Garden Design 1) Surfacing ideas, 19/ Garden arches, pergolas & pavilions, 20/ Dealing with confined spaces, 21/ Water gardens, 22/ Using plants in the garden, 23/ Formal gardens, 24/ Natural gardens, 25/ Rainforest gardens, 26/ Coastal gardens, 27/ Cottage gardens, 28/ Late Victorian/Edwardian gardens, 29/ Oriental gardens, 30/ Mediterranean gardens, 31/ Mexican style, 32/ Minimalist landscape design and 33/ Eclectic gardens.
The Environment of PlayFull of inspiring colour images of playgrounds around the world, this book is ideal for designers, park managers, schools and parents! First published in the USA in 1982. Used in the past as a university text (in landscaping and education degrees). Completely revised in 2012. Full of inspiring colour images of playgrounds around the world, this book is ideal for designers, park managers, schools and parents! Play is the most important and effective method of learning for adults as well as children. It can be active or passive, planned or spontaneous. If you want to learn about the relationship between PLAY and the ENVIRONMENT, this is the ebook for you.