Well-designed play brings everyone together. It’s why landscape architects and playground designers are constantly creating wildly original and wondrous kid-centric worlds. Like incorporating moments of landscape play that provide multiple options for a child’s next move, a key strategy for adding play value. Or featuring innovative playground designs that help play spaces blend into—or stand out from—their surroundings.
To us, innovative playground designs can only function in service to play. It’s a perspective that continues to influence our entire industry. And it’s why we are recognized for building the best playgrounds in the world. And why we appreciate partnering with landscape architects and communities to keep stretching design, and play. Contact your local Landscape Structures playground consultant to get started on your next playground design, and view all of the unique designs of the 2024 PLAY Book in the video below.
Imagine integrated ramps, belting and berms connecting kids of all abilities to all levels—from the ground all the way to the tower tops. Or winding walking paths that unite multiple play areas with a fitness course to multigenerational family fun. It’s an inclusive playground design dream.
We build unique play value into each inclusive playground design by incorporating moments of landscape play that provides multiple options for a child’s next move. Or featuring creative designs that help playgrounds blend into—or stand out from—their surroundings. View all of the unique designs of the 2023 PLAY Book in the video below.
Earlier this year, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) awarded more than $100,000 to 17 outstanding students for its 2020 scholarship season. The scholarships and fellowships support the next generation of designers by rewarding superior student performance, encouraging diversity, supporting original research and assisting students with unmet financial need.
One of those awards is the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship, which was created by Cofounder and Chairman of Landscape Structures, Steve King, FASLA, and the inventor of the continuous play concept.
The purpose of the scholarship is to recognize a student who has high potential in the design of play environments. This student must show an interest in the value of integrating playgrounds into parks, schools and other play environments and understand the significant social and educational value of play. Key qualities in the student receiving the Scholarship are creativity, openness to innovation, and a demonstrated interest in park and playground planning.
This year’s recipient of the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship is Allyson Fairweather. This past May, Allyson received a Master’s of Landscape Architecture from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and is working part-time at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects. We were happy to sit down with Allyson earlier this summer to hear more about her interest in landscape architecture, and the project she submitted as part of her scholarship application.
Last spring, Allyson took a research class and was interested in studying if there was a relationship between an adult affinity for nature and how much time that adult spent playing in nature as a child.
“I was excited to discover that there is evidence to suggest that children that play outdoors in nature exhibit more environmentally responsible behaviors, greater nature inquiry, great awareness of ecological process and greater environmental stewardship,” Allyson explained.
In her research, the term “nature playscape” popped up a lot. She learned that a nature playscape is an outdoor play space that is specifically designed to connect children to the natural environment and included elements such as water, plants, soil and incorporated wild life.
“As a child, I played outside all the time,” Allyson shared. “I was always on my hands and knees in the dirt playing with bugs, collecting flowers and leaves, and running around in my parents’ garden. I have more memories of that than I do hanging out on a swing set. And now as an adult, I love the outdoors. So that’s what sparked my interest in this subject.”
Through her connection to adjunct professor and Principal at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects, Emily Wright, Allyson was made aware of a playground redesign project at The Bement School, a small, co-ed day and boarding school for kindergarten through grade 9 in historic Deerfield, Mass. The school, nestled below the Pocumtuck Range and flanked by the Deerfield River, has a beautiful, rural environment. Their existing playground was outdated and disconnected—scattered throughout campus. And upon further conversations, Allyson learned that the playground equipment wasn’t challenging enough for the range of students using it.
Allyson met with the playground committee—two school administrators and a teacher—a few different times. Initially, she visited the site to understand the space. Then she held two workshops—one for the playground committee and a second one for a small group of students in grades 3, 4, 5 and 7.
“The ultimate goal of these workshops was to understand how the play space was used, what the school community liked or didn’t like, and their vision of how it could be improved,” explained Allyson. “We prompted the adults with questions for discussion, but for the students we planned a more interactive exercise using a printed map of campus and inspirational photos. The students used stickers to vote for favorite pictures of nature play spaces.”
Allyson explained that the kids’ favorite photo was a playstructure embedded into a hillside because it appeared challenging and the students could imagine many creative ways to play there.
“A large part of this project was engaging with The Bement School community,” Allyson said. “They loved being a part of this project and kept asking when we were going to come back.”
After compiling all of the feedback into a report, Allyson started laying out the design of the nature playscape.
