Monday, December 13, 2010

In Search of Log Climbers

I use the following picture a lot when I talk with clients. I think it is interesting and a good mix of natural wood and rope. I like the idea of kids being able to feel like they are climbing a tree. The layering of pieces is challenging and can inspire endless creative play. There is a feel of wood and round logs, (good for kids) but also an overall look of equipment (good for the maintenance folks). But, this is built in the UK.

This is more of a seating level climber I saw in Germany with no fall surface. I guess German kids are tough! You can tell the piece in the front has been replaced. It would be interesting to know how difficult replacing one piece is and how often it is done.
So, I have been trying to locate a more local version that I can share with clients. I have not had too much luck. In the Northwest with all of the rain our wood rots pretty quickly and people are pretty hesitant to use it. When this concept gets off the drawings table I will probably have trouble finding someone to build it for me. Below are a few of my favorite US and Canadian pieces. Unfortunately they are custom made, but they are beautiful!

The log jam at the Lumberman's Memorial site in Michigan is a playful replication that is educational and probably a lot of fun.

Log-fingers made by Warren Brubacher and Coastal Cedar Creations is a very inviting and beautiful play art piece.

If you have any ideas or know if any local log climbers I would love to hear about them.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Kindergarden Kids Outside All Day, Everyday???

At the Cedar Song Nature School on Vashon Island what might sound like a nightmare to some is a treat for a small group of preschool students. 3-5 year old students attend this unique preschool based completely outdoors. I had never seen anything like it. This is an amazing, low cost, and extremely hands on approach to early childhood education. I can imagine it still takes a bunch of planning time and material gathering. But the overhead saved in rent and utilities lays the groundwork to make this a more affordable option. Check out the sweet video below.

Part Amusement Park - Part Science Center - Completely Fun

DanFoss Universe in Denmark is amazing. It was a day excursion on our recent vacation to Denmark. This hands-on Science Center, based mostly outside, is captivating around every corner. While it would be a stretch to call it nature play it is an amazing learning space for all ages.You get so rolled up in the fun that you forget you are learning.

Activities ranged from working your own excavator to small group games. Everything was interactive, science based and fun! I have never seen anything like this site. It was engaging and we would have a world full of scientists and engineers if every day learning was so engaging.

The Waterworks area features lots of ways to move water:hand pumped water guns, an Archimedes screw pump, water channels, dams, and cooperative water moving tools.

This living willow structure offers side paths for kids that crisscross the main tunnel.

Earth mounds at their best.

This was an energy exhibit that features amounts of materials that all produce the same joules of energy. You can see the tall stacks of straw vs. the small hanging containers of bio fuels.

These dueling wind turbines offer us a unique chance to see how spinning the turbine blades and aiming them into the wind can effect their energy production greatly. Plus it is a competition! When you both get going together the nearby pipe organ offers a harmonic reward.

These solar panel sun flowers connect to an interactive water feature. Sun on your sunflower = a tall spray of water = good summer fun.

For more information check out the Danfoss Universe website and digital map.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Book: Asphalt to Ecosystems

Sometimes you have to travel half way around the world to meet someone from your backyard. I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon Danks in Berlin at one of Frode Svane's study trips on natural play. Sharon has been working on schoolyard design in Berkley. She is energetic and inspiring, I am sure her new book will be the same.

The book is called Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation (New Village Press, November 2010).  Asphalt to Ecosystems makes the case for "green schoolyards" and for improving the ecology, learning, and play potential of school grounds. It is intended as a resource and idea book to inspire teachers, parents, school principals, and schoolyard designers. The book is filled with examples that show that many things are possible on school sites, and supports that idea with approximately 500 colorful photographs from roughly 150 schools in 11 countries.

Sharon Danks Author,  
Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation
New Village Press, November 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Boxerwood Play Trail

The Boxerwood Nature Center in Lexington VA has an impressive play and learning area for kids. I think their approach address their mission well, "to educate and inspire people of all ages toward becoming successful and environmentally responsible stewards of the earth." The play trail is only one stop on a system of trails that gives visitors access to wetlands, pine forests, springs and the great oak. Their site must attract visitors of all ages.

The Play Trail features a mud kitchen, rolling hill with tunnel, willow structures, recirculating creek, giant birdhouse and nest, climbing stumps and balancing logs. All the elements are located along a twisty path through an acre of woodlands. Bonnie Bernstein Director of Early Education at Boxerwood said, "we pride ourselves in having a space for young children that is unique in many ways, including name! I like to think of Boxerwood as a child's first forest. The Play Trail lures young children into the woods, where they quickly make friends with nature. And it's a safe place--there's a perimeter fence--so parents are more willing to let their kids run and play freely, the way they remember playing when they were small.

