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Complete Guide to Creating Aquatic Playgrounds for Children

creating a aquatic playground guide

As the temperatures rise, parents everywhere are on the hunt for creative new ways to keep their kids entertained during the hot summer months. When you live somewhere prone to high summer temperatures, finding a safe and fun way to play outdoors can be difficult because of the sun and heat. In recent years, community centers, parks and even daycares have moved away from traditional pools toward the splash pad concept.

Aquatic playgrounds are also known as “splash parks” or “splash pads.”  They are a water park and recreational play space designed for interactive water play. Splash pads usually contain some combination of ground sprays and above-ground water features such as buckets, misters or slides. These interactive aquatic play areas have no standing water and allow children to run around and play in a fun, safe and inclusive environment.

Aquatic playgrounds are becoming increasingly popular with children, parents and community advocates because they’re safer than a pool, easier to maintain and often free or cost less than a pool membership or a day pass to a major water park. Additionally, splash pads are the perfect community recreational attraction that can help bring people together. When families gather for playtime at their community splash pad, parents begin to talk, children make friends, and everyone leaves feeling like they truly belong in their community.

If your business or community is considering developing a new splash pad — or updating an older one — you likely have a lot of questions about water park installation, as well as construction costs. Here are some significant things to consider as you start planning your aquatic recreation project.

aquatic playground layout and design

Aquatic Playground Layout and Design

Assessing your projects intended purpose, audience and budget will help as you begin to develop a layout and design for your aquatic playground. Working with an experienced Adventure Play Expert is a smart way to develop the perfect design concept and streamline your project. Our experienced team members bring their enthusiasm and expertise so your great ideas become a reality. We can walk you through the entire process — from developing a concept to identifying the mechanical systems you’ll need to keep the equipment operating — but even before you begin working with an Adventure Play Expert, you’ll need to answer a few questions:

1. What Is Your Budget?

Start brainstorming your project budget and available funding options. This will help determine the size of your splash pad, as well as the products that fit within that price range. The initial stages of planning for your aquatic playground is the perfect time to assess if any grants or sponsorship contributions are available for your project. Check with community foundations, local philanthropists, state and local governments- many of which offer grants to registered 501c3 organizations, starting businesses and public works departments. Also consider the costs of any additional amenities such as shade structures, picnic tables or benches that you would want to include in the overall scope of your outdoor recreation project.

2. How Much Space Do You Have?

Creating an elaborate splash pad is a noble undertaking, but before you create an expansive design, you need to know how much space you have available. Will you be installing the aquatic play equipment at an existing daycare or business? Keep in mind that your splash pad project will require access to electrical, a dedicated water supply, and storm drain within 10′ of the aquatic manifold. Choosing a space without easy access to these required items could potentially lead to a significant expense in additional construction costs. Building codes, permitting restrictions and construction limitations can all lead to having a smaller project space to work with. Space conscious aquatic elements such as ground sprays and rain umbrellas maximize play value while minimizing the projects overall footprint. Will your aquatic playground be indoors or outdoors? Are you starting from scratch and incorporating a splash pad into the overall design of a new park or playground area? Then you may be able to spread out and include a larger variety of equipment such as dumping buckets and spray rings.

Once you know your space constraints, then you can select the equipment that fits within those parameters. And remember to factor in the room you’ll need for the mechanical equipment to circulate and filter the water throughout your play space.

3. What Features Do You Want to Include In Your Aquatic Playground?

Designing an aquatic park or splash pad should be done in two phases — the conceptual phase where ideas are created and honed, and then the mechanical phase where you figure out how to practically build and apply the concepts you’ve designed.

Some splash pads simply offer a series of inground spray features. Similar to the concept of a fountain or sprinkler, these elements are located at or below grade level and spray with a wide variety of different water effects. In some cases, the water spray may be strong, sending streams of water high into the air. Children love to run and spin through the water streams, cooling off and having fun at the same time. In other cases, the water spray may be softer, creating gentle streams of water perfect for toddlers to approach. Both of these make an excellent environment for sensory play, allowing children to touch and experience the feel of different spray patterns and water pressures.

More elaborate splash pads expand beyond traditional ground spray elements to include above-ground features, such as high-quality water cannons, dumping buckets, or flower showers. Depending on how much use you expect the water park to have and the type of business or location can help determine what grade of above-ground features you should select. Light commercial features are constructed from PVC piping and are best suited for locations such as a daycare where the aquatic playground area is enclosed and not intended for public use. Commercial-grade aquatic components are constructed from heavy-duty stainless steel and are ideal for HOA and city park projects that are in high traffic open areas. Both levels of water park features are available in a wide variety of bold colors, sizes, and designs.

