There’s No Place like the Playground

Wizard of Oz-themed playspace encourages fun and learning

There’s No Place like the Playground

Watkins Regional Park

Upper Marlboro, Md.

Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, Md., is an 800+-acre park that attracts more than 1 million visitors throughout the course of a year. Part of the reason the park sees so many visitors is because the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) hosts many community events there. The other is the recently updated play space.

“This was a huge playground project, and we wanted to do a cool themed playground,” explained Brenda Iraola, landscape architect supervisor with MNCPPC. “A staff member came up with the idea for the Wizard of Oz, and I designed the space with two other landscape architect’s (Chris Colvin and Rene Albacete) to create a unique theme based on the original Oz storybook, which the famous movie was later based on and is seen all across the world.”

Playground products shown in video may not be appropriate for every age group. Playsystems shown in video are for demonstration purposes only. Product configurations may vary.

A Design Found in Storybooks

After completing other large-scale successful themed playgrounds including the Indian Creek Playground and South Bowie Community Center, Brenda reached out to Sparks@Play, the exclusive distributor of Landscape Structures commercial playground equipment in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., to discuss her team’s ideas.

“They had the confidence in us that they would see the design and know that it would translate to the playground.” Stephanie Sparks Vice President of Marketing, Sparks@Play

“Because of the amazing woodland setting at Watkins Regional Park with 80-foot tall mature trees, we had the perfect storybook setting for the Emerald Forest,” said Brenda. “We used the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum as our inspiration and created play areas based on the different stages of the story.”

Kids and families can experience Auntie Em and Uncle Henry’s Kansas farm, Dorothy’s house, Munchin Land, the poppy field, the Emerald City and Dorothy’s attempt to get home via hot air balloon. Even more, Dorothy’s ruby slippers were adapted to be playground slides! The design also includes a unique experience for the children to become the characters of the storybook. Brenda and her team used play panels containing graphics of the drawn storybook characters—Dorothy and Toto, the Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow—with cut-outs for children’s faces to allow them to become a part of the story.

“One of the interesting components we used to make this playground come alive was the poured-in-place safety surfacing,” said Brenda. “We decided to make children feel like they were actually in the storybook walking on the yellow brick road, which Dorothy follows to find her new friends.”

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Promoting Literacy through Play

One of the unique things about the Wizard of Oz-themed playground is that Brenda and her team incorporated learning elements into the fun. Toto’s doghouse was designed to help teach kids ages 2 to 5 about colors. Climbing grips were custom manufactured as dog bones in various colors and labeled so can learn color names as they climb. “We’re trying to teach kids as they play on this playground."

Even more, the hot air balloon-themed PlayBooster® playstructure has word search panels so kids can find the important words in the storybook—Wizard, Oz, Scarecrow, Dorothy, etc. And it offers an opportunity for younger kids to get more familiar with their ABCs. The theme and the activities throughout the playground help promote literacy and encourage children to read the storybook. Replica pages from the 1899 book were placed as signs in the playground to represent what happened in the storybook.

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The Main Attraction

The new playground at Watkins Regional Park opened in July 2015, which pulled visitors from all over Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. And since its opening, the playground has been the main attraction at the park. “I have never seen anything like this playground. The kids’ faces just light up like it is Christmastime.” Darrell Oden Maintenance Superintendent, MNCPPC

“We have 80 to 90 kids playing on the playground at any single point throughout the day,” explained Darrell Oden, maintenance superintendent at MNCPPC. “Along with the playground upgrades, we painted the five existing shelters to resemble barns and upgraded the asphalt pathway to make access easier. The playground has truly become the destination point within the park.”