Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Forest School Short Film

No classroom for these school children: this documentary film takes us to a forest kindergarten in Switzerland where children age 4 to 7 spend every day outside in the forest. I wish I went to school here. I would love to find a place like this for my daughter.


Giant Treehouse, Outdoor Trains and Lots More to Discover at Highfield

The Highfield Discovery Garden is located in Hamilton County Park's Glenwood Gardens. While the entire sight is full of trails, nature, and wonder the discovery garden is especially amazing.

The magical tree just calls you to enter.

Designed by Site Masters of Cincinnati, this is truly jam packed with things to find. Highfield Discovery Garden is designed to teach children the importance of nature while they have fun exploring seven themed garden areas. I have the pleasure of working with Teri Hendy of Site Masters in an upcoming natural playground project. I am definately looking forward to it after seeing the details of Highfield.

Inside the tree: lots of light and nets to keep us safe.

Giant mushrooms add wonder to the flower and herb garden

My nephew was enchanted with the outdoor trains. They ran on three levels, through wooden tunnels and across bridges.

A windstorm in the park provided timber for whimsical art.

Even the small details were there. This little fairy village allows kids to get in and play.

The water features are designed to be shallow while looking like ponds and wetlands. The mesh on the top of this photo keeps children from falling into the deeper sections.
He could barely wait to enter the twisty house (above) and found a few educational pieces inside which he read with his mother on a nearby bench (below).

Winter gardens teemed with greens.

Trails of all materials and sizes encourage exploration

I would love to see this type of discovery space in every city. Our kids deserve it!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Whimsical Snake Breaks Through Playground!

This long green snake breaking through the tipsy tower and the maze of crooked balance beams must attract any young visitor at this ballet inspired playground.

The Danish company Hampus Playgrounds put together this magical piece containing:
- A large and small climbing wall
- 3 levels of play and climbing challenges
- Giant snake for climbing and balancing
- Climbing Rosk
- Balance Beams
- 3 sided climbing net
- Balance Ropes

Humpus Playgrounds has been making fascinating kids play equipment for 10 years. I like how their play approach is based in pedagogy and child development. They also highlight safe, cost effective, durable and sustainable playgrounds. Their promotional literature says

"Our design offers unusual shapes that challenge the mind and body. Our unique design and the search for innovative solutions has background in modern pedagogical and physiological knowledge. Children's physical, cognitive and creative development has the best conditions in diverse and varied environment close to nature's own idiom."

I am sure we will see more great design out of this Danish shop.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Playable Design Winners

Playable Design has posted their winners from the playable 10 international design competition. This is the annual global search for inspiring play design. Here are some of my favorite submimssions.

Woodruff Park in the heart of downtown Atlanta will be the home to the winning design in the Playable Art group. The winning designer was Jeff Santos, a gaming and app designer from Canada. This was the first time he had ever created a play piece. The ATL play structure, one-of-a-kind design makes it perfect for such a unique site where kids, young tourists, college students and even office workers are expected to enjoy its many playful components.

The Atlanta Beltline is a 22-mile linear park following an old rail line encircling Atlanta. This project will transform the city over the next 20 years. Design a conceptual master plan for play that could have huge impact on Atlantans for decades. The images above is from the playable site catergory submitted by Max Askew. The option below plays off of the rail history of the site.

See the competition website for DIY printable instructions for play elements in the DIY catergory.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Amazing Crocheted Playable Public Art

As a designer and crocheter this playable art sculpture in Sapporo Japan caught my attention. It was recently posted on one of my favorite playground blogs Playscapes. I think the colors, textures, and the approach to playable art is fantastic.

Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam (pictured above) is the Japanese textile artist who inspired and fabricated this work of art.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mt. Hood Community College Natural Playground - The Big Picture

The Early Childhood Program at Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) in Gresham Oregon just opened their doors to a new state of the art child center with a natural playground. GreenWorks designed the landscape features including infant areas, a 3-5 year old play area and a large nature classroom.

Like many communities and education centers the staff and teachers at MHCC did not want to have a large colorful play structure as the center of their play area. The client worked with GreenWorks designer Michelle Mathis to design many small nodes of play areas that let the children be creative, work together in problem solving, get exercise, get closer to nature and learn (shhhhhhh don't tell the kids they are learning during play).

This blog will feature the design, products and photos of each node on the next few months. These areas include:
- Net and rock climbers
- Sand and water play
- Mounds with climbing and sliding
- Tree fort and log climber
- Trike garage and riding track
- Music and sensory garden
- Free building zone
- Imaginative play area
- Wind, rain, and nature exploration pieces
- Planting integrated throughout the site
- Art and exploration area
- Game and free play zone
- Learning Garden
- Outdoor nature classroom
- 24- 36 month discovery zone
- 6-12 month exploration area

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bike Park

Valmont Bike Park opened recently in Boulder Colorado. The multiuse bike space has elements for the youngest rider to the most advanced. Talk about a learning landscape and it looks incredibly fun too!

Check out this video for more info.

All of these photos are from pinkbike.com, Thanks!