“One of the first things I did with this design was start with a continuous accessible path that circulated through the entire play space to create a boundary that unifies the play area. I tried to accommodate a range of ages and abilities in the play equipment. We imagined the playground would be created out of locally sourced black locusts because it’s really strong, sturdy wood that doesn’t splinter.”
Of course, they were tasked with blending the nature-inspired elements with more traditional playground features like foursquare and basketball courts, and swings. They included those elements but oriented them at angles that give different views of the soccer fields, the play area and the surrounding landscape.
“The committee wanted to include a tire swing as it helped demonstrate one of The Bement School’s core values, collaboration,” Allyson explained. “Older kids help younger kids up onto the tire swing so it presents an opportunity for different age groups to interact and build friendships. We really appreciated their observation and positioned the tire swing in the space between two different play zones so both age groups can meet in the middle.”
In addition, it was important to include quiet areas for older kids. Picnic tables and boulders were positioned throughout the play space to offer hangout spaces. Integrated plantings, boulders and rain gardens were woven throughout the play space to extend learning to the playground.
“We presented the nature playscape to The Bement School in January 2020, and they loved it,” said Allyson. “They hope to invest in the project in the future.”
We hope to see this project come to fruition, and to see what types of playscapes Allyson completes in her future career. Congratulations, Allyson, on your scholarship!
Those are the words that open the second chapter of our Shaped by Play video. And now, more than ever, they ring loud and clear. While we’re all practicing social distancing and many playgrounds across the world have been closed down during the pandemic, children, families, friends and teachers are showing us that play is an invitation to be creative.
New and innovative ways to play are being created by our partners, friends and even celebrities. Check out these fun ideas to encourage play that we’ve seen throughout the world:
Teach your children about landscape architecture through drawing and doodling; the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has created a free activity book for download.
We’re all inside with our children and families. Luckily, Too Small to Fail has curated resources to help you talk, read, sing and play your way through the day. Pick and choose the ideas that work best for your child’s age and interests, and follow his or her lead.
Inclusion Matters by Shane’s Inspiration has been sharing fun ideas to stay playful throughout April; check out their #30daysofplay on Twitter and Facebook.
Check out Storyline Online, made available by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, and hear your favorite actors read your favorite children’s stories.
Grab your paper, pencils and crayons and join Mo Willems at the Kennedy Center to explore new ways of writing and making together. All 15 episodes and downloadable activities are now available on-demand.
Scavenger hunts are a great activity to challenge your mind while being active. And best of all, there are so many options available from Primary Playground! Browse scavenger hunts that you can do in your backyard, while you’re reading books or even one inside!
Play a game of bingo. There are so many timely game boards available—work from home bingo or reading bingo. Find one that will be the most fun for your family and get playing!
During this time of quarantine, remember that imagination will never fail us, words will never hurt us and play will always shape us. Keep playing, and share your quarantine play tips with us using #shapedbyplay. Bonus points for photos or video!
Splash pads are a great way to make aquatic play accessible. Even though splash pads may be accessible to those with differing abilities, this does not make them fully inclusive inherently. Designing bigger and more exciting splash pads does not necessarily make a splash pad more inclusive. In fact, bigger and more exciting often adds barriers for some individuals. Designing for inclusion requires extra consideration in the design process, but typically very little consideration for extra budget or maintenance.
Splash pads should be designed as an aquatic play environment comprised of features that maximize the sensory and cognitive stimulation for children of all physical and mental abilities and is designed to encourage all children to play together and with the same features. Play features that are wheelchair height accessible and adequate turn-around space between elements are important aspects to consider in design. Other considerations should be made for how children with autism or other sensory differences may approach such a space: is there a balance between intense and more gentle water play? How will the various sounds and sights affect those playing in this space?
From the design of the splash pad feature, to the methods of accessing the site, be conscious of barriers to access and address them early in the design process. For instance, assure that there are adequate handicapped parking spaces and that the path from parking to the splash pad location does not contain any obstacles.
All splash pads should be developed utilizing a rule of thumb for one child every 25 square feet of active water spray. Splash pads are an excellent opportunity for park agencies to develop safe play areas that encourage people of differing ages and abilities to experience water play.
To learn more about Splash Pad products, visit the Aquatix website.
Introducing: The Curva® and Chill™ Spinners! These new play pieces from Landscape Structures Inc. are bound to add a twist of vestibular fun to any play project.
The Curva® Spinner allows for one or multiple riders on each spinner. The spinning motion allows children to experiment with centrifugal force and learn about cause and effect in the way they use their bodies to engage in movement. The unique design adds a custom, designer look to any space and is available in any of the ProShield® colors or stainless steel.
