Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Playground Den-Building and Kids Play DIY

Playscapes friend Tim Gill has just posted about the den-building provisions on the playground of Berwick Fields Primary school in England (Australia, oops!)  which you'll want to read.   Kids have always built playhouses out of whatever materials they can find around, of course.  But a key to encouraging this behavior, whether in a multi-user playspace or in your own backyard, is to provide a simple pole or a frame to help the constructions stand up.

Den-building poles at Berwick are decorated by each year's class.  Photo by Tim Gill
Thurton Primary School provides simple frames to enable den-building.  Photo by Natasha Lyster
Den poles and frames are a simple addition to any play space; then just let the children gather their own sticks and branches and build away.

Note that Tim's post also gives some  insight into the management of dens on a school playground:  "the only rule is that dens have to be demolished at the end of each session. This is to allow more children to take part. Before the rule was introduced, children were starting to get territorial about their cubbies."

Unlike the more permanent constructs allowed at adventure playgrounds, play dens typically don't last long.  So they're ideal for documenting at, a beautiful new site and app well-summarized as an 'online refrigerator for kids artwork', (see also a discussion of the diy project at c/net).  Several play  projects have already been posted...I really like the idea of kids being able to document their ephemeral, outdoor play creations in this way!

Friday, May 18, 2012

4 Reasons Kids Bicycles Are Better Than A Game Console

As modern technology is becoming more and more popular with children, kids bicycles almost seem to have been forgotten. This is one of the leading causes for obesity. Children are simply spending too much time indoors and not enough time outdoors. The next time your kids start nagging you for a game console, remind them why kids bicycles are so much better.
Exercise: You need to explain to your children from a young age that exercise is important. They need to understand that they have to work on their health and on their body. One of the main reasons that so many children are over weight these days is simply because they have stopped going outside to play. Once your child understand the important of exercise, they might be more willing to take part in it.

Adventure: You sometimes need to pretty up a concept to children. Using adventure is one of them. Tell your child that with kids bicycles you can have marvelous adventures. Make the concept of going outside with the kids bicycles as appealing as possible.
Friends: A lot of children are spending time in front of their computers and game consoles playing games by themselves. Explain to your children that by using kids bicycles they will be able to have a lot of friends to play with. Kids love to get together on their bicycles and explore the neighbourhood. Later on when your child starts cycling, you can organize cycle groups with parents and children. This is a fantastic way to get children to interact in a healthy, active environment.

Confidence: It is critical to explain to their child how much confidence they will get from cycling on kids bicycles. Once they learn how to ride and enjoy themselves on a kids bike, they'll like the concept a lot more. Some children don't want to ride bikes because they think they'll fall or hurt themselves.
It is critical as parents that we try to instill the best possible habits in our children. You can do this in a fun, encouraging way by pointing out all the positives of exercise and cycling. Once your child sees your enthusiasm for a specific subject, they will also want to get interested.
Use these four reasons to help your child make the right choice and choose kids bicycles over a gaming console. Adventure, friends, confidence and exercise are fantastic reasons for cycling.
Melanie Thomas (CEO Melrose Kids Ltd) is a mother of two boys and lives in London, England. Melrose Kids Ltd is the official distributor of Strider Sports products including the Strider PreBike in the UK and Ireland.

Article Source:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Backyard Sandbox, 1922, Frances Benjamin Johnston

Dr. Henry Alexander Murray, Jr., house, 129 East 69th Street, New York, New York.
 From the Frances Benjamin Johnston collection at the Library of Congress

Longtime Playscapes readers know that the playground began with the sandbox.  This historic example (1922) of a backyard sandpit is from the photography of Frances Benjamin Johnston in the stunning new book Gardens for a Beautiful America, 1895-1935.  By Sam Watters in collaboration with the Library of Congress, published by Acanthus Press.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cave Playground Tunnels by Entre Prises

For those of you that thought the Krabbelknoten was a bit claustrophobic, take a look at the spelunking simulators designed by the firm Entre Prises in conjunction with the British Caving Association (an interesting play design overlap, there!). 

photo by David Cooke

Their Speleo System replicates natural cave features in modular sections that can be interchanged and even rotated to provide a variety of challenges, with the goal of introducing people to the sport of caving and preparing them for below-ground exploration. 

