© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.The aim of this study was to examine the design features of six outdoor play areas and the play preferences of children using these areas. Through the behavior mapping method, 102 preschoolers were observed for 3 days during their hour-long outdoor play time. The Playground’s Physical Characteristics Scale and Play Observation Form were utilized for observations. It was indicated that manufactured fixed equipment primarily dominated the observed play areas and play types of children. Functional/parallel play was the most commonly observed play type within areas with manufactured fixed equipment. However, different cognitive and social play types were observed in areas that included natural elements, open area, and loose materials. Thus, it was indicated that there is need for change from a traditional design mind-set regarding play areas, to more child-centered designs where the needs and inputs of children are taken into consideration during the design process.