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Selecting a Community Playground Theme

Posted by May Recreation Content Team on March 16, 2021

Children and playgrounds have gone hand-in-hand since the first playground appearance in the United States in 1886. Unfortunately, today, kids are opting for more screen time than in-person play, some spending as much as seven hours a day on tablets or smartphones once they reach the teen years. Some children even as young as six months are using screen time in place of physical play.

Unfortunately, this propensity to replace physical outdoor play with inside screen time means kids are not getting their recommended 60 minutes a day engaging in physical activity—based on the United States Department of Health and Human Services daily recommendations. Thankfully, there is a way to make playgrounds more appealing, even to the modern generation and break them away from electronic play, getting them outdoors.

This strategy involves selecting engaging playground themes to entice more involvement. Here are a few great options to consider:

Selecting a Community Playground Theme


Castle-themed playgrounds encourage children to charge the gates, riding their imaginary steed, traversing the make-believe moat. This theme encourages imaginative play of all sorts and invites many varieties of make-believe games. 


Planes, trains and automobiles are more than just the title of an iconic movie, they also make a great playground theme. Playground equipment could look like space shuttles, fire trucks, trains, cars, etc. Children can act out various behaviors they see in the adult world, like rushing to a fire to put it out in their fire engine or blasting off into space in their space shuttles. 

Pirate Ship

Another popular playground theme is the pirate ship theme, which encourages kids to hoist their sail and brave the raging seas while searching for long-lost treasure. It could include a replica of a ship itself, complete with a skull and crossbones or simply be nautical themed or treasure-based with lots of hidey-holes for adventurous pirates to explore. 

Farmyard DSC_0411

Barnyard-themed playground pieces with various types of farm equipment like kid-sized tractors or wagons are also a great idea. Featuring cows that graze around a pasture or other farm animals, perhaps that kids can ride, welcomes engagement. Various techniques can be used to create this farm feel like using wood-grain finishes or barn windows. 


Since many playgrounds are outdoors, combining the space with nature makes great sense. Leafy rooftops, wood-grain panels, rock climbers and more can be used to create a rustic feel that fully embraces nature. This theme can encourage explorers of all ages to try to climb a mountain or a tree and follow an imaginary map to get to their next destination or perhaps to discover some unknown land. Since this theme incorporates elements of nature into the design itself, this can be a great option when budget concerns are a factor. Communities can often utilize some of what is already present and only add playground features, incorporating bushes, landscape and even trees into the overall design theme, which can be a more cost-effective option.  

Playground play should be something that all communities encourage and invest in to promote engagement and physical play. Having a cool theme can entice even the most cynical kid to try it out and hopefully pull them away from their electronic device. A good theme also gives kids prompts from which to build their adventures and add to their imaginative worlds, making role-play and make-believe that much more enjoyable. Choosing any of the themes outlined above is a great option for a new community playground. 

Topics: Playground Design & Planning Childhood Unplugged

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