I like the way Bonnie frames the Boxerwood Center, the way she describes it makes me want to travel across the country to visit!

"We live in a particularly beautiful part of Virginia, flanked by ridges and mountains on the east and west, with lots of wonderful trails. I think Boxerwood helps give young families in our community the confidence to get out and explore more of the natural world we're so lucky to have surrounding us. That sense of adventure starts on the play trail and along other paths at Boxerwood. And it's not just families who experience nature here. All the area preschools and elementary schools send their classes every year--some grades for multiple visits in a year--to us for environmental education programming. We literally watch kids grow up in our woods."

They have put together a nice short video that shows the play trail in action. I love the quote about sticks, "The stick has just been inducted to the toy hall of fame." What an amazing honor for a lowly stick! :)   Toy Hall of Fame 

Wetland boardwalks on site offer a chance to kids to explore wild places.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Early Head Start Playground Breaks Ground at Clackamas Community College

After a few months of intensive design, the children at the Clackamas Community College's Early Head Start are starting to see their playground take shape.  Little hands grasping the chain link construction fence and eyes set on the excavator, they wait patiently as the sea of bark chips is replaced with a natural area for creative play.

Construction manager Stephanie Morgan from GR Morgan Construction placed these signs on the construction fencing so the kids would know what type of equipment was being used.

The Clackamas County Children’s Commission (CCCC) is a non-profit organization that serves children in Clackamas County. Their Early Head Start play space was in need of upgrades. The equipment was out dated and not meeting the physical needs of the young children.

GreenWorks worked with CCCC to develop a plan that fit within their limited space, met development requirements of younger children and offered an alternative play experience from traditional playground equipment. The nature based playground design includes an embankment slide, sand play area, trike loop, potting shed play house, lush planting and timber climbers. GreenWorks helped the client re-invision how to use the existing covered space for additional all season play, how to incorporate appropriate storage, and how play surfacing could extend social areas for music, arts, and classroom activities.
This is one of the site options created by GreenWorks 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sustainable Schools in Berlin

Berlin is an amazing city in many ways; architecture, transportation and learning landscapes! In June 2010 I had the opportunity to join Frode Svane's study trip of Berlin Playscapes. It was an inspiring 4 days with thousands of new photos and ideas. I would highly recommend any of Frode's study-trips if you are interested in nature playgrounds, green schools, and adventure play. You are sure to have a good time while visiting the sites!

Reinhardswald Grade School in Berlin was perhaps my favorite. The school had everything; stormwater treatment, eco roof, solar panels, a great natural playground in a forest setting, and happy kids. The stormwater that flows off the school's roof is collected in underground cisterns for reuse in the school. The highlight is that the overflowing cisterns create a stream that runs through the playground into a wetland feature in the middle of the site. During hard rains the principal said that students run to the windows to see the 'stream' appear from under the earth. What a great way to get kids outside in the winter! Here are some of my favorite site photos.

The stream source doubles as a play piece in the summer.

Even the dry stream channel offers opportunities for play!

This pavilion overlooks the central wetland feature where stormwater is cleaned and infiltrated back into the groundwater. The pavilion is open for community use evenings and weekends.

This tunnel and sand play area were fenced off.  I assumed something was broken or perhaps the area was not meeting safety standards. But, the designer explained they fence off certain portions of the playground to allow the grass to grow back. This action also re-excites the students about the space when the fence comes down.

This TV in the school hall shows how much energy the school is producing from the solar panels and using for lighting, heating etc. Students can get a current snapshot of their energy footprint any time, any day.

You can visit the school's website here.

Silver Falls Natural Play Area Breaks Ground

Silver Falls State Park has been taking advantage of the nice weather the last few weeks and they have begun to clear and grade the natural play areas and interpretive path. With the help of the county inmate work crew and a few dedicated volunteers they have transplanted many native plants, cleared 5 play areas and ¼ mile loop trail. Park staff will spend some of their time this winter fabricating play components, signage, and interpretive elements for installation next spring and summer.

In hard economic times creativity can help get a project completed. Oregon Park and Recreation Staff have been work with a Marion County Inmate Crew to implement the first stages to the project. Koin Local 6 was on site last week to check in on the crew’s progress. You can see their story and video footage here.