Longevity of wood in Natural Playscapes

Wood is such an important material in natural play. It can be used in endless combinations and configurations; climbing, walls, fences, loose parts, edging, seating, etc. But wood is, at its essence, a natural material that degrades and changes fairly quickly with use and time. How long a wood element in a playground will last depends on a lot of factors; is it touching the ground, how much wear will it get, how big is it, has it been treated, what is the local climate, and what is the intended use or actual use.

I would like to think that wood should be used in a capacity that it is allowed to degrade and change, further exemplifying natural processes. But, with safety requirements this seems more of a dream then a functional reality. I believe this striving for long lived materials is what resulted in the plastic, fiberglass, and steel pieces we see today.

I recently visited a natural playground in Tampa Florida. The playground was designed by The Natural Playground Company. If you have not seen their work you should! They were not involved in the construction, so final wood choices and details were completed by the contractor. Ethan King from The Natural Playgrounds Company told me the following.
 "We find a minimum of 5 years before any degradation occurs(on wood pieces), typically closer to 10.  That's only 5 years less than traditional equipment.  Furthermore, rotting logs don't cause splinters so there really isn't any kind of a significant safety concern."
Natural Playgrounds Company now treats all their products with a treatment called soy seal. They recommend treating wood ever 6 months in tough climates. I have been using Timber Pro's internal wood stabilizer for park and play elements.

The Tampa play space is set in a unique Cottonwood grove. As an Oregonian it looked very 'Florida'  with lizards, hanging moss, and an overall mangrove feel. Most of the elements are wood and the overall feel was magical woodland like. Today I am going to take a closer look at the wood elements.

From Natural Playgrounds http://naturalplaygrounds.com/

The following pieces seem to be constructed from lumber or dimensional piecesinstead of logs. Overall they seemed to be holding up well.

Coat rack: made from a 4" x4" and round pegs

Climber post - made from a 6" round (maybe a fence post) and 1" pegs. It could still hold my weight!
Storage Cabinet - dimensional 1 and 2 by material

Dimensional lumber trellis and swing.

I like to think that larger natural logs would last longer based on their size, protective bark, and unaltered state. The following pieces proved me wrong.

This piece was more of a landscape feature. I am not sure what it looked like going in, but it is definitely on its way to biodegrading.
These stepping logs looked rough! Ethan at Natural Playgrounds let me know these were not supplied by them. His guess is that they were not hard wood. The contractor probably supplied and installed these.

This wall looked good and stable. The small branch hand holds had all fallen or rotted off the climbing wall. This kind of detail looks great at first but obviously needs a little more maintenance then the dimensional pieces. I would argue in this case it is worth the extra time to update the hand hold detail to look and function like it did at installation.
Climber at the time of installation

In this case study the dimensional lumber held up a lot better than the natural logs and wood pieces. This may be because of their treatment, use, or installation. It makes me wonder if this is a wide spread result and if I would find the same thing in the pacific northwest. I guess I better keep looking around!

Does anyone have photos of wood play elements 5+ years after installtion? I would love to see them.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Risk and Safety a Nice Collection of Writings

I think it is the ever increasing concern for risk and liability that really got me interested in playground design. It is not enough it simply design a fun or education or inspiring children's space. The space needs to meet guidelines that have been developed through a lot of research and thought. Guidelines that make a very small and fairly safe box within which play can happen. I think the challenge of design within the safety guidelines but outside the box may be one of the main things that attracts me to playspace design. Well, it is fun too.

On one of my favorite blogs Let the children play, the author has but together a wonderful collection of links and views on safety and risk in play. It is worth a review if these topics interest you. Her list of resources is below.

::: Outdoor Play: Does Avoiding the Risks Reduce the Benefits? Helen Little and Shirley Wyver

The ultimate aim for parents, teachers and other play providers should be to provide outdoor play environments where the risks of serious injury are reduced, but creativity, challenge and excitement are maintained

::: Putting Risk into Perspective Tim Gill

Perhaps most important of all, we need to reflect on our own childhoods, and remind ourselves of what it might have felt like for Amma, when she climbed the tree in her nursery higher than ever before

::: Wild Things Clare Warden

‘Many children are not allowed to explore and test themselves in play and to feel in control of being “out of control”.’

::: Risk and Challenge: Essential Elements in Outdoor Play Spaces

::: Risks, Dangers and Hazards

Unfortunately, some early childhood educators and managers have responded to these factors by urbanising early childhood centres, with prefabricated, pre-built playspaces. Underlying this trend is a relinquishing of the responsibility for creating safe and engaging natural outdoor playspaces for children.

::: The Benefits of Risk in Playgrounds

When we become overly concerned with eliminating every potential bump or bruise on the playground, we also eliminate the potential for healthy lifelong developmental skills

I still believe children’s environments should be as safe as necessary, rather than as safe as possible. And I still believe that falling down is a normal part of an active childhood.
::: Just try to Stop Us @ Teacher Tom
Can a child hurt himself with a piece of string? If I let my brain run freely through my nightmares, I can come up with a few horrific possibilities, but realistically it ain't gonna happen.

Sorry for me blogging absence. My husband and I adopted a baby girl two months ago and my eyes, arms, and mind have been full of here ever since.

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