Redo the Playground

By Curt Uebelhor, November 29, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

450 minutes for classroom activities


Middle school students have moved beyond the playground, but still have memories of spinning on the merry go round, bobbing up and down on the seesaws and climbing all over the jungle gym. This lesson uses those recollections and the design process to have the students design or rather redesign one of three classic pieces of playground equipment; the merry go round, the seesaw and the jungle gym.

National Standards


Students will:
  • differentiate the steps in the design process
  • take existing designs and formulate additions or changes to these designs to improve them
  • refine ideas and translate into visual form
  • communicate their ideas to  their clients


Research and Design handout computer with internet access LCD projector (vintage playground equipment photos)


  • sketchbooks
  • graphite pencils
  • 12” x 18” 90 lb. white drawing paper
  • colored pencil set
  • watercolor set
  • 18” ruler
  • handout with assignment details
  • variety of watercolor brushes
  • examples of student work (if possible)
  • print outs of images used in slide presentation


  • brainstorming: the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem
  • critique: an act of criticizing; a critical estimate or discussion <a critique of the designer’s work>
  • design process: following a set of creative problem solving steps to arrive at a solution to the problem
  • jungle gym: a structure of vertical and horizontal bars for use by children at play
  • merry go round: a simple, child-powered rotating platform with bars or handles to which children can cling while riding
  • see saw: the plank or apparatus so used in which two children or groups of children ride on opposite ends of a plank balanced in the middle so that one end goes up as the other goes down


Session 1: Review the Challenge (one class session)

1. The teacher will introduce the project using the Research and Design Guide handout: The students will be redesigning/reworking playground equipment. The client will be defined as five- to ten-year-old males and females.  Discussion will address the need for reworked playground designs.

2. Teacher will present a slide show of “old” playground equipment and current equipment, focusing on three pieces of equipment: merry-go-rounds, seesaws, and jungle gyms. A list of features of the individual equipment will be generated by each student for their reworked design. Safety features will be stressed.

<span >3. Grading rubric will be passed out and discussed.  4. Students will be instructed to contemplate the assignment for the next day’s class.  Examples of student work (if available) will be displayed.

Session 2: Investigate the Problem (one day)

1. Students will break up into pre-determined small groups to interview “clients” (fellow students) on their needs/wants for new playground equipment. This session will be videotaped for other classes to reference.

2. A short video of playgrounds from the various ”feeder” grade schools to ours will be played to “jog” the students memories.

Session 3: Generate Ideas and Edit & Develop Ideas (one day)

1. Students will individually brainstorm ideas for changes or adaptations that will improve the specific piece of playground equipment they have chosen and list these ideas in their sketchbook (lists will be turned in).

2. Ideas from brainstorming with the most potential will be developed further.  A prototype will be developed through rough sketches of playground equipment with improvements and a written description will be generated (homework if necessary).

Session 4: Share & Evaluate Ideas (two days)

1. Students will present short one to two minute presentations to classmates followed by a timed suggestion and critique period (positively stated).   Overall participation in suggestion and critique period will be voluntary but ALL students will offer at least one comment during this time.

Session 5: Finalize Solutions (two days)

1. Students will use information gathered from suggestion/critique session to refine or reframe their ideas and will then draw their design in pencil on the 12” x 18” paper provided.

2. Following completion of the pencil drawing, students will use colored pencils and watercolors to finish their playground equipment. The drawing will be detailed with descriptions of specific features included with arrow pointing to corresponding areas of the drawing. A typed list of the improvements will also be turned in (done outside of class).

Session 6: Present Final Solutions (two days)

1. Students will present a one to two minute presentation to class highlighting their improvements on their large drawing. They will describe how and why these features will appeal to their client.

2. Teacher will sum up assignment and allow students to secretly vote for the designs they feel: best met the criteria for the assignment, had the best drawing of their design, and which design they would recommend to their former grade school to purchase from the class selections.  Winners will be announced at a later date.

3. ALL work will be displayed with awards attached to individual winners.


Assessment will be done using the attached rubric.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Crosscurricular activities could include writing advertising copy for an ad campaign for the playground equipment designs. Students would combine their drawings with other materials to produce video ad campaigns.
  1. Great way to to highlight the connection between design-based thinking and safety issues when updating a playground. I would like to maybe see an additional piece on the aesthetics of the overall design as well. Possible eco-friendly adaptations too.

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