The park is looking for parks volunteers to help finish the construction. There are opportunities for artists, scout troops, families, and other citizens with a range of skills. Let us know if you are interested in helping construct this nature based play area. We can find a task that meets your skills and commitment level.
You should be able to enjoy the nature play area starting in the summer of 2011.

Interpretation at George Rogers Park

I always enjoy interpretation that is not just a sign; something interactive and telling without making you stand there and read. I think the mini smelter BBQ adds this element in George Rogers Park. The small replica of the historic iron furnace gives residents a chance to cook up their own fire! We also put interpretive panels into existing arbor framework so they fit into the site. Sometimes you can learn something without even trying.

GreenWorks worked for the City of Lake Oswego to design upgrades to this historic park in the middle of the city. Improvements included a picnic lawn, trail upgrades, walls, overlooks, an entrance trellis, parking lot stormwater facilities, and an accessible ramp to the river. We recently completed a second phase of interpretive upgrades. A series of interpretive panels on the arbor and under an interpretive shelter outline the historic furnace/ steel smelter on site.

Interpretive panels fit into the arbor framework

Interpretive kiosk (before panels are installed)

You can find a nice blog post about Families and George Rogers Park here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's big, It's blue, and it looks incredibly fun

Folks at Imagination Playground and KaBoom have developed a new set of tools for the creative youngster on the playground. The bright blue, soft, water proof pieces give kids a chance to move, and create in endless ways.This is not quite nature based, but it is fun and stimulates creativity and cooperation. KaBoom calls it a combination of sand, water, and loose parts that can be used anywhere at any time. Great news for urban, under served kids.

See Imagination Playground in Action

Photos from Imagination Playground
Imagination Playground, more inforamtion

Marylhurst Early Childhood Center Upgrades Playground

The Marylhurst Early Childhood Center in Oregon City has been working with GreenWorks Landscape Architecture to develop a master plan for a learning garden and nature based playground. We helped the school define their needs and developed two site design options that were combined into a preferred site master plan.

Some projects have a lot of money and some have a lot of heart. This school is built on the dedication of the teachers and parents. The playground upgrades will happen in phases as the school can collect money and organize volunteers. Once the final plan was completed the school was able to move forward with phase one improvements just in time for students to arrive for the 2010 school year. Above is the plan we developed and below are photos of the volunteer installation.

The fall 2010 improvements included transforming a large asphalt area into a green, adventure play area. Since the school could not remove the asphalt (based on city requirements) they decided to build on top of it. The spaces created are inspiring, creative, and fun places for riding bikes, imaginative play, and gardening.

The 'potions lab' takes shape

The raised play areas and trike loop are installed by volunteer despite the rain.

Raised planters divide the play area from the parking area.

Hood River School District - School Upgrades

This diagram demonstrates the cyclical resource flows at the new LEED rated Hood River Middle School science and music addition     

In response to a successful bond measure the Hood River School District has been upgrading, renovating and building additions to their elementary, middle and high schools. GreenWorks helped retrofit existing sites and create new spaces and learning landscapes. Site improvements include plazas, playgrounds, stormwater facilities, outdoor classrooms, performance/ amphitheater spaces, learning gardens, ADA improvements, bike parking and associated landscapes. The site work carefully incorporates the needs of students and how they experience, use and enjoy a site while balancing safety, maintenance and sustainability. GreenWorks services included schematic design, construction documents, specifications, LEED documentation, bidding assistance and construction administration.

As Hood River School District completes these upgrades this fall, Hood River Middle school receives recognition for its LEED improvements. (See link to full article below.) We helped the Hood River Middle School flush out their ideas for a new science and music education addition. The addition will be LEED Certified because of sustainable features that help reduce the buildings footprint and give students a chance to interact with green technology. Improvements included:

- Rainwater capture and reuse inside and outside the building
- Learning gardens
- Educational Greenhouse
- Solar Panels for energy generation
- Material Reuse
- Native Landscaping
- Rain Gardens
- Composting
- Alternative Transportation

Hood River MS Educational Greenhouse

Three trees were removed on site to facilitate construction and allow for solar access to the solar panels. Log rounds were reused as planters in the landscape.
This trellis will support fruiting vines and espalier trees while helping to shade the south side of the building.

Hood River Valley High School stormwater feature and pathways

Outdoor classroom space for kindergartner students at West Side Elementary

For more information visit:
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