Playscapes Correspondents are part roving reporters, part playground sleuths: seeking out the best play spaces, play ideas, and play people around the world to share here. Join us?

Apply to be a Correspondent | Correspondent Login

Over the course of a decade as an environmental educator with Mass Audubon, I discovered a passion for play and playspaces. I’m now getting a Master’s of Landscape Architecture and look forward to creating opportunities for kids and grownups to play. I dig in the dirt, build stuff, and seek the unexpected in Boston, Mass.

Playing with Art and Nature at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.

Peabody Essex Museum wood magnet board 1

If you can get to Salem, Mass. before September 2015, you can enjoy the Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibit Branching Out: Trees as Art. It’s part of the Art & Nature Center, which offers playful experiences that appeal to all ages. Here are some highlights from the current exhibit.

Arrange hand-made wooden blocks on a magnetic board. Note the tweens working together in the first photo below.

Peabody Essex Museum wood magnet board 2

Peabody Essex Museum wood magnet board 3

Peabody Essex Museum wood magnet board 5

Tap out a tune on a lovely wooden xylophone.

Peabody Essex Museum wood xylophone

Create a funky critter using parts made from wood and recycled materials. Excellent use of magnets here, too.

Peabody Essex Museum create a critter 1

Peabody Essex Museum create a critter 2

Peabody Essex Museum create a critter 3

Try eight different percussion instruments at this table, part of the toddler-oriented Investigate! Zone.

Peabody Essex Museum table drum 1

Peabody Essex Museum table drum 2

Peabody Essex Museum table drum 3

Finally, drop your tweens and teens in the Maker Lounge, which suggests engineering challenges but encourages visitors to come up with their own problems and solutions.

Peabody Essex Museum Maker Lounge 1

Peabody Essex Museum Maker Lounge 2

Peabody Essex Museum Maker Lounge 3

They’ve got the obligatory 3D printers, but I’d rather see every museum (and science classroom, and family room) have bins of loose parts like the ones seen here. This is not an endorsement, but I’m impressed by the Makedo tools that let kids saw and poke holes in cardboard, then fasten it with screws and hinges. The kid-friendly tapes (clear and masking) don’t work well with cardboard, and these seems to solve the problem while giving more options for fastening.

The Peabody Essex Museum is definitely headed in the right direction as far as creating playscapes that link art, nature, and technology.

3 Responses to “Family Activity Area at Garden in the Woods”

  1. Rachael McNamara said:

    I love the post with the iridescent paper which creates rainbows. Can you be more specific about what type of paper I should look for to recreate it at my house?
    Thank you for posting these wonderful pictures and descriptions.


    June 07, 2015 at 7:24 am

  2. Julie Morris said:

    Hi Erica,

    What a great sight full of ideas! Love the way we think alike. I have an family daycare in my home and am reworking my backyard for the kids play space. I want a place for them to explore and get excited about playing in. Not the regular commercial stuff, but homemade, cool stuff. I am working on a mud/snow kitchen and outdoor music area. Would love any other ideas you may have.
    Thanks so much for the inspiration!!
    Julie Morris
    Lil’ Explorer’s Learning Place ~ Oshkosh, WI

    November 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm

  3. Mitch Ryerson said:

    Hello Erica,

    Just learned about this blog, what a great source of info ! Interested to meet you and hear more about what you are all up to. I’m also curious about the upcoming show at the Design Museum. Is it focusing on playscapes ?

    I’m about to do two new play areas next summer in the Boston area that you might be interested in.One is a collaboration with Perkins School for the Blind to create a “Sensory Garden” along the Charles River in Watertown and the other is a big natural log climber sort of like the ones I’ve done on the Esplanade and in Cambridge. If you get a chance sometime give me a call !

    Thanks, Mitch

    April 03, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Leave a Reply