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The making of a great aquatic play pad begins well before the concrete is poured and features are installed. A thoughtful planning process is the first step to achieving an extraordinary play space. This is illustrated in the new play pad at Prairie Winds Park in Calgary, Alberta, now a hotspot for local families seeking refreshing recreation. Through careful planning and smart design, the builder was able to create an attractive and sustainable water play space for the community. Here are some of the objectives they identified during the planning process to achieve a standout play space.

Let your dream take shape...

In their redevelopment of Prairie Winds Park, a popular destination for outdoor recreation, the City of Calgary requested a water play amenity that would offer rewarding experiences for every park goer. They decided on a spacious, organic pad shape distinguished by a central stream feature, and distinct areas for different age groups. Consulting with aquatic play specialists and manufacturer, Waterplay Solutions Corp., the builder was able to identify dedicated play zones:  an exciting child zone for the whole family to enjoy, and a toddler zone where younger waterplayers (ages 0-4) can explore smaller water features in a safe, low traffic area. Waterplay provided recommendations for optimal placement and spacing of the features to ensure both zones adhere to the highest standards of accessibility.

Working with the landscape...

The next objective was determining an overall aesthetic for the play pad that would fit seamlessly with the park’s surrounding green space. The builder selected a collection of themed water play features inspired by a meadow ecosystem: tall shoots of misting grass, giant showering wildflowers, friendly insect characters, and a shimmering stream full of fish.  The earthy colour palette of light and dark greens captures the look of grasses in various stages of growth, while vibrant blues and reds draw the eye to blossoms, splashing insects, and swimming fish. The stream was situated at the heart of the play pad, surrounded by flora and fauna, exactly as a stream is the life source of a meadow in nature.

Anticipating the waterplayers...

The builder also considered how children would use with the features once activated. Their goal was to create a contemplative, low to moderate action play space, where all ages and abilities would feel comfortable to join in play. This was achieved with themed features that construct a larger, fantastical world for kids aged 5 to 12 to explore the elements of nature. They can discover how water travels through a meandering stream bed, from its spring to the ocean, or how twisting the stem of a wildflower can shake off water droplets. While the stream invites gentle hands-on play for the toddler age group (4 years old and under) with smaller, movable weirs and the sensations of flowing water. Keep in mind the role of parents or caregivers, giving them easy lines of sight to the children and dry sitting areas.

Designing for Discovery...

By selecting the right features in the right combinations for each play zone, this space targets 4 key elements of discovery play: motor skills development, sensory stimulation, action-reaction interactions and collaboration. Low-to-the-ground play features that little ones can manipulate, predictable water patterns and multiple textures, encourages toddlers to develop coordination and test their abilities. Different kinds of sensory stimulation (in the visual theme, sounds and textures of water) stimulate emotional and social growth 

Sensory Stimulation...

Engaging children’s senses of touch, sight and sound evokes imaginative play, leading to emotional and social growth. Touch is stimulated with features that children reach and connect with water texture and movement. The sounds of splashing and flowing water can be supplemented with features that are noise-interactive, making sounds from musical notes to animal calls. Visual effects such as theming, water patterns, reflections, translucent effects and light refraction create even more interest for all ages. 

Make sure to consider the level of sensory stimulation for the intended age group—toddlers may be overwhelmed in a play area that stimulates all the senses at once, whereas this may be effective for older children. 

Action-Reaction Interactions...

Cause and effect learning environments help children to develop intention and discover causal relationships. Using activators in each major zone puts control of the park in the hands of the children and, coupled with park sequencing, keeps them guessing as to which features will be activated and in what order. Features that allow children to redirect or control the flow of water also help them explore action-reaction interactions.


Collaborative play gives children confidence and promotes teamwork, which is an essential part of social development. Multi-user play features, particularly those that encourage children to work together to achieve a specific result, are conducive to collaborative play. Some examples are spray cannons or team ground sprays, which erupt in a larger and larger burst of water as kids work together to cover some of the nozzles.

How to maximize value for waterplayers beyond age-specific play zones?

Bubbling ground sprays add clusters of excitement, and dew-dropping grass creates suspense with sudden splashes. Built with interactive functions throughout, the features selected for Prairie Winds create a leisurely, thought provoking play experience. 

Resources to keep the fun flowing...

To support this dream design the builder required a hydraulic system that would also satisfy the City’s request for a water-wise play pad. They chose a recirculation system that conserves 90% of the water that is otherwise lost in a traditional potable park. Waterplay’s specialists helped manufacture a treatment system for the maximum flow of the components requested and provided recommendations for play feature line sizing based on the builder’s flow and pressure requirements. Designed for sustainability, this water management system ensures the Prairie Winds play pad will grow with the community over time. 

Altogether, these design decisions paved the way for a highly successful project. The final result is a beautiful park that brings the local community closer together through the joys of water. 

Make the most of your next water play project—begin with a forward-thinking design that focuses on functionality, aesthetic impact, water usage, and your end-users (waterplayers!). 

Kerrin Smith (VP of Stragetic Growth and Customer Experience)
250 712 3393
Waterplay Solutions Corp., 805 Crowley Ave, Kelowna, British Columbia, V1Y 7G6 Canada
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