Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dear readers,

I have just checked the end-of-year stats; 60,000 visits since March. While those are far from google-ey statistics, they are a pleasant surprise for a blog started mostly on a whim and an unwillingness to file away any more lovely playground ideas to an unseen 'favorites' list. I thought a blog would at least keep them all in one visible place and maybe they would be useful to someone else, too. It appears that they have, and I thank you.

Many best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous and playful New Year,


Monday, December 29, 2008

Planet Earth Playscapes

Planet Earth Playscapes are another natural playground provider...ideas and photos from their website :

toddler designs based around tracks for either trikes or tiny feet

giant sand play area with cedar-shingled playhouses connected (for mudpie making)

Existing brick wall repurposed for climbing

a child-sized beaver lodge, tunnel and den system made from living willow

watercourse made from notched cedar logs

The descriptive text at the Planet Earth Playscapes website lists other good playground ideas that don't show up easily in the photos...hills sculpted for winter sledding, sandpits with water 'trickles' , 'friendship decks' in the play area, soft-surface 'crawl pads' for babies, tiny bells tied and hidden in shrubs along paths to add to the sensory experience.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Water, Sand and Mud by MIG

MIG are a large corporate firm, but they seem to have an admirable commitment to water/sand/mud play in their park designs.

From top to bottom: Market Street Park in Scottsdale, Arizona, Mace Rach Community Park in Davis, California, Ibach Park in Tualatin, Oregon, and Jurgens Park also in Tualatin. Looove that pig.

Any ideas on how to deal with erosion as a maintenance issue in installations like these? Is new dirt and sand added and smoothed regularly?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Salamander Earthworks, Earthartist

Earthartist are another provider of natural playgrounds, again with disappointingly few photos of completed projects on their site. But I like the salamander earthworks, with sand in the center.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Natural Playgrounds (the company, not the concept)

The Natural Playgrounds Company has astutely locked down a descriptive name...their website is unfortunately short on descriptions and photos of completed projects but these are the elements I found inspirational:

amphitheatre made from natural boulders (though the invasive grasses in my area would make this difficult to tend)

labyrinthine hill

salvaged timber elements


But the best is this cost comparison (from an article by their founder) of what $70,000 buys in a natural playground relative to a commercial 'kit' playground:

from the article: "...spread over this entire area (of the natural playground) is a wonderful blend of about 70 distinct, very different, very wonderful play elements, everything from a rain garden, a labyrinth, an amphitheater, and a large sand play area, to a fairy village, a stream, a teepee village, caves, climbing elements, a slide, fruit trees, benches, a discovery path, and so on. Each one of the blocks of type in the photo represents one of the 70 different design elements.
A landscape contractor estimated $70,000 to build this area.

We decided it would be an interesting exercise to see what $70,000 could buy in the way of equipment. Keep in mind shipping and installation costs are included as are the costs of woodchips (the fall zone material) and the borders to contain the woodchips.

In the top left corner of the photo, you can see what we came up with. This equipment occupies 20% of the entire ½ acre, is visually unappealing, and it’s unnaturally colored metal and plastic is hard and unyielding. Further, the woodchips are a boring, uninteresting backdrop for this crowded little play structure

When the two options are seen side-by-side, other comparisons should be made, as well, such as the number of play elements, the number of children each area can comfortably accommodate, the kinds of activities they can experience by themselves and with others, the varieties of challenges that are available, whether children will be encouraged to think for themselves and make their own decisions about how to play, how much wear and tear will occur on each area, and so on.

Also keep in mind, that dollar-for-dollar, natural play environments offer a much higher "play value" than manufactured playgrounds.

Play value = how many children can be served by one piece of play equipment as compared to its cost. A simple climbing structure that accommodates 6 children might cost $4,000 = low play value. A natural boulder that is part of the landscaping and on which 6 children can climb costs $0 = high play value. Lastly, due to the constant changes in equipment safety regulations, most equipment needs replacing about every 10-12 years!"

Friday, December 5, 2008

Under the Oak at the University of Minnesota Arboretum

via steve-olsen, this exemplary temporary playspace installed under an oak tree at the University of Minnesota arboretum. Next door is a greenhouse where the children are encouraged to touch everything, even the cacti.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

More from Helle Nebelong

"Colour in playgrounds...needs careful control and should be used in small splashes.
“A common misunderstanding is that everything in the playground must be in bright
colour. But after hours of colour saturation in day-care centres, watching TV and
shopping with parents in supermarkets, they need to relax their eyes and minds.”

