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Creating Extraordinary Playgrounds

What are the key elements in designing an extraordinary playground? What tactics can be implemented to ensure your new playground attracts local families, and even those from neighbouring communities? In this course, we’ll explore a wide range of successful and remarkable playgrounds.

We’ll examine how playgrounds integrate within larger spaces, how theming can make an impact, and how the addition of unique equipment or surfacing can transform a playground into something special. We’ll also dive into why playgrounds designed for all ages and abilities attract families from far over.

By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:

Discuss how features like water play, height, and unique equipment contribute to creating a standout playground.
Recognize subtle details that can elevate a typical playground into an exceptional one.
Understand how playgrounds that appeal to a broad audience often stand out as extraordinary.

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About this course

What will I learn?

What does extraordinary mean? The dictionary defines extraordinary as “very unusual, special, unexpected, or strange.” While we won’t be exploring strange playgrounds in this course, we will cover ones that push the envelope of design. Playgrounds that cut through the clutter, stand apart from the rest, and give us ideas for our own parks.

In this course, Mara Kaplan of Let Kids Play will outline the design principles that make a playground truly extraordinary. In addition, she’ll also explore nine playgrounds across the U.S. that put these principles into practice.

  1. Gathering Place (Tulsa, OK): A five-acre natural playground with accessible ramps, sensory play, and a custom animal theme.
  2. Woodland Discovery Playground (Memphis, TN): This playground features an arbor path that links six distinct play areas together.
  3. Container Park (Las Vegas, NV): A gigantic treehouse structure and games lawn placed next to a shopping center.
  4. Clemyjontri Park (Fairfax, VA): This playground uses colorful surfacing to divide up a playground, fitness area, and pumptrack.
  5. Lazy Dayz Playground (Owensboro, TN): A playground that’s both natural and inclusive, with ramped structures and treehouse towers.
  6. Jake’s Field of Dreams (Wentzville, MO): An all-abilities Unlimited Play playground with a custom sports and baseball theme.
  7. Imagination Playground (New York City, NY): Children create their own play experience with loose parts like building blocks.
  8. Neptune Park (Saratoga Springs, NV): The highlight of this playground is a 30 ft. tall geometric rope climber.
  9. Artists at Play (Seattle, WA): A collaboration with local artists to create a playground full of wonder and creativity.

Who is my instructor?

Mara Kaplan is the Founder of Let Kids Play, a consulting firm that partners with manufacturers, communities, and parents to develop projects and strategies that provide optimal play opportunities for children.

Recognized nationally as an expert in designing play spaces, Mara is a committed advocate for inclusive play. As an educator and parent to a child with a disability, she holds a 25-year track record in designing, building, and managing both indoor and outdoor play environments. Her expertise also extends to play spaces and toys for children with and without disabilities.

In 1995, Mara, and five other parents raising children with disabilities, identified the significance of play in their children’s learning. They were determined to build a space where children of varying abilities could play together, leading to the founding of the Center for Creative Play. Mara served as its Executive Director for seven years before embarking on her journey with Let Kids Play.

Mara’s educational background includes a degree in elementary education and a minor in gifted education from Indiana University (Bloomington, IN). She later acquired her MBA, specializing in non-profit management, from Boston University.

Mara’s endeavors have earned her the Shore-Whitehill award for her efforts in enhancing the lives of people with special needs. Her work has been showcased in publications such as, the Wall Street Journal, Be the Change, and the Social Enterprise Reporter.

Who is this course for?

The great thing about our courses is that they’re designed for all levels of experience. Whether you’re a parent on a PAC planning your first playground, or a landscape architect with decades of experience, there’s always something new to learn. Plus, our courses offer a quick way to stay up to date with the most recent trends in playground design.

Our courses take into account multiple groups and audiences, all of whom have different needs for their playground. A few groups that will benefit from taking our courses include:

  • Parents: Parent volunteers will learn the most important aspects to consider when planning their playground project.
  • Teachers: Teachers will learn about the educational benefits of play and how to incorporate them on the playground.
  • Landscape Architects: Architects will learn innovative design ideas that they may use in their upcoming projects.
  • Parks & Recreation: Parks professionals will learn about recent advances in safety, inclusion, and sustainability.
  • Property Managers: Property managers will learn how playgrounds can attract families to live in their neighbourhood.
Mara Kaplan, course instructor for "Creating Extraordinary Playgrounds."

Mara Kaplan

Founder, Let Kids Play

Mara Kaplan is a nationally recognized expert in inclusive play, with 25 years of experience designing outdoor environments. She is the driving force behind Let Kids Play, a consulting firm that works with parents and communities to create accessible play spaces.

More Courses?

We’re glad that you enjoyed this course! If you’re looking to learn more about play, check out our full collection of course videos.

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Playgrounds 101

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