23 Dec 2008

More about the wonders of natural playgrounds

Some will have seen my letter to the local press re calling for natural playgrounds - it was letter of the day in The Citizen and led to a couple of emails - one from a guy connected with Play Gloucestershire - apparently there is no time to loose as plans for the £1m need to be in by January

Update 29/12/08: I've now also had a reply from Officer at Stroud District who is also keen to see more natural playgrounds and will be pushing that also for the planned staffed destination play area for the County.

As regular blog readers will know this is a subject I've covered a few times but only in the last week have I come across this excellent blog about play grounds: http://playgrounddesigns.blogspot.com/

It pointed me to images and quotes from Helle Nebelong's website - some of which are enclosed below (and pic above taken from another blog entry):

Helle Nebelong writes: "...different surfaces, e.g. asphalt for cycling, roller-skating and other forms of self-transport, for ball games and as a king of block for drawing or hopscotch. There should also be sand, tiles, paths and steps and different uneven stones, soft forest floor, wood chips and gravel. Bridges would also be good, both bridges over canals and hanging bridges over ditches. For once the majority of employees could agree that they would like water in the playground. The general consensus is often otherwise, that water is far too dangerous because you can drown in it. In the ”perfect” playground, however, there should be water steps, paddling pools, canals and an outdoor shower spray, where the muddy children could be rinsed off.....The largest area of the playground is for the use of all the children, but it is possible to close off a little area for the nursery children."

"At the beginning there were many reservations about the playground. Parents said that the playground was dangerous with all the big stones. The employees of the institution said it was just too boring. The playground has now been in existence for almost ten years. The parents now say, that the children are happier now when they come home. The leader of the institution says that there are fewer conflicts in the playground. They are really happy with the playground, especially with the water. A constructive debate has arisen between parents and employees in the institution about how far one can protect a child and try to prevent him from coming to harm. "

Here are some more photos of Helle's work:

The Nature playground in Valbyparken is made up of organically formed elements: A large area with sand and gravel, small green islands, winding paths, a village of woven willow huts and plaited fences, an area with wild flowers and a very big snail-shaped mound with a path spiralling up it to a look-out point. The whole playground is pulled together by a circular 210m wooden bridge, which "floats" ½ meter above the ground. The planks in the bridge are from the many elm trees, felled in Copenhagen due to Dutch elm disease.

Landscape Architect Helle Nebelong worked together with four students from Denmark's design school. They designed six towers for the playground of which five were constructed. The towers are placed as precise points on the circular bridge. Each tower has its own theme: The light's tower, The wind's tower, The green tower, The bird tower and The tower of change. The ambition is that the playground should become a good alternative to the many commercial amusement parks, which are appearing everywhere.

Another good example from Helle is The Garden of Senses..."The Garden of Senses is designed like a maze with winding paths, leading the visitor past many different experiences: Several Wonder Spaces with Tangible Sculptures - one sculpture to each of our senses. Crossings, a Riverside Scenery with rocks and a Lake Scenery without water, a Lavender Island, a Maze of stakes. A Bamboo shrub, a small Garden of Fragrance with a fountain, prickly evergreens, shrubbery with old, crumbling sculptures, a Pavilion Garden, a grove of ginkgoes, a Butterfly Garden and a lot of other elements to discover. Ro und stones of granite are placed outside the garden and make a sort of connection between the garden and the park. The stones are also varied: rough and smooth; round and angular; small stones that rattle in your hand; big rocks for climbing."

Link to a 2004 article which used GPS/GIS systems to compare 5-7 year olds who played in a natural environment versus a traditional playground. They write: "When provided with a natural landscape in which to play, children showed a statistically significant increase in motor fitness. There were also significant differences between the two groups in balance and co-ordination in favor of the experimental group. The findings indicate that landscape features influence physical activity play and motor development in children "

This image and the one below is from FreePlay, of a Freiburg park. City officials there have, as noted before on this blog, decided to replace aging conventional playgrounds with natural play spaces that incorporate mounds, ditches, fallen trees, rocks and bushes.

Another interesting article that the playground blog pointed to was about the Geelsgaard School garden for special needs children. Indeed the blog is full of fascinating ideas from rock climbing up the side of walls to this company Plantware’s vision is to turn living trees into a new building material.

ItalicThey write: "By controlling the shape in which trees grow, Plantware creates products that are made of living trees...Plantware has developed, and patented, a set of horticultural techniques to grow soft, flexible and shapeless (un-lignified ) trees. These trees are shaped by placing them on temporary templates (jigs) and induced to harden and thicken – whilst retaining the shape of the template on which they were placed. In effect, this allows the “casting” of living material into shapes that were formally impossible to achieve."

Anybody new to this topic should perhaps start with the work of Tim Gill at: http://www.rethinkingchildhood.com/
And his good article here which sets out the arguments and thoughts re natural play:

Let us hope that although there is little time the likes of the guy who contacted me will be able to help sway those making decisions and we will see that £1m planned for Gloucestershire spent more on natural playgrounds.


Barkingside 21 said...

Aha! I have recently received an email from a Redbridge Council officer:

"We have secured significant funding from the DCSF to increase participation in what is termed 'natural play' which broadly means getting children into the natural environment and allowing/teaching them how to play."

More on this in 2009.

Word verification = splosh

Anonymous said...

I am a landscape architect, the practice I work for is very keen to encourage natural play within our masterplans,

Can anyone recommend a good book on natural play?

Philip Booth said...

I have to say I have found very little - some excellent websites like the one noted above in the post but See:

Maybe others could suggest? Or perhap sthere is an opening in the market?