Some clients choose what splash pad features they want to incorporate based on a chosen theme. From the colors on the surface to the aquatic play equipment, a theme can be a fun and unique way to attract children and visitors to your space over and over again. When you work with a professional aquatic design company — such as Adventure Playground Systems — they can assist in choosing the best water park features for your splash pad, as well as helping determine space, cost and infrastructure requirements.

4. What Type of Aquatic Playground Do You Want?

Once you’ve determined how much space you have to work with and what features you want to include, you can select the right water management system for your splash pad. Here are the three main types of aquatic playgrounds to choose from:

  1. Drain-Away System: Drain Away splash parks are the most common type of aquatic playground, accounting for about 75% of splash parks. In a drain away water park, water is used only once and drains out of the water park area after use similar to a sprinkler system. Because the water comes directly from your water source and does not recirculate through the aquatic playground, flow-through water parks offer reliable water quality. This type of aquatic playground is more budget-conscious, making it popular for daycares and other small establishments.
  2. Recirculating: Recirculating aquatic playgrounds recycle and reuse water, and account for about 25% of splash parks. Recirculating water systems are more expensive and can cost 15-20k more than flow-through water parks, but save on water costs in the long term. With a recirculating water system, the business or municipality is responsible for water quality and may be held liable if a child gets sick. This type of water management system is similar to a traditional pool installation that requires a large water tank and chemical upkeep. Ideally, you should have a person on staff who understands aquatic pool chemistry that can manage upkeep and maintenance for this type of project.
  3. Hybrid style: A newer type of aquatic playground, hybrid style splash parks use water from a water supply and then collect that water in a tank after it flows through the park. Water collected in the drainage tank can then be used for irrigation. This type of aquatic playground is most popular for municipalities and can be beneficial to the community, especially in regions that receive little rainfall.

When choosing the right water management system for your aquatic playground, consider the costs and benefits of each type. For larger water parks that use a lot of water, investing in a recirculating system may pay off in the long run by reducing water expenses. For smaller splash parks, a simple flow-through system is often the best choice. In dry regions, like Texas, a hybrid style municipal water park can be an asset for the community.

Things to Keep in Mind When Designing an Aquatic Playground

As you’re designing your water park, there’s more than just layout and fun features to consider. You’ll also want to consider the logistics of keeping the water park safe and comfortable so children and their parents will want to visit again and again.

1. How Will You Keep Kids Safe?

One of the greatest appeals of a splash park is that it’s much safer than a pool. There’s very little — if any — standing water, and the play surfaces are engineered so children won’t slip and fall as they play. For daycares and other businesses, this means liability isn’t a big concern. Compared to a pool, where children must be monitored closely, splash parls pose very few safety risks. Businesses and municipalities do not have to hire additional staff or lifeguards to monitor the water park area, which often means reduced overhead costs.

For parents, splash parks allow for safe, interactive fun. Parents can encourage water play at an aquatic playground without worrying about the hassles or dangers associated with a trip to the pool. Interactive water play also allows for children to develop socialization skills while fostering imagination and learning through play. While their children enjoy playing in the sprinklers and fountains, parents can relax knowing they are developing sensory and mental skills in a safe, fun environment.

Although aquatic playgrounds are already very safe, you can take extra measures to ensure a safe play space for children. When purchasing water park equipment, look for a trusted supplier that offers high-quality equipment. Splash pad equipment that is made from high-quality commercial-grade materials and built to last is less likely to break down or malfunction. Quality aquatic surface materials will prevent slipping and falling, and equipment designed with safety in mind will stand up to regular use.

To encourage safe play, post rules near the splash park so children and their parents are aware of the boundaries and expectations. When everyone knows the rules and strives to follow them, it makes a safer place to play.

2. Who’s Going to Use It?

Determine your target demographic. If you pick a specific age group, you can design your park with that age group in mind. Splash pads are very popular at daycares, especially in the South where temperatures can rise above 100 degrees. Aquatic Playgrounds at daycares should feature equipment appropriate for toddlers and young children. Choose aquatic features with lighter water pressure and smaller dump buckets. Additionally, any climbing features or slides should be the right height for small children.

Splash pads at zoos, community parks or other public spaces may be designed for a broader age range. Municipalities can design water parks with features for both younger and older children. These features may be organized is separate zones to help parents choose the right play area for their children, or mixed to create a more inclusive and diverse play space.

