Friday, May 10, 2013

Play Water Pump Races

The Tulip Festival in Woodburn Oregon attracts visitors from around the region. Even on rainy and cold days you can find people there (this rainy and cold day it was me). They have some neat kids activities. One I was particularly interested in was the water pump duck races.

Kids or a helpful adult pumps the hand pumps until enough water floods their chutes to push their ducks along. I like the activity because it has a lot of variation; each pump has little differences, each chute has a different amount or size of ducks, and everyone pumps differently. 

Only the older kids understood that is was a race, but the little ones had just as much fun. I can see this providing hours of fun at a school or early childhood center too.
A few design details:
- both ends of the chutes sat over animal  troughs that held the water
- the pumps were actually pumping water from these troughs
- the chutes were made of gutter materials
- loos parts of the rubber ducks made it all worth while

This is another venture into the world of hand pumps. I liked these, for their intended purpose. It would not work in all applications, but on this drizzly spring day it was engaging, functional  and entertaining.

See my other post on hand pumps Finding the Perfect Hand Pump

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Learning Landscapes Start a New Design Shop

Hi Readers

I am excited to announce that Learning Landscapes has turned from a blog into a business! After many years of thinking and researching about inspiring children's spaces I have taken the leap to owning and running a business. With 6 projects underway the business is off to a great start.

I will continue to blog, but the interface will look a little different. Updates will come from the new website It will also have updated sections on the company, current projects, and how we could help you realize your project. 

I welcome your comments and ideas and hope you continue to enjoy the blog.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Removing Asphalt to Build a Natural Playground

It seems that playgrounds consisting of a sea of asphalt with a few pieces of playground equipment off to the side have been the norm for a long time. Some of us think that it has been the norm for too long!
We want to see this...

turn to this...
Mt. Hood Community College Early Childhood Center

Removing asphalt can be a tricky project and I have found a few reoccurring issues that should be addressed. If you can jump through a few hoops it can be one of the most rewarding projects for your school or playground. 

1 Parking
Make sure you maintain the amount of parking required by code (In Portland OR check here). Although you may not want to use the parking spaces. There is often a minimum amount of spaces required. If you have to keep the spaces in the long run, but don't need them for the current building use consider some creative building on top of the asphalt.

Marylhurst Early Childhood Center in Oregon City - under 'construction'.  They segmented off part of the unused parking area for play by using planters and biobags.

2 Soil Tests
It is always a good idea to test the soil under the asphalt. Depave a Portland Organization specializing in pavement removal says,
"Depave discourages community members from removing pavement that is covering contaminated soil. If contamination is currently present in the soil, the contamination is capped and is not causing any severe negative environmental or health impacts. Unless there is a cleanup plan in place, removing the pavement may do more harm than good." 
This is great advice especially when kids, gardening, or water are involved. Depave has more advice in their how to depave guide.

3 Water and Traffic Flow
Take a good look at your site and make sure the asphalt removal is not going to trigger any new problems. Asphalt conveys water well from one area to another, soil and play areas may erode under the same water forces. Is there anything draining to the asphalt? Where will the water go once the asphalt is removed? This is a great opportunity to incorporate stormwater features and rain gardens.

Also consider traffic. How will people get around in the new area? What effects will this have on the new uses of the space?

Rainwater Feature at Mount Hood Community College Early Childhood Center.
 It takes water from the roof top to a playground stormwater swale.

4 Create a New Vision Plan
Develop a site plan that outlines what you will do after the asphalt is removed. Remember that under the asphalt is often 4" to 6" of rock on top of very compacted soils. Plan to help bring your soils back to life through aeration and added nutrients.

Create a Concept Plan for the new area that includes all of the proposed elements to scale

5 Removal and Disposal

Always call before you dig! Running into an underground line can be a very big danger. Asphalt is also softer and lighter than concrete and is not suitable for reuse. It is readily recycled by pavement processing companies. It is not something you want to bury on your site. the National Asphalt Pavement Association has further information and resources.

6 Implement Your New Design

Now the fun can start! I would love to see your success stories of children's spaces built after asphalt removal.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Universally Accessible Nature Themed Play Area

It was a cool March morning, but the sand and water area at Harper's Playground was packed! Kids were sliding down all sides of the 'grassy' hill. From a distance the play area looked peaceful and really fun. My daughter ran for it across the lawn.

Harper's Playground - Portland Oregon

" Harper’s Playground will build community by providing an inclusive playground at Arbor Lodge Park where children and adults of all abilities can play together."
- The Harper's Playground Mission

The playground is beautiful and well laid out. Every feature is accessible or has an accessible type. An artificial turf grass surfacing was used in some of the use zones. I thought it would look pretty fake. But, with all the action of the kids and other design features it melted to the background really well. There are lots of different types of play (including just exploring and running around, which seems to be ever popular). The central mound with the slide is a really great feature. It adds topography and interest to the overall design.

