How to Add Circuit Play to Your Playground
Circuit play is the concept that a playground shouldn’t have a clear beginning or end. Instead, they should be circular in nature and feature seamless transitions between events. Play should be continuous and motivate kids to try a different route each time. Whether they go forwards, backwards, left, or right, there will be something new and exciting to discover!
In a playground with circuit play, children are free to come up with their own scenarios and rules. This fosters cognitive development through creative thinking and problem-solving. There are also no defined play paths. Rather, the child decides how they’d like to interact with the equipment – whether this be staying in their comfort zone, or taking a risk.
Chances are, most parks that you visit have some element of circuit play. But, this isn’t by accident. Someone had to think of linking activities together in a way that accommodates a variety of skill levels. Simply being aware of what circuit play is, and why it’s important, can make you a better playground designer. So, let’s see what all the hype is about!
Why Circuit Play Is Important
Encourages Playground Games
Popular recess games, like Grounders and Lava Tag, benefit greatly from playgrounds with circuit play. Kids can run from one end of the playground to the other, without touching the ground and going “out.” Circuits also provide plenty of opportunity to maneuver and change directions. This makes it quick and easy to get away from the person who’s “it.”
Another way to encourage games is through surfacing design. PIP rubber and rubber tiles can be customized with designs to give kids ideas for activities. This can range from directional arrows in an obstacle course, to classic games like hop scotch and four square. Likewise, surfacing can also be used to support a theme and inspire meaningful pretend play.
Variety of Play Paths
When designing a playground, it’s important to create a variety of play paths for each skill level. If there’s a common activity, like a play panel, ask yourself: How would a 2 year-old access it? How about a 5 year-old, or 12 year-old? Different age groups need different degrees of challenge, which is where circuit play comes in.
Toddlers will benefit from easier forms of linkage, like bridges, ramps, and steppers. When they’re ready, they may try more challenging types of circuit play. Older children and teens will respond best to components that have an element of risk-taking. In particular, overhead climbers and obstacle courses are great for parks with a ninja warrior theme.
Inspires Pretend Play
So far, we’ve talked about the many physical benefits of circuit play. And while these benefits are important, they’re not the only ones to consider. Circuit play is also great for inspiring pretend play, which is beneficial for kids’ creativity and social development. Especially for children with anxiety, pretend play is an excellent icebreaker to make new friends.
What pretend play looks like varies from one piece of equipment to the next. Kids can swing through the jungle on monkey bars, or unleash their inner athlete on obstacle courses. Similarly, bridges are great for pretend castles, while log climbers are ideal for nature play. No matter what equipment you choose, kids will find joy in all of them!
Ways to Incorporate Circuit Play
Decks and Ramps
Playground decks come in many shapes and sizes, including squares, triangles, and hexagons. This makes it easy to create varying levels of challenge on each side. Older kids may opt to climb up a fireman’s pole, while younger kids may choose a simple step climber instead. In addition, wheelchair ramps may be connected to decks to create an accessible route.
A common misconception of ramps is that they only provide access to one level. But that’s not true! When designed in a circuit, ramps can reach decks up to 8’ tall. This makes higher-level components, like tunnel slides, fully accessible. Funtopia Playground in Elizabethtown, KY is an excellent example of a playground that uses ramps to gain height.
If you’re looking at adding a challenge to your playground, try overhead climbers! Loved by kids, teens, and adults alike, overhead climbers offer a variety of health benefits. They’re great for building upper body strength, gross motor skills, and hand-eye coordination. When placed in a circuit, they utilize the vertical space of your playground to link activities together.
Overhead climbers can be classified as either static or dynamic. Static overheads, like monkey bars and challenge ladders, stay still while children are climbing them. Conversely, dynamic overheads move during climbing, and include things like gliders, trapeze rings, and fun wheels. Unlike static overheads, these climbers require extra caution, and are more suited to the 5-12 age group.
Also known as “deck-to-deck” climbers, bridge climbers are an effective tool to link play events together. These types of climbers can either join play structures horizontally, or connect decks of varying heights. When using bridge climbers, consider making an “easy” and “challenging” route to the top of the structure. This will make sure that all kids feel included, regardless of ability.
Generally speaking, bridge climbers include items like pedways, suspension bridges, and ladder climbers. But, in recent years, they’ve also grown to include more risky components. Take, for instance, the Extreme Generation Skyways by Miracle Recreation. Inspired by rope courses, Skyways push the limits of play into the sky for an unforgettable aerial adventure. Just be sure to watch your step!
Balance Beams and Stepping Stones
Bring gymnastics to your playground with balance beams! This classic playground staple develops kids’ balance and coordination with every step they take. Available in several styles, our balance beams are designed to fit a wide range of themes. Our Curved Balance Beam adds a challenging twist, while our Stacked Timber Balance Beam is great for natural parks.
Stepping stones, on the other hand, require a bit more coordination between each step. However, they’re good to use in shorter distances where a balance beam would be too long. Kids can pretend they’re a frog, jumping from lily pad to lily pad. Or, take things up a notch and use stepping stones as your last resort during a game of Lava Tag!
Logs and Stumps
If your playground incorporates a natural theme, you can add logs and stumps to link play events together. These rustic components build balance and agility, while also opening the doors for pretend play. Imagine running through the jungle, or going on a mountain expedition. The possibilities are truly endless when you let your imagination run wild!
Aside from their circuit play benefits, logs and stumps are also great at providing seating on your playground. This is a good idea for kids who need a break from physical play, or just a quiet place to read. In fact, many schools actually prefer using logs and stumps for their outdoor classrooms, compared to traditional desks.
Perfect for the 5-12 age group, obstacle courses inspire kids to take risks and push their limits. With a mix of running, jumping, and climbing, obstacle courses are ideal for parks with a parkour theme. Equally important, obstacle courses promote positive social development. Kids can hold friendly competitions and race each other to the finish line!
Through their Champions Trek line, Miracle Recreation offers several riveting obstacle course events. From navigating the Chaos Climber, to conquering the Tapered Tower, kids will build their speed, agility, and endurance. If that’s not enough, the Champions Trek line is composed entirely of freestanding equipment. This makes it an extremely versatile option that can be placed virtually anywhere.
How Accessible Is Circuit Play?
With the right playground design, there are many ways to make circuit play accessible for children in wheelchairs and mobility devices. The most obvious way is through ramps, which provide a quick and easy way to get from one event to the next. However, adding multiple ramps can get costly, which is why other alternatives should also be considered.
Another way to make circuit play accessible is through parallel play. When designing an obstacle course, consider creating an alternate route for wheelchair users. Include overhead events at accessible heights, like monkey bars and trapeze rings. Also, incorporate ground level obstacles that kids will need to swerve around, like pylons. A great example is Jake’s Field of Dreams in Wentzville, MO.
Parallel play is great for two main reasons. One, it gets kids of all abilities playing together. And two, it allows parents or caretakers with a disability to join the fun. This can be a very powerful moment, especially if they’re used to waiting on the sidelines. It’s a small design consideration that has a big impact – so don’t overlook it!