Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Brief History of the Sandbox

What we now know as a 'sandbox' was previously called a 'sand table' or 'sand garden', and it seems to have originated with a suggestion to Friedrich Froebel, founder of the kindergarten movement.  His former student and devoted friend, Hermann ten. von Arnswald wrote to him on May 13, 1847:

Dear Fatherly Friend : Yesterday I was engaged in studying your Sunday paper when an idea struck me which I feel prompted to communicate to you. I thought, might not a plane of sand be made a useful and entertaining game? By a plane of sand I mean a low, shallow box of wood filled with pure sand. It would be a kindergarten in miniature. The children might play in it with their cubes and building blocks. I think it would give the child particular pleasure to have the forms and figures and sticks laid out in the sand before his eyes. Sand is a material adaptable to any use. A few drops of water mixed with it would enable the child to form mountains and valleys in it, and so on.

Froebel quickly took up the suggestion for his kindergartens.

"The little child," he noted, "employs itself for a long time merely by pouring water or sand from one vessel into another alternately," and "for building and forming with sand and earth, which precedes clay work, opportunities should be afforded even to the child of one year."  ..."Even the baby then may safely be set in the sand pile, and can play with the rest at digging, and moulding and burrowing, and pouring the grains in and out of the tin vessels."

Most commonly, the sand table took the form of  "a water-tight box about five by three feet, and at least a foot deep, is set on short stout legs with rollers and filled with sand to within two inches of the top. The box is sometimes lined with zinc, as it is often necessary to pour enough water into the sand to represent a lake, or the boundless ocean, but it can be so strongly made as to need no lining, or may have a double bottom. It may be five feet square instead of oblong, or it may be somewhat smaller than the size mentioned, but it must be large enough for a dozen children to gather around, as it is used only for group work, and must be low enough to be convenient for little people. The sand is always kept quite damp, as it lends itself to moulding much more readily in this condition, and the particles are thus prevented from rising into the air in the form of dust."

The above information comes from Nora Archibald Smith's 1896 The Republic of Childhood  which devotes a whole chapter to 'sand work', and proposes larger sand installations:

"If the authorities should order a sand heap put in every back yard of our cities, being especially careful not to neglect the tiny inclosures around which the very poor hive together, there would be less vagabondage and less youthful ruffianism. The child must needs be busy, and lacking legitimate means of occupation he will seek out those that are unlawful.

In of the beautiful acts of the Empress Frederick...was to set apart certain portions of all public parks for play-grounds, with sand hills upon them, for the little children. Any one who has frequented the parks of the larger German cities knows what an attractive picture the children make in their busy, happy play of digging and packing and building in the easily moulded soil.

The Pestalozzi-Froebel Haus in Berlin, of which Frau Schrader is the leading spirit, is provided with a most beautiful sand garden shaded by trees, over which all visiting kindergartners rhapsodize. This is no petty box of sand such as we in America think ourselves fortunate in possessing, but a " truly " garden, as the children say, where there are glorious heaps of sand in which they can dig with their little shovels, and which they can carry about and load and unload in their toy carts..into this garden of Eden we can usher the little ones, and, provided with iron spoons, toy shovels, one or two old pails and pans and some muffin rings and scallop-tins for cake-baking, they will amuse themselves quietly and happily for hours."

Smith also expounds on the use of the sand table to teach construction and gardening as well as geography, history and literature by setting up map outlines, historical events, and literary tableaus in the sand.   Full text is available at both the gutenberg project and google books.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Boston Playgrounds?

Just flagging up that I'll be in Boston next stuff during the day but hoping for a couple of playground visits, so if you have a suggestion, let me know!

Stickworks Playhouses by Patrick Dougherty

Willow artist Patrick Dougherty has a new catalogue of his extraordinary and playful creations, available on his website. I was going to put this on my Christmas list, but I just couldn't wait...

(The Morton Arboretum blogged the construction of the "Summer Palace" , above, providing insight into how these structures are formed.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Monstrum Playgrounds

(Love the height of that entry! Most playground steps are so low that kids will try to take them two at a time to make their own challenge, which is actually less safe.)

In the playscapes of Danish firm Monstrum (translation: monster), boats tilt at crazy angles, wrecked planes lie broken in half, playhouses provide escape from gigantic spiders, and hidden portals lead to the belly of a whale. These are playgrounds that don't shrink from challenging children either physically or mentally.

There is a sense of thrill and danger that most modern playgrounds lack, provided not so much through physical challenges--though the off-kilter angles do create unique play experiences--as through the playground's imaginative story. The strong forms manage to escape the 'cuteness' that can plague story-based playgrounds, and their use of wood is exemplary. Great work.
Many more photos on their was hard for me to choose. [Thanks Ole!]

Monday, November 16, 2009

Parque Gulliver, Valencia Spain, 1990

Gulliver's body morphs into slides, ramps, stairs and caves, scaled so that visitors are the size of the Lilliputians. A joint project by architect Rafael Rivera, artist Manolo Martin and the designer Sento.

Submitted by bianca, who is embarking on her own playground designs in Spain. [Thanks and good luck, bianca!]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cornish Megaliths for Camden Playgrounds

The supplier of the huge boulder that serves as the 'Meteor' in the previously-blogged Cantelowe's park 'storyscape' kindly sent some photos of its installation, which was quite a feat.

More photos of megaliths on their website...I like that they are letting the children draw with chalk on them. And how much better to have a real climbing rock instead of an artificial climbing wall: "glaciated and weathered Cornish granite boulders are uniquely suited to Playbuilders as they have a natural non-slip surface."

[Thanks, John!]

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

City Museum, St. Louis, Bob Cassilly, 1997

I like all of the playgrounds I post on the blog, but this is the first time I thought I might need to relocate to be near one...thanks to reader Jeff for letting me know about St. Louis' City Museum. From their website:

"Housed in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company, the museum is an eclectic mixture of children's playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects. The brainchild of internationally acclaimed artist Bob Cassilly, a classically trained sculptor and serial entrepreneur, the museum opened for visitors in 1997 to the riotous approval of young and old alike.

Cassilly and his longtime crew of 20 artisans have constructed the museum from the very stuff of the city; and, as a result, it has urban roots deeper than any other institutions'. Reaching no farther than municipal borders for its reclaimed building materials, CITY MUSEUM boasts features such as old chimneys, salvaged bridges, construction cranes, miles of tile, and even two abandoned planes!

CITY MUSEUM makes you want to know," says Cassilly. "The point is not to learn every fact, but to say, 'Wow, that's wonderful.' And if it's wonderful, it's worth preserving."

Wow, that's wonderful.