Your thoughts on Natural Playgrounds?

I wanted to highlight a comment I got recently from reader Anita Van Asperdt:

I am a landscape architect. In my profession we are almost forced to design with standard out-of-the-box playground equipment because these structures are designed with all the safety codes and regulations in mind. Therfore, park departments expect us to use these plastic structures. I can hardly call this “design” it is just picking out a nice product from a cataloge. I finally decided to educate myself about all those safety regulations and start designing Natural Playgrounds so I can be creative and the kids don’t have to play in a plastic environment. I am not the only one delving into Natural Playground design there are several other companies. . My company is called LandCurrent other companies that offer creative playgrounds are: the Natural Playground company and Leathers. If you know of any others please post it here, because we need as many resources as possible to get away from plastic playgrounds. I am convinced that natural playgrounds are the new revolution in playground design, they are safer, cheaper, healthier for our kids and above all more fun!

I’ve had “Natural Playgrounds” (the company, not the idea) on my list to blog about for some time. In answer to Anita’s plea I’ll try to feature many of the natural playground resources I’m aware of over the next couple of weeks.

But I know I have lots of landscape architect readers (which, BTW I am not, being, rather, an odd combination of scientist and garden historian) and I’d like to hear what you think about the natural playground design movement. It seems that the buzz isn’t reaching the streets…in spite of articles and news coverage about new types of playgrounds, most people seem to go for the easiest option, which is ordering a plastic playground from a catalogue.

That said, I think of this blog as an ‘idea board’ for all kinds of playground thoughts, both natural and otherwise, with design ideas that I find interesting or unique or which I think could be adapted in a variety of ways and into different settings. It’s an appreciation, a celebration, of the playground art, in a way. So there will always be both ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ here, but very little catalogue.

Your thoughts?

6 Responses to “Your thoughts on Natural Playgrounds?”

  1. Melanie Guy said:

    We are an established family firm who’s philosophy has always been on Natural Play – but we have moved on – integrating centuries old natural play with inspiring structures for imaginative play and learning, with sensual stimulation integrated by the careful design and use of sustainable natural materials. Proof is in the product – we have playgrounds from 3 months to 30 years old.

    May 15, 2014 at 3:32 am

  2. open road of new york said:

    Nice blog, thanks! We build playgrounds in NYC on Parks Dept and Dept of Education land, and we’ve been building Natural Playgrounds that are also skateable and include hardscape as well. It can be done, and there are people in the agencies waiting for people with ideas to “naturalize” the playgrounds. Here are some examples from our blog and

    February 18, 2009 at 4:10 am

  3. activekidsclub said:

    I love your blog!And I love natural playground and natural play for kids!It is all about balance if you live in a big City like me (I live in Toronto)where it is hard to find natural ares for kids to play in, they are fantastic.I also am fan of Helle and Danish design, got the love the sense the Danes has for design.

    I will Put it on my website
    Kari is about discovering the wonder of nature with kids and adults.

    December 09, 2008 at 4:28 am

  4. J said:

    I really enjoy your blog and photos of the amazing playgrounds out “there”, and am envious of those people who get to experience them in person. Our suburban community has wonderful parks and greenways, but nothing quite as unique in the playground department. I think the movement toward natural playgrounds could be helped if the average homeowner/parent were able to purchase or build components in their own yards. Unless you happen to travel outside the United States or are lucky enough to live in a progressive community, most people might not even know such choices are out there. I was thrilled at some of the equipment featured such as the rope nets and outdoor musical instruments, but the price tags on them would be several mortgage payments for most of us. No wonder our neighborhood is filled with the same cookie cutter wood and plastic playsets that are available at the local box store. My wish is for a website or book that could tell me the safest, best way to create some of my own natural play equipment; bonus if it included plans and plant lists for sensory gardens. I am an amateur gardener with an unused LA degree, but also a busy mom. I would love to integrate a playspace in our yard for my daughters that would harmonize with the existing garden. Yet one more thing on my to-do list…
    Thanks so much for your blog, it gives me great peace to look at the beautiful spaces you’ve found.

    December 09, 2008 at 1:16 am

  5. arcady said:

    Great comment, thanks! Love the constellation ideas for the playground, please do send photos when it’s finished.

    I appreciate your thoughts on the manufacturers…it’s easy to see the them as the problem, but I think you’re right that if they saw money to be made, they’d be supplying more ‘natural’ components. They would still be catalogue, rather than custom, though, and I think another problem with box systems, even progressive ones, is that they lack the integration with an individual setting that comes from bespoke work. But a better array of options would be really helpful to organizations that can’t afford the services of an architect…

    November 19, 2008 at 5:37 pm

  6. rhythmic + tyke said:

    Well, I’m a landscape architect and a parent of two wonderful little kiddos. Having said that, I feel I’m caught smack-dab in the middle of the this natural v’s plastic playground dilemma. My son found a stick yesterday on a pathway near our local out-of-the-box creation and got a real kick out of it! He made his way across the basketball court “shooting” that twig at anything that moved. I wasn’t about to stop him. On the flip side, my firm is currently working on a playground for a local developer who instructed us to use an out-of-the-box manufacturer primarily due to the fact that the local kids couldn’t figure out how to use the previously specified Kompan equipment; a progressive European out-of-the-box play systems manufacturer. We thought, how unfortunate that the children were not able to “adapt” the Kompan equipment to invoke their imaginative sides; stymied by the oh-so-familiar sterility of the “safe per code” equipment they were used to. Knowing we had to use a standardized equipment manufacturer, we began to think about what we could do to adapt the required by splashing a bit of discovery into the mix. Albeit a small park, we adopted a constellation/”dark skies” theme with the idea that we could stimulate the children’s senses through the use of color, pattern, and texture. The project is about 50% complete with the landscape going in this coming spring. Some of the components, outside of the out-of-the-box equipment, include recycled concrete to simulate the different stars which comprise the Big and Little Dipper. Kids will be able to jump from one to the next and see the name of the each star and how it relates to the others in the constellation. Additionally, there are child height trace panels for some other well known constellations. The landscape has a large amount of ornamental grasses that simulate cloud patterns and a mix of fragrant and colorful shrubs and perennials to simulate the land through the clouds. To cap it all off, there will be a 6.5’x13′ concrete wavy platform the kids and their families can lay on while they gaze up at the stars. Needless to say, when we presented the idea of the trace panels and a couple other ideas to the out-of-the-box manufacturers rep, they were all over it. Honestly, I think the manufacturers are in a similar boat as the LA’s. Why not include them in the process for change to something more natural? Odds are, once this move to more natural play environments takes hold, which it will, you’ll see them adapt anyway to make a buck. So much more to say, so little time.

    November 18, 2008 at 5:16 am

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