They provide the 'Linear', the 'Arch', the 'Chamber', and of course, the 'Squeeze'!  As well as make full artificial caves and enormous climbing walls for cruise-ships and casinos; those adult reincarnations of the playground. 

[Found at the always-interesting home of architectural conjecture:  BLDGBLOG.]

Kid's Bicycle Helmet - Toy or Tool? 8 Features to look for!

Kid's are impulsive, eager to race like a madman on their bike without being totally aware of traffic and other hazards of the road. A toddler bicycle helmet can only help protect your child's skull when and if something happens if it is on their head and if it is held in the right place. What are the 8 features that encourage them to wear their helmet and wear it correctly?
Step one might be to make sure you buy the right kid's helmet. To help you in that adventure here's the 8 features to look for.
1. Certification: all helmets should come with a safety standard label on the inside of the helmet (full list of certification agencies on my website)
2. Get the right size. Dedicated sizes are typically easier to fit firmly than universal one size fits all models.
3. A Pinch Free Chin Buckle. If your child catches their neck skin in the buckle every time they lock it in place you can guarantee it will never get done up, then they might as well not be wearing one at all.
4. A Strap and harness system that adjusts easily with one hand and fits their head comfortably, around the forehead and past the ears.
5. Lots of Vents, especially for the passionate racer

6. Smooth, slippery outer shell that will slide around any and all obstacles. Aero tails look cool, but on a tumble the back fin can torque the head in a nasty fashion.
7 A pony tail port if the hair style dictates a need.
8. A colour and decoration that appeals to your child. Their input into the buying decision will definitely encourage more compliance.
Assuming you can then find a helmet that fits with these objectives and at the same time appeals to your young cyclist the next challenge is to get them to wear it. Take the time to fiddle with the strap to create a firm fit around the ears without the straps twisting, and then tighten up the chin strap to hold the helmet in place.
You should not be able to move the helmet more than one inch in any direction and if you twist the helmet the skin should move as well. The forehead should not be left exposed. When looking at the side, the helmet should be parallel to the ground and not tilted forward obscuring vision or the reverse of this and tilted to the back like a baseball cap.
Again the most important thing to remember is that the helmet is there for a reason, AND that has nothing to do with making a fashion statement. Keep your child safe with a well fitted and finely designed toddler bicycle safety helmet.

Article Source:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Host a Children's Playground Workshop like WhATA, Sofia Bulgaria, 2011

One of the greatest things about writing the blog is hearing from those of you who are making new playscapes, or improving the playgrounds where you're at.  Just recently I contacted a school about their self-built natural playground and asked them why they made it and they said 'well, your blog, actually', which is a nice sort of circle.  

One of my favorites of these sort of letters came from WhATA, an architectural group in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Tasked with organizing a leave-a-mark-in-the-city workshop with the Chicago architect Thomas Kong at Sofia Architecture Week 2011, they chose to focus on playgrounds and to use one of the Playscapes blog mottoes:  "Because a playground doesn't have to cost a million bucks and come in a box. In fact, it's better if it doesn't" as inspiration.

Their Playground Workshop serves as a great model for anyone looking to jumpstart the play conversation in their own community.

WhATA started with a survey about area playgrounds, to which 384 parents responded.

"There was one opinion in the survey: Why every newly-built children playground is just a square with a fence? This standard way to do everything is certainly not the best for our children and their education."

Then they invited architects, designers and landscape architects, but also parents not “in the business” to a workshop. 

"We decided to set the following task: make a standard formal playground by using the informal, spontaneous play of children — e.g. stepping on shafts?, climbing on crooked tree branches, balancing on curbes, shoveling fallen leaves, jumping on tree logs, etc
We picked three children playgrounds (neglected) in Sofia which cover three main types:
  • small playground in the centre of the city (Doktorskata Garden)
  • playground in a park (Borisovata Garden)
  • playground in a panel residential complex (between the apartment blocks in Druzhba 2)
The task had two main points which can be summarized as follows:
  1. Make a list of plays you’ve seen children spontaneously do outside the playground (jumping in puddles, walking on curbes, etc)
  2. Following the list, try to create a play-scape (not just a play-ground) on one of the selected sites
Present your ideas by sketches and text."

