Whew…after many international flights and a broken laptop I am at last back to blogging! And before we leave Earthscapes I wanted to highlight a few details in their natural playground work….careful attention to the details is what transforms a playscape from ‘looks good’ to ‘plays great’, and over the last five years of looking incessantly at playgrounds I’ve really begun to focus on the small things.
Fortunately, playgrounds are starting to ‘look’ a whole lot better, and a whole lot more natural, than they were five years ago. But the subtleties of playability can be harder to grasp. So here are some learning points from the Earthscapes work:
1. A low table with ‘straddle’ seating (arranged something like a spider) is much more manageable for small children than a traditional height table with forward facing benches. Ever seen a kid try to get their little legs up and over a bench? Tough, and sometimes leads to falls. Straddle seats are much better, and they make for fast sitting down and getting up, which teachers also appreciate!
2. The addition of a short run of fence along the crest of the hill for a hill slide adds another playable feature to that space, and integrates the ‘grab bar’ over the slide into the landscape design rather than having it hang out by itself as an awkward square. Note that on this slide there are multiple ways up the hill. There should always be multiple ways up a hill! It encourages more active play and cuts down on the ‘get in line’ nature of the slide.
3. Add a track! I’ve said this alot, but make every effort to include a complete circuit somewhere in your design. This change alone can lead to much more active play, and it allows high-energy players to race around the truck without bothering lower-energy players in the center. This is particularly essential in a small playscape (like this one), where the high-energy kiddos tend to just bounce around, annoying the other players. Give them a track. If at all possible, vary the track by having some small hills, a change in materials from smooth surfacing to wood decking to bricks or cobbles, maybe a bridge. Sections of concrete or asphalt surfacing in the track can double as chalkboards, too.