3. Can You Incorporate Shade Into the Play Space?

Water parks and aquatic playgrounds get the most use during the summer months when the sun is bright and the weather is hot. The shade is important for protecting children from becoming dehydrated and the sun’s harmful UV rays. Comfortable shaded areas also provide parents a place to sit and watch their children play. When parents are comfortable, they’ll let their kids stay longer and come back more frequently.

If you’re building an aquatic playground in a location that doesn’t already have shade, consider installing shade structures around the splash park to protect patrons from the outdoor elements. Adventure Playground Systems offers a variety of shade solutions to compliment the design of your aquatic playground, including commercial shade structures and metal shelters.

Durable fabric shade structures are available in a variety of design styles that offer excellent versatility and effectiveness. Shade sails can be installed over sections of your aquatic playground to provide shade and create an eye-catching design feature. Large hip roof shades can cover an entire aquatic playground or seating area for superior sun protection. Utilizing only a few support poles, cantilever shade structures and umbrella shades are perfect solutions for water park areas. Canvas shade structures from Adventure Playground Systems block up to 98 percent of harmful UV rays and can reduce temperatures by as much as 20 degrees.

Sturdy metal shelters are available in different design styles, sizes, and colors to complement your outdoor recreational space. Metal shelters are great for outdoor seating or picnic areas surrounding splash parks and offer exceptional protection from UV rays. Although metal shelters are more of an initial investment than canvas shade structures, they offer extended durability and longevity. Our team of Adventure Play Experts can help you select the perfect metal shelter or shade structure for your aquatic play area.

Choosing Your Surfacing Type

Because water parks and splash pads encourage children to run and move around on the wet surfaces, selecting a safe surface for your water park is essential to constructing a safe, healthy environment for children to play and explore. In 2014, 20,000 children were injured on splash pad surfaces or pool decks, a sobering reminder that water and slippery surfaces don’t mix.

When you’re designing a water park, it’s essential to choose a surface type that will hold up to daily wear and tear but still prevent slips and trips that can result in injury.

Adventure Playground Systems offers multiple surfacing options such as Polysoft which is engineered specifically for aquatic use. Polysoft offers a high anti-slip rating to keep children safe as they run and explore through any aquatic playground. Additionally, it keeps the surface temperature cooler than traditional rubber or concrete.

Polysoft offers a wide range of color options and is resistant to fading, so you’ll enjoy years of bright colors and attractive surfacing at your water park in spite of the bright sunshine.

Adventure Play Systems can help you select the surface that’s right for your aquatic playground, providing years of safe, slip-free enjoyment.

choosing water park equipment

Choosing Your Water Park Equipment

Choosing your water park equipment will depend on your budget, the size of the space you have available, as well as the target audience you’ve identified. Sticking to ground spray elements is a simple way to keep kids cool during the hot summer months.

If you opt for a more elaborate design, then above-ground features, such as dumping buckets, flower showers, water cannons, and spray rings encourage greater exploration and give kids a fun way to burn off energy.

Besides choosing the elements of play that you want to incorporate, consider the grade of commercial materials they’re made from. Our light commercial grade water park features are made from PVC pipe, which is easy to maintain and cost-effective. This material is perfect for private businesses where the splash pads have a lot of supervision and controlled access, such as those at a daycare.

Our commercial-grade water park equipment is constructed from powder-coated stainless steel. This equipment is ideal for community pools and city parks that are high-traffic areas that will have a lot of people using them regularly. While this equipment costs more up-front, it holds up to higher levels of activity. In the long run, it’s an excellent investment, and you’ll spend less on maintenance and repair when you opt for this sturdy equipment.

And don’t forget to select the equipment you’ll need to circulate and purify the water you’re using. Adding a recirculation system or installing an effective drain-away system is the best way to avoid wasting water or exposing your patrons to unwanted contaminants.

Installing Your Water Park

Whatever features you opt to include, Adventure Playground Systems has them. Our experienced team of Adventure Play Experts can help you create the perfect design for your project. A professional aquatic installation company should always be involved with the installation of a splash pad or water park. By working with experienced professionals, you ensure that your water park design conforms to the safety standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), ASTM International and the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

contact us today

Adventure Playground Systems has a proven track record of designing and installing fun and safe equipment for children of all ages. Whether you’re looking to upgrade an existing aquatic playground or you’re in the planning phases for a new water park, it’s critical to hire a company with a reputation for excellence. Our entire range of commercial splash pad features and water management solutions are known for their quality, durability, and fun they bring to any park, organization or business. We back that up by offering excellent customer service, high-quality commercial installations and extensive warranties on our products. Contact us today for all of your aquatic surfacing and aquatic playground needs.

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