"I am convinced that ‘risk-free’, standardised playgrounds are dangerous – just in another way from those with obvious risks. When the distance between all the rungs in a climbing net
or a ladder is exactly the same, the child has no need to concentrate on where he puts his feet. Standardisation is dangerous because play becomes simplified and the child does not have to worry about his movements. This does not prepare him for all the knobby and asymmetrical forms he is likely to be confronted with outside the playground and throughout life.
The ability to concentrate on estimating distance, height and risk, for example, requires a lot of practice and is necessary for a person to be able to cope successfully with life.

from two articles about Helen's work, here and here.

No photos were available, but be sure to peruse this article about the Geelsgaard School garden for special needs children.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Helle Nebelong, Natural Playground Designer, Denmark

Images and quotes from Helle's website.

The Murergarden playground, Copenhagen, has featured before on this blog, but I wasn't at the time aware of Helle as its designer.
"...different surfaces, e.g. asphalt for cycling, roller-skating and other forms of self-transport, for ball games and as a king of block for drawing or hopscotch. There should also be sand, tiles, paths and steps and different uneven stones, soft forest floor, wood chips and gravel. Bridges would also be good, both bridges over canals and hanging bridges over ditches. For once the majority of employees could agree that they would like water in the playground. The general consensus is often otherwise, that water is far too dangerous because you can drown in it. In the ”perfect” playground, however, there should be water steps, paddling pools, canals and an outdoor shower spray, where the muddy children could be rinsed off. "
"The largest area of the playground is for the use of all the children, but it is possible to close off a little area for the nursery children. "
"The little paddling pool is asphalted and is connected to a channel and spring on the upper part of the playground. In the summer a fire-hose is used to fill the steps with water, which falls down to the paddling pool. It takes a couple of hours to fill it. The water is then turned off and allowed to stay in the pool until it is emptied in the evening. The pool is encircled by a willow copse, where willow stems can be picked, for use in plaiting smaller fences, basket weaving etc..."
"At the beginning there were many reservations about the playground. Parents said that the playground was dangerous with all the big stones. The employees of the institution said it was just too boring. The playground has now been in existence for almost ten years. The parents now say, that the children are happier now when they come home. The leader of the institution says that there are fewer conflicts in the playground. They are really happy with the playground, especially with the water. A constructive debate has arisen between parents and employees in the institution about how far one can protect a child and try to prevent him from coming to harm. "

The Aalholm school yard was "thematically transformed into a South Atlantic sea playground with scattered ”remains” of a shipwreck spread all over the area, which one can run in between, hang in and relax on - which some of the older children especially like to do."

The Nature playground in Valbyparken is made up of organically formed elements: A large area with sand and gravel, small green islands, winding paths, a village of woven willow huts and plaited fences, an area with wild flowers and a very big snail-shaped mound with a path spiralling up it to a look-out point. The whole playground is pulled together by a circular 210m wooden bridge, which "floats" ½ meter above the ground. The planks in the bridge are from the many elm trees, felled in Copenhagen due to Dutch elm disease.
Landscape Architect Helle Nebelong worked together with four students from Denmark's design school. They designed six towers for the playground of which five were constructed. The towers are placed as precise points on the circular bridge. Each tower has its own theme: The light's tower, The wind's tower, The green tower, The bird tower and The tower of change. The ambition is that the playground should become a good alternative to the many commercial amusement parks, which are appearing everywhere.
Some photos from The Garden of Senses have also been featured before on this blog, but are included here for completeness..."The Garden of Senses is designed like a maze with winding paths, leading the visitor past many different experiences:Several Wonder Spaces with Tangible Sculptures - one sculpture to each of our senses.Crossings, a Riverside Scenery with rocks and a Lake Scenery without water, a Lavender Island, a Maze of stakes. A Bamboo shrub, a small Garden of Fragrance with a fountain, prickly evergreens, shrubbery with old, crumbling sculptures, a Pavilion Garden, a grove of ginkgoes, a Butterfly Garden and a lot of other elements to discover. Ro und stones of granite are placed outside the garden and make a sort of connection between the garden and the park.
The stones are also varied: rough and smooth; round and angular; small stones that rattle in your hand; big rocks for climbing."