The designs they produced for three mundane, un-playful play areas in Sofia are innovative and inspiring, and WhATA hopes to realize at least one of the designs for Sofia Architecture Week 2012.

So how about it readers?   Why not host your own playground workshop to start talking about better spaces for play wherever you are?  Right now, the conversation about play belongs mostly to local government officials and their few chosen providers. You can change that!  I'll even come speak at your workshop if I can.  Get in touch with your ideas, or what you are already doing to improve the space for play in your community!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lion's Park Playscape, Rural Studio, Greensboro Alabama, 2011

photo by Timothy Hursley
 I'm just one of many architecture lovers who admire the work of Alabama-based Rural Studio (see a good overview in a recent WSJ piece).   It gives students hands-on design and construction experience by building innovative structures made of inexpensive, accessible materials.  They devote themselves to  Alabama's Hale County, which I first came to know from reading James Agee's Great Depression manifesto Let us Now Praise Famous Men. 

A 1996 Rural Studio playground construction has been previously featured on the blog, and I'm pleased to see that they are calling their new space a 'playscape'.

It's located in Greensboro's Lion's Park, which they've been renovating since about 2004, already redesigning the ball fields, adding eye-catching entrance gates, and re-landscaping with concrete and rock pathways that both guide visitors and cover buried utilities.   They added toilet facilities powered by collected rainwater and a mobile concession stand, and "designed and constructed an elaborate skateboarding park, complete with half-pipes,  jumps, and other obstacles.  Funding was donated by the Tony Hawk Foundation, and the end result is probably the most amazing skatepark that has ever been constructed for $25,000."

photo by Timothy Hursley

photo by Timothy Hursley

photo by Timothy Hursely

And now there is the new playscape!  It has come in for some criticism for its galvanized steel drum elements (they're recycled mint oil barrels) but Rural Studio did have the good sense to construct a complete shade canopy, unlike the designers of NYC's Brooklyn Bridge playground, where several children were burned on the metal play domes after they were installed in 2010.

2,000 of the donated 55-gallon drums are arranged in a maze that allows kids to chase both in between and on top of the walls.  In some places of the canopy, the top and bottom of drums have been removed so that the sky and clouds are visible, and so that the ground plane remains well lit.

I particularly like the 'shouting tubes', and the sensitive berms for groundplay (hooray for playgrounds that aren't completely flat!) both inside and outside the maze.

Look closely at the kids looking down on the shouting tubes: that reminds me so much of being up on top of the haybales, close to the roof of my grandfather's barn.  It's a spatial reference that resonates beautifully in this rural landscape.

[see more on the playscape at Architectural Record.  Thanks to Cynthia Gentry of the Atlanta Taskforce on Play and the International Play Association, for the tip!]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Playscape Chronicles of Frode Svane

Sometimes I get asked where the best playgrounds in the world are.  Hands down they're in the countries of northern Europe, where long-standing cultural values for being outside and a realistic approach to risk have led to play installations that are truly child-focused. 

Frode Svane, teacher and playground expert,  hails from Norway and he's documented many of the best European playgrounds in his extensive albums, available on facebook.  His photographic chronicles are a huge trove of inspiration for the playscape-maker, of which the ones featured in this post are a small, small selection; I'm particularly inspired at the moment by his idea set for secondary schools (selections above), since play environments for teens continue to be a missed opportunity in play design.

You'll also find loads of ideas for natural playgrounds elements:  Frode has been promoting nature play and natural playscapes since way before the current children and nature movement and before I had even heard those terms myself.  Sometimes when larger forces take over we lose track of who the real trailblazers were; I consider Frode to be one of them, and his playground chronicles (I don't know anyone else with soo many playground pictures!) are endlessly inspiring.

Frode also hosts study trips of European playgrounds:  one each year in Berlin and sometimes also in Scandinavia as well.  This year's Berlin trip is June 27-30 (and I've just noticed that the registration deadline was April Frode asap for remaining availability) 

I dream of taking one of these myself, but alas my uni doesn't consider this a legitimate use of laboratory travel funds....even if you can't take the trip, visit vicariously through Frode Svane's photo chronicles.