The Chill™ Spinner has all the spinning fun of the Curva® Spinner, with a more relaxed design feature. The comfortable seat accommodates players who require or desire a little more support and comfort when taking part in the spinning fun. Textured rubber belting adds to the secure and relaxed feel. Users can control the movement themselves or have another player spin for them. The Chill™ Spinner is also available in any of the ProShield® colors or stainless steel.
Both products are ideal for players age 5 to 12 years old and promote freestanding play and developmental benefits such as balance, problem solving, proprioception and vestibular experiences.
Goal: Engage with citizens to find the right design to honor the community and local heroes while revitalizing the underutilized space into an eye-catching destination to be used for years to come.
Solution: Community members, Denver parks and Recreation, and Landscape Structures Inc communicated and collaborated to come up with the design of Paco Sanchez park featuring a custom microphone component to pay homage to local DJ Paco Sanchez while promoting health and wellness within the community through play. An elevated bridge to the tower allows children and adults of all abilities to experience structure. This created a park environment where locals and people outside the area would be drawn to its unique design and functionality. The success of the park has become an example for other areas to take note of for how to keep communities active.
Barb’s Day of Honor is celebrated at Landscape Structures Inc. every year on March 4th since losing the day’s namesake and Landscape Structures co founder, Barb King in 2008. Her legacy lives on through her many lifetime accomplishments and the way she impacted those around her. This positive influence is evident in the many stories and anecdotes shared by friends, family, and coworkers on this day.
“Our highest purpose is to make a difference in the world – create a better place for children and families.”
One of Barb’s personal passions was advocating for healthier lifestyles for children and sparking an appreciation of nature in them. Barb founded the non profit Säjai® Foundation in honor of this commitment. Their mission is focused on teaching children the value of healthy living and encouraging an exploration of the outdoors. This legacy continues through the merging of the Säjai® Foundation with Camp Fire in May 2013. Camp Fire serves more than 250,000 youths and families through outdoor activities with an emphasis on camping.
Search our hashtag #HonoringBarbKing on Instagram or Twitter to read more about Barb King’s personal impact on others (or to add your own story!) or check out our Barb King Day post on Facebook.
Geographical areas that experience their version of “warm weather”, whether that be a few scorching months of summer, or relatively mild temperatures nearly year round, are most likely familiar with the concept of a nearby cool-off zone. For many decades, that has meant a community pool where families and nearby residents could gather to seek relief from the sun and expend warm-weather energy.
Public pools, however, have some inherent limitations. Members of the community most likely vary widely in age, from very young toddlers to teens and their parents, grandparents, and caregivers. As a result, the interests of these different ages are varied and require a more complex play experience. Younger children are able to be more adventurous at a splash pad than at a pool as they aren’t required to know how to swim or be a certain height in order to maintain a level of safety. Children of all abilities would have the opportunity to engage with splash pads, especially those from Aquatix® by Landscape Structures which are designed specifically to cater to different abilities. This is not always true for pools. Gentler water experiences like misting and bubbling water may entertain young guests while jets and waterfalls keep older children and teens busy and cool.
Splash pads can also be beneficial when considering the cost and maintenance of the area compared to a pool. Adding a splash pad to a community area undoubtedly brings value to that area. They can be visually exciting and are more visible than the traditional swimming pool, attracting families to come and explore the community. They can be added to already existing facilities like parks to revitalize an area and create a destination location for repeat visitors.
Generally, the initial investment of a splash pad is less than a swimming pool. Since they do not generate standing water, there is far less risk for drowning, negating the need for fencing, signage, and lifeguards which are both initial and ongoing costs to consider.
For cities where public pools are not a viable option, splash pads from Aquatix® by Landscape Structures can bring fun, value, and interest to an area that may otherwise have no water play. Children of all abilities and many ages are able to enjoy the benefits of water play while architects and designers are able to take more creative liberty in designing an area that is just as visually interesting as it is fun.
Solution: The giant 1950’s microphone-inspired tower heralds the horizon, but the built-in play value is what really makes this park honoring local radio DJ Paco Sanchez truly extraordinary. Brilliant colors and bold presence aside, it’s the imaginative use of the musical references that do the hard work of delivering dynamic play. Notes and scales offer footholds. Sound waves create netted climbing adventures. Chimes travel with kids as they run across the bridge.
Read more about how the City of Denver Parks and Recreation Department engaged the community and its culture through the transformation of Paco Sanchez Park.