NCEF Resource List: School Playgrounds
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Information on the planning and design of playgrounds for varying age levels, including resources on safety, accessibility, equipment, surfaces, and maintenance.

References to Books and Other Media

Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers
Copeland, Kristen; Sherman, Susan; Kendeigh, Cassandra; Kalkwarf, Heidi; and Saelens, Brian
(Pediatrics, Jan 04, 2012)
Nine focus groups with 49 child care providers (55% African American) were assembled from 34 centers (inner-city, suburban, Head Start, and Montessori) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Three main barriers to children’s physical activity in child care were identified: (1) injury concerns, (2) financial, and (3) a focus on “academics.” Stricter licensing codes intended to reduce children's injuries on playgrounds rendered playgrounds less physically challenging and interesting. In addition, some parents concerned about potential injury, requested staff to restrict playground participation for their children. Small operating margins of most child care centers limited their ability to install abundant playground equipment. Child care providers felt pressure from state mandates and parents to focus on academics at the expense of gross motor play. Because children spend long hours in care and many lack a safe place to play near their home, these barriers may limit children's only opportunity to engage in physical activity. Societal priorities for young children—safety and school readiness—may be hindering children’s physical development. In designing environments that optimally promote children’s health and development, child advocates should think holistically about potential unintended consequences of policies. [Authors' abstract]

Children's Contact with the Outdoors and Nature: A Focus on Educators and Educational Settings Adobe PDF
(Children and Nature Network , 2012)
Compilation of articles and documents that synthesize the literature related to children’s contact with the outdoors and nature and, in many cases, highlight children’s contact as it relates to educational settings. Some articles investigate linkages between the design of children’s school environments, children’s outdoor and/or nature-related behavior, and their physical activity and weight. Some articles examine topics related to children’s outdoor spaces. 50p

How to Design a School Playground for Safety
Schreiner, Eric
(Ehow, 2012)
Summarizes how to design and maintain playgrounds with safety in mind. Discusses surfaces, equipment, siting, spacing structures, and more. 1p

Developing Great Schoolyards - A Handbook for Elementary Schools. Adobe PDF
(The 21st Century School Fund, Washington, D.C. and the Prince Charitable Trusts, Oct 2011)
Handbook explores outdoor spaces such as small athletic fields, vegetable gardens, and playgrounds that provide opportunities for physical challenges, exercise, sensory and fantasy play, organized sports and upsupervised free play. Features the District of Columbia public elementary schoolyards. Explains the qualities communities and parents should look for in schoolyards. Includes an assessment tool to rate your elementary schoolyard, and advice on how to plan and develop a quality schoolyard. 31p

Natural Environment Elevates the Learning Experience.
French, Jim; Contag, David; Sundharam, Premnath
(LandscapeOnline, Jun 2011)
DLR Group discusses ways that innovative and flexible outdoor spaces enhance the educational and social experience. Provides examples of patios, plazas, courtyards, amphitheaters, pathways, creative water and turf play environments, outdoor learning spaces, and outdoor dining. Includes case studies and photographs.

The Wheeler School. Providence, Rhode Island
Emperor, Jay
(, Jun 2011)
Case study of the campus landscape plan for the Wheeler School, founded in 1889, an independent co-educational K-12 day school in Providence, Rhode Island. The center campus comprises gathering space for upper school students; table seating/outdoor dining adjacent to the student union; open space for recreation and games; state-of-the-art play equipment; wood play structures; and a synthetic turf field for ball playing. Includes photographs.

References to Journal Articles

Converting School Playgrounds to Community Parks
Attwood, Emily
Athletic Business; , p63-64 ; Aug 2012
Cities capitalize on existing schoolyards to provide more opportunities for physical activity.

A Genius Idea
EDC Magazine; May 24, 2012
Description and photos of the outdoor play and learn area at All Saints School in Norwalk, Connecticut that promotes play and an understanding of the physical sciences and energy conservation. The environmental activities within the playground are dovetailing with a school STEM curriculum being taught in the classroom.

Complying With New Mandatory ADA Standards
School Construction News; Apr 25, 2012
All state and government construction projects will soon have to bring their projects up to compliance to meet the 2010 Standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act — a requirement that includes school exteriors like playgrounds, pools and outdoor signage. For projects that start on or after March 25, 2012 the 2010 ADA standards will apply automatically.

