Physical Environment

structure for play more than just the physical aspect of play play bridge

The Integral Play Framework reminds us that there is more than just the physical aspect of play and Simply Play aims to go beyond merely the physical elements of a play space to look to the inherent play value of a space. However in designing play spaces or enhancing and animating a playful space it is frequently those physical interventions which can affect the sensory or emotional experience with in that space.

Outdoor play

The environment has an enormous impact on the quality of the play experience. This is why we choose in our free time to travel to spaces which appeal to our own unique need for playful interaction, whether the beach, the hillside, the go cart track, the ski slopes, the woods, the empty car park with our skateboard or the empty city streets to free run. This is also why, as those who have the potential to develop environment for children, who have less choice about how and where they play we need to understand play and support it accordingly.

The physical environment might be affected by all manner of interventions or design changes which, whether incidental, or permanent, resource based or fixed, can impact on the physicality of a space and the Play Value. Anything from different coloured lighting, the introduction of sound, planting, topography all offer different impacts on the physical environment. In Simply Play we ask; Are there opportunities to change the space? Is it varied, interesting? Are there tools to use and objects to move around? all these help us to consider elements which then enhance the play experience beyond the purely physical.

In the Design for Play (Shackell et. al. 2008) guidance it states that

“Successful play spaces are designed to fit their surroundings and enhance the local environment, complementing attractive spaces and enhancing poorer environments”

The relationship between any equipment, resources or other included play elements and the environment withing which it is placed is part of the story which makes a successful playable space. One which is high in play value.

Below is an image of a large seesaw in situ at a large country park in the south of England. In itself it offers playability enhancing the play offer and offering a different experience. What makes it more successful is its proximity to the dry ditch alongside which has become a refuge and play space for those children who stop a while, a play space occurring naturally in the country park with bushes and small trees in which to play and hide. A play opportunity signposted to visitors, children and parents alike by the equipment placed there.