Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Designing a Fairy Garden

Fairy Garden's in Public Parks
I have just started working on a fairy garden concept for a public park project I am working on. I love the concept, but the details have been a little tough to wrap my head around. All the wonderful pictures I have gathered would work well in a yard or preschool. But the park will have dogs, teenagers and other kids that may destroy detailed pieces.

photo from:
Pea gravel is always a popular material

Let the Kids Build
The key component here is letting the kids build fairy houses. I wanted to make sure that is clear. :) But, I need a strong structure for the 'garden'.

photo from:

photo from

photo from:

Fairy House by Sally J. Smith ©.

Solid and Maintainable Details
I need a few rock solid details that can hold together a fairy garden and hope the kids will do the rest. There is a dedicated maintenance staff on  site that will collect and drop off materials for building. I want to keep their dedication to the idea by creating a space that is easy for them to maintain.

stone is always a nice solid material, but expensive
I like the idea of a fort and community chalk board

This is neither solid or easily maintainable, but I love the feeling it adds. photo from: arbor day

My Site
My site is fabulous. It is a magical existing grove of giant sequoia trees. We call it the 'grove of giant's. I think the giant and fairies will get along well! The fairy area will be a part of a larger nature discovery area.

Could I really make it a grove of the giant!
You Ideas
So, I need your help. Do you know of any great public fairy gardens that have stood the test of time? Do you know if any materials and photos that may be good additions to my collection? Any ideas are welcomed at this point. Please leave a comment.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nature Play Toolkit

GreenWorks recently created this nature play tool kit for Portland Parks and Recreation while working on the Westmoreland Park nature play area. It outlines some of the main activities, materials and concerns in nature play areas. It is a bit of a graphic menu for nature play design. These are a few pages from the draft version for review and comment.

On a schematic level these images help explain nature play to public and maintenance audiences. It can help garner support for a project or help bring everyone onto the same page. While it is many steps away from a design that is complete, safety reviewed and ready for play, I think it is an inspiring start.

What do you think? How would this toolkit be useful to you or your organization?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Natural Play Area Guidelines

The Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District  (THPRD) in Oregon has put together some interresting nature play guidelines. I have not seen many parks districts or departments attempt to put together a set of guidelines for nature play. This might be the first document of its kind! I think this document includes many of the basic concepts and approaches taken in public playgrounds in the US. It is worth the read and is a great place for parks providers to start when creating their own guidelines.

THPRD breaks the concept of nature play into two catergories as follows:

Off-trail play areas

Will involve opening designated sections of existing natural area parks for
unstructured free-play, where kids can discover and participate with nature on their own terms. These areas should have characteristics that will allow for an interactive experience with native habitat, including a diversity of plant size and species, fair level of ecological health, and variation in terrain. The needs of successful play areas should be balanced with natural resources concerns and general habitat health.
Bruce Barbarasch of THPRD ducks into one of the forts in an off-trail play area. Bruce has been the leading force behind the creation of the Hyland Park off-trail play area.

Natural playscapes

Involve the design of nature-inspired play areas, incorporating natural elements (plants, water, topography, logs, boulders, etc.) and built play structures to provide for a sensory experience of nature and a variety of types of play activities. As a hybrid of nature and traditional play areas, these playscapes will adhere as much as possible to existing applicable safety guidelines.

Camille Park Nature Play Climbing Logs
THPRD's Nature Play Goals
- Provide children of all ages, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds with safe, accessible spaces in which they can interact freely with the natural world.

- Allow these spaces to be as inherently natural a setting as possible, and, when existing spaces aren’t available, to design and maintain spaces with nature as the guiding inspiration.

- Appreciate the potential for play inherent within children, and to provide a setting that encourages the use of creativity and imagination rather than, or in addition to, one which allows only for prescriptive physical activities.

- Recognize the value of these spaces as means for environmental education on various levels, including spontaneous and formal adult teaching, as well as that provided by hands-on, unstructured play.

- Make areas attractive as community features.

Do you know if any other nature play guidelines that I have not seen? Please let me know.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nature Play in Parks: Two New Oregon Examples

Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District (THPRD) has opened two fantastic new nature play areas. One is an Off-trail Play Area and the other is a Natural Playscape. These play area types are defined further in my previous post on THPRD's Nature play guidelines.

Hyland Forest Park:
This piece of forest is set aside and free play is allowed. Fort building, exploration, digging and other activities are all allowed. It is part of a free play pilot project in the parks district.

The entire area is delineated by these signs, maybe every 30'.

There are lots of fots already built and ready to add on to!

There are more delicate built items like the 'soup bowl'

Camille Park:
This is also in the THPRD park system, but it is a very different park. They consider this one a natural playscape. It is a mix of natural themed equipment and natural materials.

Walking up onto the play area it is almost hard to tell it is a play area!

the more traditional equipment area

The awesome log stack!

Logs are set on concrete footings and rebar adds support so they wont move around.
But these logs are huge! I can't image they will move for a long time.

Another view that I think is peaceful and beautiful especially compared to what a colorful climbing set would look like.

sand play

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Natural Play in Montessori Settings

I have been looking for a Montessori program for my little one and at the same time doing some landscape improvements at our house that will facilitate play. While she is a bit young for a slide or climbing equipment there are lots of things that are montessori based that she can do now. To me Montessori spaces are inviting in nature: they are inspiring, organized, and calm.
One of the central tenants of the Montessori philosophy is the connection with the natural world. Children should have the daily opportunity to experience the outdoors with structure and purpose. She placed a great emphasis on nature and nature education. Dr. Montessori also felt that the outdoor environment should be an extension of the classroom.

“It is also necessary for his psychical development to place the soul of the child in contact with creation, in order that he may lay up for himself treasure from the directly educating forces of living nature.” Maria Montessori

Many of the ideas are not space based they are 'work' based. Much of Montessori education is based on prepared tasks or work that children can practice and achieve. How can Montessori work be adapted to outdoor spaces and materials? As a designer this leads to what types of spaces are needed? What materials are offered, where are they stored, and how?

Here is a basic Montessori math activity. We need exactly 55 pine cones (children check their work by using all the pieces) usually stored in a nice basket, chalk (also in the basket), a large, flat, and safe space where they can write and organize without being interrupted.

Materials and spaces need to be organised so appropriate work can happen and so children are drawn to the work.


Much of the Montessori work for little ones happens around practical life skills. If only we can get kids to weed! At least digging, wheelbarrows, sweeping and planting seem to be within reach.

I could not find this web sourfce again after catching these littel ones at work. Please let me know if you know the source.

How do we inspire a deep and true connection to nature? I like this Montessori farm approach (dispite being bit by a chicken as a child)!

The process from inspiration to design can be a long and detailed endevour.  But, there are some wonderful resources out there. The Montessori Print Shop has learning materials as well as a specific section on playgrounds. They have a lot of helpful playground forms including an injury log, inspection forms for daily, monthly and yearly and seasonal maintenance. While the forms may seem like extra work they will be invaluable for maintenance, extending the life of your playscape, protecting children and liability.

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