Forming Playscapes: What Schools Can Learn from Playgrounds
Quirk, Vanessa
Arch Daily; Mar 07, 2012
When designing classrooms, designers should look at spaces that welcome interaction with the environment and encourage the free reign of energy and imagination--the playground. Describes numerous schools around the world that can inspire the classrooms of the future.

Safe and Secure. Balancing Safety and Fun on the Playground.
Vence, Deborah L.
Recreation Management; , p22-29 ; Mar 2012
Looks at the safety of playground surfaces and equipment today, and what playground owners and operators can do to ensure both are up to industry standards.

Playgrounds: Safety & Maintenance Go Hand-in-Hand.
Klingensmith, Dawn
Recreation Management; , 2p ; Sep 2011
Describes playground inspections to address safety and maintenance issues. Poorly maintained playground equipment can cause injuries, but it can also lead to lawsuits. Proper maintenance, in accordance with manufacturers' instructions, will help prolong the life of the equipment.

Building Blueprints: Playgrounds and Outdoor Spaces.
Lewis, Pip
School Planning and Management; v50 n4 , p82,83 ; Apr 2011
Highlights how an urban Boston charter school created play and exercise areas on their small site, formerly six-acre industrial property.

An Assessment of Schoolyard Renovation Strategies to Encourage Children's Physical Activity
Peter Anthamatten, Lois Brink, Sarah Lampe, Emily Greenwood, Beverly Kingston and Claudio Nigg
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity; Apr 2011
Children in poor and minority neighborhoods often lack adequate environmental support for healthy physical development and community interventions designed to improve physical activity resources serve as an important approach to addressing obesity. In Denver, the Learning Landscapes (LL) program has constructed over 98 culturally-tailored schoolyard play spaces at elementary schools with the goal to encourage utilization of play spaces and physical activity. In spite of enthusiasm about such projects to improve urban environments, little work has evaluated their impact or success in achieving their stated objectives. This study evaluates the impacts of LL construction and recency of renovation on schoolyard utilization and the physical activity rates of children, both during and outside of school, using an observational study design.

Play It Safe.
Anderson, Kelli
Recreation Management; v12 n3 , p16-18,20,22,23 ; Mar 2011
Discusses essentials of playground design, including design that minimizes fall heights through landscaping and equipment shape, regular inspection and maintenance, and equipment that is intriguing even though it is safe and age-appropriate.

Are You Accessible?
Ahrweiler, Margaret
Recreation Management; v12 n1 , p28-32 ; Jan 2011
Reviews 2010 additions to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that cover recreational facilities. The types of disabilities that recreation planners need to plan and design for, are discussed, as are typical changes needed for swimming pools, playing fields, and other specific areas. Cost effective changes and examples of recreation facilities that are already in compliance are included.

Putting Play Back into the Playground Adobe PDF
Couper, Llyween
Kairaranga; v12 n1 , p37-42 ; 2011
During 2008 and 2009, a group of nine Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) from Canterbury met as a Community of Practice to investigate the way that play in the school playground contributes to the social competence of students. While the original concern was around the needs of students who were unable to manage their behaviour in the playground, the focus shifted to question how the school playground can be viewed as an important learning environment for all children. It was soon found that there is an enormous body of research around bullying and physical violence and play in early childhood, but very little concerned with the design or physical structure of playgrounds or the role of adults in the playground. This paper was born out of the work of the Playground Focus Group, but also reports on issues confronting schools in relation to play and school playgrounds.

Safe Learning and Play.
Olsen, Heather; Hudson, Susan; Thompson, Donna
School Planning and Management; v50 n1 , p83-85 ; Jan 2011
Describes seven principles of proper school playground management. These cover compliance with standards, safety and security, age-appropriate design, accessibility, regular assessment of conditions, emergency planning, and managing of documentation.



Due to lack of funding, the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities is currently available only as an archived site. As of September 1, 2012 no new content will be added or updates made. We regret the need to take such steps, but should funding become available, we look forward to reinvigorating NCEF and providing this valuable resource to the educational facilities community.

If you have questions or are an organization or company wishing to support the continued operation of this industry recognized resource please contact Institute President Henry Green (, 202-289-7800).