Glossary of Playground Terms

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American Disabilities Act. This civil rights law was enacted in 1990 to make all public areas accessible to people with disabilities. This includes schools, businesses, and playgrounds.

ADA Accessible:

Describes a site, building, or facility that complies with the American Disabilities Act. ADA compliant structures take steps to make most of their features accessible to people of any physical ability.

ADA Compliant:

Adherence to the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law enacted in 1990. 

Accessible Route:

A continuous unobstructed path connecting all accessible elements and spaces from the site entrance through the play space. This may include platforms, ramps, elevators, or transfer stations.


Equipment designed specifically for the physical and developmental needs of a particular age group.

Age Separation:

Designating specific areas for different age groups to ensure safety and cater to their developmental needs.


The ability to move quickly and change direction with ease.


ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) is an organization that sets safety standards for playground equipment.



The ability to maintain one's center of gravity over a base of support.

Balance beam:

A narrow beam used for practicing balance and coordination.


A physical separation between play areas or equipment to prevent unsupervised access or dangerous interactions.


The edge or limit of a designated play area. The border usually surrounds safety surfacing, outlining the use zone of a playground.



Structures designed for children to climb on, explore, and navigate, often incorporating different elements like ramps, tunnels, and slides.

Climbing wall:

A vertical surface designed specifically for children to climb on.

Composite Play System:

A combination of various play components (slides, climbers, towers) connected to form a larger structure, catering to different age groups and abilities, to create a full play experience.


Coordination is the ability to move various body parts in unison. It is needed to perform complex tasks that involve precise and unified movements. The most well-known type of coordination, hand-eye coordination, involves being completely aware of the position of one’s hand


The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) is a regulatory body that creates safety standards for playground equipment.


CPSI (Certified Playground Safety Inspector) is a certification that can be obtained from the CPSC stating that an individual is qualified to determine a playground’s safety level and act accordingly.

Critical Height:

The maximum height from which a fall onto the safety surfacing below is deemed safe for a specific age group.



The platform on a play structure where children can stand or sit.


Elevated Play Component:

A play component that is approached above or below grade and that is part of a composite play structure.


The potential for clothing or body parts to get caught in equipment, posing a strangulation hazard.


Fall Height:

The distance between the highest designated play surface and the safety surfacing below.

Fall zone:

The area surrounding equipment with special surfacing (like mulch or rubber tiles) to absorb impact from falls.

Fine Motor Skills:

The ability to use small muscle movements, especially in the hands and fingers.


The space covered by the playground equipment.

Freestanding equipment:

Play equipment not attached to a structure, like seesaws or spring riders, offering individual or social play opportunities.


Ground Level Play Component:

A play component that is approached and exited at the ground level.

Gross Motor Skills:

The ability to use large muscle movements, such as those involved in walking, running, and jumping.


A railing or barrier along an elevated play structure to prevent falls.


HDPE Panel:

High Density Polyethylene Panel, also known as a playground panel


Imaginative or Creative Play:

Play that allows children to express themselves, explore different scenarios, and use their imaginations.

Impact Absorbing Surfacing:

Special materials like wood fiber, rubber tiles, or sand used under playground equipment to cushion falls and minimize injuries.

Inclusive playground:

An all-inclusive playground is one featuring play structures, learning accessories, and other equipment designed to benefit children with a variety of abilities. All-inclusive playgrounds usually feature a wide variety of ground-level activities accessible to children in wheelchairs, ADA Accessible swing seats, and transfer stations. Some Inclusive Playgrounds even supply fully ramped systems for an all-encompassing experience.


Loose material, like wood chips or shredded rubber, used within playground structures, often requiring specific maintenance and safety considerations.


International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association is a non-profit, membership, trade association that sets standards and best practices for surfacing materials and play equipment.



Learning through being aware of the physical position of one’s body through sensory organs in the body’s muscles and joints.


Loose Fill Surfacing:

Unbound materials like sand, shredded wood, or pea gravel used as safety surfacing under playground equipment.



A circular platform children ride on, pushing themselves to spin.

Monkey bars:

A series of horizontal metal bars used for climbing and swinging.


Natural Playground:

Playgrounds and green spaces that incorporate natural materials like wood and water, eco-focused architectural elements, and vegetation to create a play space that integrates nature.

Net Climber:

A structure made of interconnected ropes or cables, allowing children to climb and navigate within a safe and challenging environment.


Overhead ladder:

A horizontal ladder suspended on four poles. Available in various heights as a stand alone accessory or part of a composite play structure. Commonly referred to as “monkey bars.



A space designed for children to play and explore. A playground may be located indoors or outdoors and include playsets, interactive panels, and protective surfacing.

Playground Equipment:

Playsets, slides, swings, and interactive accessories, ideally made of kid-friendly materials like recycled plastic. Playground equipment usually includes durable hardware and safety features.

Play Event:

A play component can hold many children but is considered one type of play experience – or one play component – in the play area.

Play Type:

Different “types” of play components are based on the general experience provided by the play component. Different types include, but are not limited to, experiences such as rocking, swinging, climbing, spinning, and sliding.


Rock wall:

A simulated rock climbing surface with handholds and footholds, offering a realistic climbing experience for children.

Roto-Molded Plastic:

Plastic formed through a high-temperature, low-pressure molding process. Roto molding is used to create large, hollow, one-piece play structures.


Safety Surfacing:

Safety Surfacing, also known as Impact absorbing surfacing, is a protective surface installed on recreational areas that softens impact in the event of trips or falls. CPSC requires impact continuation based on fall heights, while ADA regulations require surfacing that will enable wheelchair access.

Safety Zone:

The area surrounding equipment with approved safety surfacing to absorb impact from falls.


An area filled with sand for children to play in, often with accompanying toys like buckets and shovels.

Seesaw (teeter-totter):

A balanced beam with seats on either end, allowing children to play together by going up and down.


A smooth, inclined surface children can slide down for fun.


Play equipment designed to spin children around, often incorporating various shapes and colors.

Spiral slide:

A corkscrew-shaped slide offering a longer and more thrilling ride.

Spring riders:

Sit-on toys with springs that allow children to bounce up and down.


A suspended seat that allows children to swing back and forth.


Tire Swing:

A swing made from an old tire.

Toddler swing:

A smaller swing with a secure harness or seat, designed specifically for younger children's safety and comfort.

Transfer Stations:

Also known as transfer platform or system, transfer stations allow people with mobility challenges to access elevated play structures without the use of a wheelchair or mobility device.

Tube Slide:

An enclosed slide with a tunnel-like structure, providing a unique sensory experience.


Unit/ Structure Size:

The dimensions of the piece of equipment.

Use Zone:

The intended area for using the equipment, excluding the safety zone. Typically the ground level area beneath and immediately adjacent to the play structure or other equipment within the play area.


Vestibular Coordination:

The sensory system responsible for controlling eye movements and balance.


Wave slide:

A slide with a wavy surface, creating a bouncing and up-and-down motion while sliding.

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