Playing with Playground Design

By Erin Jacobs, October 31, 2007

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • School Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two 60 minute class periods


Students will explore the role of play in community architecture.  Together, groups will design, test, and build model play spaces for local neighborhoods.

National Standards


Students will be able to:
  • describe the role of architects and designers
  • describe the role of play in community
  • assess pros and cons of current play structure
  • interview and design collaboratively to meet identified community needs/wants
  • construct models using basic geometric forms such as cones, cylinders, sphers and various prisms


Google Images-Boundless Playgrounds  


  • 9x12 paper for base
  • assorted colored paper strips
  • folding tool
  • Elmer’s glue
  • paper folding techniques chart
  • scissors
  • hole punches
  • samples of playgrounds
  • interview questionnaire


  • recreational architecture: the design and planning of recreational spaces and equipment
  • pleat: any of various types of fold formed by doubling material back upon itself and then pressing or stitching or otherwise fixing into shape
  • three-dimensional: including length, width, and depth or height
  • looping: a repeating series of circular shapes
  • curling: shaping material into a curved shape
  • fringing: the cutting of the edges of material to give it a slightly ruffled appearance
  • universal design: the creation of products and environments meant to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible


DAY ONE Introduce lesson: 1.  Say, “Today we will review types of architecture and learn more about ‘play’ in our community.  We will be exploring recreational architecture by looking at pictures and thinking about our favorite places to have fun.  We will also be working in teams to interview members of our student community about where they like to play.  We will use this information to design and build models of play spaces.” Brainstorm: 1.  Say, “Think of a time when you visited a shared community space and had fun playing in that space.  Was there a structure?  Were other people present?  What made that place fun for many people?  Who do you think created this space and how did they do it?” 2.  Students will sketch their space and then record a description of sensory information they remember from that space (smells, tastes, sounds, textures, sights). Partner Share/ Sketch: 1.  Students will work in pairs to share descriptions of their places.  Each pair should pay attention to similarities and differences in their descriptions.  Students should record any patterns they find in their descriptions.  Ask students to consider how they can take the best of both of these places and create a new place.  Partner sketch. 2.  Teams should share sketches as a large group. Paper-folding workshop: 1.  Explain that we will be working with the information they have gathered in teams as well as interviews they will be collecting for a take-home assignment to design "ideal playspaces" that can be enjoyed by a community of people.  We will be using paper folding techniques to create models. 2.  Demonstrate and practice pleating, folding, curling, fringing, and modeling basic geometric forms.  Make images of play equipment available for students to reference.  Discuss the forms that are being combined to create each structure.  Allow time for independent practice with paper cutting/folding techniques. Re-group/Close: 1.  Display a chart labeled "Play is. . .".  Ask students to think back to their brainstorming and partner sharing to come up with a definition.  Students should write the definitions on post-its to add to the chart. Take-home Assignment: 1.  Students should conduct a simple interview about play spaces (see handout) with another student and an adult they know well.  The student could be a younger/older brother or sister, a reading buddy, or a friend.  The adult could be a parent, grandparent, caregiver, mentor, teacher, etc.  Both the student and the adult should be asked the same interview questions. DAY TWO Introduction: Review learning objectives :
  • to assume the role of designers and architects to create models of playspaces
  • to deepen understanding of  the role of play in community.
1.  Ask students to study their take-home interviews.  How did the needs/ wants of the adult differ from the needs/wants of the child?  How can both needs be met in a good recreational design? Forming Expectations: 1.  Group students into building teams and ask groups to consider what a good design and model will consist of.  Each group should state their design problem (For example: to create a recreational space and/or structure that will meet _____________ need for a community) and three criteria for success. Building team meeting: 1.  Each team will complete an organizer for their building (client, need, proposed solution).  Groups should list all clients, needs and proposed solutions from their interviews. Group construction time: 1.  Each group will select materials and begin work on their collaborative design.  Students should be reminded that their final models should be portable for group critiques and display (mounted on paper or built in components). 2.  Circulate and support students will structural challenges as necessary. Wrap-Up: 1.  Post team meeting notes (design plans with client, need, proposed solution) and ask students to match models with design plans. 2.  Each group should present their design briefly and describe how they met the design needs of their clients to create a recreational space and/or structure.


  • Describe three possible solutions your group considered.  Explain how you arrived at your final solution?
  • List three things you needed to understand in order to create a solution?
  • Describe the steps you took to create your final model?
  • What is the most important thing you learned by solving this problem?
    Self Rating Scale: Process I developed my idea for this problem by interviewing, experimenting, and planning. 1     2     3     4      5 Product I used materials and techniques effectively to communicate my idea. 1    2    3      4      5 Originality I interviewed, experimented, and collaborated to create an original solution. 1    2     3    4      5 Teacher Assessment Planning: 5 - Purposefully tried ideas and approaches, demonstrated extensive planning, executed a plan to create a solution 4 - Investigated sufficient ideas and approaches, demonstrated sufficient planning, created a solution 3 - Tried some ideas and approaches, demonstrated some planning, created a partially successful solution 2 - Tried few or no ideas and approaches, little experimentation or planning, incomplete solution 1 - No evidence of investigation, idea development, experimentation or planning, no solution attempted Originality: 5 - High levels of questioning and problem solving, generated multiple solutions 4 - Sufficient questioning and problem solving, generated sufficient solutions 3 - Some questioning and problem solving evident, partially developed solutions 2 - Minimal effort in developing questions and solutions, minimal effort given to developing new ideas 1- No evidence of originality or idea development Product: 5 - Exceeds expectations in technique, idea development, and craftsmanship 4 - Demonstrates good technique and use of materials, well crafted, and expresses ideas clearly 3 - Shows use of some techniques, adequate craftsmanship 2 - Shows very few uses of techniques, poor craftsmanship 1 - Shows no use of techniques, poor craftsmanship, does not communicate ideas clearly

Enrichment Extension Activities

Considering public places for "play" encourages students to think about the various ages, abilities, and interests of a community of people.  In designing for a wide audience, students are forced to analyze the needs and wants of many people and synthesize components into a collaborative solution.  "Play" is also a universally important part of communities and cultures around the world.  Students could expand their understanding of play through the study of games and traditions of other cultures and times.

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