The importance of free play in aquatic spaces
Free play is Important for children’s development. Exploring and learning can often mean that kids are taking risks and jumping to, and sliding down fire poles on playgrounds, climbing equipment, balancing on sidewalk curbs, jumping off swings, etc. Playing enables kids to problem solve, think critically and to create. We see these examples when kids are playing with Lego sets, playing house, and building forts.
Just as playgrounds have evolved, splash pads are now having their turn, and quickly are becoming a very popular method of free play. These free play areas really only grab the attention of kids if there is at least a little bit of “risk” involved. Our goal in this industry is to encourage kids to explore, learn and play, and let their imaginations run wild. A good play space does have a certain level of risk to it. We want to provide them with a great play space, while also providing them with the safest possible environment.
Another huge part of a child’s development is their comfort level with water. This relationship with water is typically developed at a young age, and can stay with them for life. As we’ve come to expect playgrounds to include some kind of safety surfacing, we are starting to see through industry practices and guest interactions that some kind of safety surfacing on splash pads and water parks is preferred as well.
Too often these fun spaces themed with waterfalls, pirate ships and fountains, are laid upon a blank canvas of abrasive concrete that’s just begging for some kind of inspirational design. I can definitely tell you as a parent, who usually spends my time walking around and supervising my kids, as well as has an ongoing battle with plantar fasciitis, that some kind of forgiving safety surfacing on top of the concrete, is alway welcomed with open arms.
The flooring for splash pads, and water parks alike are often the biggest canvases to show off inspiring and playful features and can transform the entire area into playful exciting environments and create a better experience for its guests.
All this being said, Free Play is only as free as children feel while engaging with the aquatic environment. Do guests feel they can tumble to the ground without fear of a bruised knee? Do they feel they can jump around without losing their footing and slipping? Do they feel confident when playing that they aren’t going to get injured and can just focus on the excitement? Do parents have the freedom to be able to turn the other way without being worried?
The key takeaway here should be that play should never be painful. We should always do our best to encourage imaginative play, while also mitigating risk wherever possible to make our guests’ experience as good as possible.