What a beautiful asset for this City of Portland Park. Project Partners included Place Studios, Walsh Construction and lots of other donors.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

National Wildlife Week

The National Wildlife Federation is celebrating National Wildlife Week with some great information about animals and how they depend on trees. There is a 6' tall poster, trading cards on animals and trees as well as free trees for students to plant. These are great resources to jump start a conversation with the young people in your life. Enjoy!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Five Way Tire Swing

A Month of German Inspiration

This is one of the mist engaging pieces I saw in Germany. (Completely against the ASTM safety rules in the US.) This 5 sided wood pole swing structure lets kids swing toward one another and makes for a very dynamic and social swinging experience.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Month of German Inspiration

Introducing the bug hotel, built by high school students to house bugs near their garden. It is also beautiful and artistic.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Play in Unlikely Places

A Month of German Inspiration

A reminder not to take myself to seriously! These hand rails on the stairs provided a bunch of play value too. Kids seem to find something to entertain themselves no matter what.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Water Channels

A Month of German Inspiration

This hand pump and water channel were by far the most popular event in this very busy schoolyard. You can see the boulder water channel that continues into the playground. I am not sure what the vision was, but when we were there the water never got further then 20 feet from the pump. This left the serpentine boulder 'creek bed' dry. In the end I think it was more of an obstruction to running and chasing in the rest of the play area.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Little Forts: In, On and Around

A Month of German Inspiration

There are so many types of little forts, houses and play buildings. Kids use every inch (and side) of these spaces. At this school the roofs were getting just as much use at the inside. Remember this when you decide what is surrounding your fort or house. Make the spaces safe for climbing, jumping and falling.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wild Play in the City

A Month of German Inspiration

In the heart of the Berlin, this long linear park gave kids a sense of wilderness even though it is packed between two 4 story apartment buildings. At first it seems kind of boring, lots of messy vegetation and undeveloped paths. But, this is the empty lot nature experience that urban kids need they can roam, build and manipulate to their hearts content.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Month of German Inspiration

This neat little log wall separated the play area from adjacent uses. Large wood burned designs gave it a nice organic feeling.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Log Without The Collapse Danger

A Month of German Inspiration

I really liked this piece because it was simple and afforded the experience of climbing on and in a log type structure. The steps and slide really enhance the active play options.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Fall Surfacing?!?!

A Month of German Inspiration

I am not sure that German kids are tougher then American kids, or less prone to falling. But, their play environments are not as focused on fall surfacing and use zones. It allows a freedom that we don't see. On this hill a variety of climbing net activities were arranged above a cobble stone pavement. Not only was it stone, but it had a protruding stone every 24" or so. In the Us you would probably see poured in place rubber surfacing. I think the approach above fits the City landscape and has a stronger natural feeling while offering a more interesting risk for kids.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Climbing Play Spider

A Month of German Inspiration

This wooden spider and his accompanying net offered a fun climbing event for little ones. Custom wood creatures were found all over Berlin.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Build Your Own Fort!

A Month of German Inspiration

This adventure play area was fantastic! If I lived near this as a kid this is where you would have found me every day. Each kid can rent a numbered platform for 2 weeks and build their own fort. Two of my favorite management aspects were-
1. They were organized - see the tool rental cabinet above
2. They were creative - kids could pick up old nails and trade them in for new ones to build with!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Creative use of ping-pong tables

A Month of German Inspiration

This concrete ping pong table was everywhere! In so many schools I saw groups of kids using it creatively. Here a dozen kids walk in a circle around the table while the ball goes back and forth, turning a 2 person game into an active group event.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

A Hidden Art Studio on the Playground

A Month of German Inspiration

 This rock with small bowl shaped divots, sat under a willow dome. It served as a quieter place on a busy schoolyard for a small group of girls to gather. The activity today was' tattoos' with a wet colored pencil. It actually worked really well!

Friday, February 01, 2013

A Month of German Inspiration!

I visited Germany, Berlin specifically, a few years ago and did a 4 day bike tour of nature playscapes. The spaces were amazing. Their outlook and approach to play are very different then the US. I returned feeling energized and hopeful. This month I want to share some of those images with you. I will focus on visuals with a little explanation rather then my regular depth into a topic.

This climbing wall was designed by the school children. they helped carve it out of native stone. There were about 8 large stones all lined up. It seemed to be one of the most popular spots on the playground! May of the schools we saw had carving rocks for the kids to use on the playground.

PS: If you get irritated with the frequent emails, stick with me. I will be back to my usual blog approach next month. :)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stormwater at Schools

It is the middle of winter and stormwater is on our minds here in Portland. It is a topic most kids are drawn to. What little kid can resist a puddle? We have a fabulous opportunity to teach with stormwater at our schools. It is visible, occurs all winter long and can be quite beautiful.

Collecting Stormwater at Schools
Schools often have large surrounding sites. In Portland they are one of the largest urban land holders. That means lots of rain and lots of roof to capture rain. Plenty of our schools have lots of asphalt too. The wonderful thing about working at the school is students can help throughout the entire process. See some of my favorites below.

Bridge Water Garden Before
At Bridge School not only was asphalt pavement removed, but stormwater from the roof was diverted into the water garden.

Bridge Water Garden After
Safety Hurdles
Safety is always a top concern at schools. Some of the ways you can avoid the unwanted combination of kids and water (or kids and mud) are
- locate the stormwater facility away from the high traffic areas liek the playground or main door. Place it somewhere there is a watchful eye; outside the office or classroom.
- Design it to have a maximum level of water that is still very shallow
- Avoid steep slopes
- Don't try to hold the water in a container and release it later, especially if kids will come in contact with it. You start to get into sanity issues.

Portland Public Schools has a great stormwater website with photos of their school stormwater facilities. Below are some of my favorite projects. The best projects,


Fernwood MS Students Installing Their Swale

Fernwood MS Downspout Disconnect and Swale


Harvey Scott Students Forming Their Swale

Harvey Scott School Swale and Outdoor Classroom

Maintenance at DaVinci Middle School

Da Vinvi Middle School Rain Garden

Metropolitan Learning Center
Students picking water loving plants

Metropolitan Leaning Center Swale-
Kindergarden kids compacting the soil on the edges.
Metropolitan Learning Center Swale Completed

DeLaSalle Parking Lot Swale

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