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A Short Guide To Early Years Playground Equipment

For young children, the benefits of time outdoors are vast, which is why playgrounds are such vital spaces for little ones.

What you may not know is that there are ways to enhance that time and playground equipment is a great example of that. However, standard playground equipment is not specifically designed for very young children, whereas early years playground equipment is. It’s perfectly designed to accommodate children up to around 5 years old in various ways. Let’s take a closer look:

Encouraging Physical Activity

Early years playground equipment is designed to encourage children to be outdoors in nature, which has numerous benefits for them. In addition, by being bright, inviting, interesting and age appropriate, it helps them to engage with their environment and move more, helping them to reach that 3 hours a day of physical activity recommended for this age group.

Managed Risk

With ‘normal’ sized playground equipment there is age and size appropriate play available, such as swings, hand bars, full slides and climbing frames. These encourage managed risk for older children, so they know they can push themselves physically, but in a safe way. With early years equipment there are also designs to help encourage managed risk. Balancing logs or balancing planks, for example, are low so the child feels they are being daring, but if they do fall off the log, it’s very safe.

Appropriate Sizing

Children within the early years age group are able to safely enjoy playground equipment that is appropriate for their height. Early years adventure towers, for example, have many of the same features as full-sized equipment, but at a reduced size, so the child has full access to the tower but with minimal risk and maximum accessibility for them. It’s also important to note that any climbing handles or ‘rocks’ are sized to accommodate smaller hands and feet, for easier access and use of these features.

Imaginative Play

Imaginative play is known to provide an exceptional range of benefits for early years children, including:

  • Better ability to concentrate and focus
  • An ability to understand reading materials more
  • Exploration and expression of emotions
  • Exploration of reasoning and cognitive skills
  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced bad behavior
  • Better emotional awareness
  • Improved creativity
  • Experiencing decision making and consequences in a safe environment
  • It’s fun!

Children who are under the age of five can use a range of early years playground equipment like imagination & role play shelters, Let’s Pretend costume racks and mud kitchens in a playground to encourage imaginative play. Older children still have imaginations to use of course, but with their learning and development stage their imagination might be applied in different ways. In comparison, younger children are still actively learning and exploring imagination skills, which is why early years equipment that encourages imaginative play is so important.


Often, early years playground equipment will be designed to accommodate multiple children at a time. Whilst children will still happily play on their own, in their early years they are developing social skills and learning to play with other children. So early years equipment will not only encourage imaginative play and physical activity, but it will encourage multiple children to do this together, to learn to share and hopefully create games and play together too.

Messy Play

Lots of early years equipment is based around messy play. Messy play is highly important for young children because it provides stimulating hands-on play. It encourages creativity, discovery and helps build motor-control, foundational academic concepts and problem-solving too. You’ll often find items like a Muddy Monster play pit, nursery sand pits and mud kitchens in an early years outdoor space because they actively support and encourage safe, messy play in the playground.

Building Blocks

Lots of early years playgrounds contain building blocks of different sizes and shapes. This is because these kinds of items have numerous benefits to children under 5 including (but not limited to);

  • Building cognitive abilities
  • Learning how to identify/ describe colors, shapes and sizes
  • Improves foundational academic abilities
  • Learning about balance
  • Developing reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • Learning how to take turns with other children
  • Learning how to (on some level) create a goal and work towards that goal

Which Early Years Equipment Will You Put In Your Playground?

Whichever early years equipment you choose, by opting for high-quality items designed for under-5’s you can be sure the little ones under your care truly get the most from their playground time.






Jeff Campbell