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Posts Tagged ‘natural playgrounds’

I finally got to visit the play area on the Common in Cambridge, Massachusetts – A superbly-designed space with hills, custom wooden structures, sand and water play areas, logs, plants, and other fun and unusual components. It includes many elements that help define a successful playground – one modeled on natural features that fosters imaginative, open-ended play. Although there weren’t many children there when I visited (likely due to cold weather and other plans on Easter Sunday), I could tell that the playground is well-used and loved, with sand tracked all over the place!

 

Cambridge Common Playground 1
A challenging wooden climber

 

Cambridge Common Playground 2
Sand play station

 

Cambridge Common Playground 3
Swings, plants, rocks, and a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round

 

Cambridge Common Playground 4
Climbing net on a hillside

 

Cambridge Common Playground 5
A custom wooden structure, slide, and tunnel

 

Cambridge Common Playground 6
Water play station (too cold in March for the water to be turned on yet)

 

Cambridge Common Playground 7
One of several attractive custom wooden benches

 

Cambridge Common Playground 8
Custom wooden picnic table and seats

 

Cambridge Common Playground 9
Sculptural entry gate

 

Cambridge Common Playground 10
Logs provide a balance challenge

 

Cambridge Common Playground 11
Wooden “ship”

 

Cambridge Common Playground 12
Double slide embedded in a mound
 
Photos by Alice Webb

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cover - WSDCC playground

Kids from impoverished sections of my city don’t often get to play in natural settings, since they typically live in apartment houses and buildings with little to no yard space. That has recently changed for some lucky preschoolers at the Webster Square Day Care Center here in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The center, which operates out of the lower level of a church, wanted to update their playground, which then consisted of scattered equipment within a sand surface. Originally their goal was to simply change the surfacing to a safer material that would be acceptable under current state requirements for day care centers. However, I convinced them to take the renovation a step further and add some nature-based features for a more enriching play experience.

My firm developed plans for this playground, and the day care center received several grants which funded the improvements over a period of a couple years. Since the budget was fairly limited, we retained the existing play equipment, keeping the larger pieces in their pre-existing locations and moving the smaller items. Plants, rocks, stepping stones, logs, water and sand play tables, musical chimes, and a vegetable garden were added to the space.

Although the playground is used exclusively by the day care center during the weekdays, it is open in the evenings and on weekends for use by neighborhood children. The kids get a lot of enjoyment out of this space, and I’m told that the natural features are particularly popular. A few “before” and “after” photos are included below to illustrate the improvements.

1 - before - west end A
BEFORE:  A couple of play panels, sand surfacing, weeds, and an ugly fence (owned by the neighbors) were all that existed on the west side of the playground. The wooded area behind the play area is on adjacent property.

 

2 - after - west end A
AFTER: Relocated play house, plants (including shrubs which will grow to hide the fence), stepping logs, & chimes. The drums are portable, stored in a nearby shed.

 


 

3 - before - west end B
BEFORE: West end of the playground

 

4 - after - west end B
AFTER:  Lots of enjoyment from a few simple features

 


 

5 - before - east end
BEFORE: East end of the playground

 

6 - after - east end
AFTER:  Rocks and plants create a space for imaginative play.

 


 

7 - before - central area
BEFORE:  Central section of playground

 

8 - after - central area
AFTER:  Existing play equipment was retained, engineered wood fiber safety surfacing was installed, and a sand table was added. An at-grade sand play area is situated behind the table.

 


 

9 - before - garden area
BEFORE:  Unused, weedy area west of the existing shed

 

10 - after - garden area
AFTER:  A raised vegetable garden for the children to learn about growing food
 
Photos by Alice Webb and the Webster Square Day Care Center staff

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During a recent trip to lower Manhattan in NYC, I had the opportunity to visit Teardrop Park. This little urban oasis in the Battery Park City neighborhood is situated between several high-rise residential buildings. It includes natural play areas in its southern half, and lawns and walkways to the north.

Much of the park was designed to represent a northeast forest environment, with rock outcrops, rolling hills, and lush (mostly native) vegetation. One of its prominent features is a vertical wall of stacked bluestone, arranged to resemble natural rock strata. This design includes water seepage through a section of the wall, forming icicles in winter.

In the middle of the children’s play area, a long slide is anchored into a rocky hillside and terminates in a large sand area. Nearby, there is a small sand play area for pre-school children, in addition to a water play zone for kids of all ages. Children and adults alike can also explore a wetland play path, where I observed a number of birds during my visit.

The sloping lawns to the north of the play areas are pleasant spaces for relaxation, and include several seating areas along the perimeter. There are also some more isolated seating/gathering spots along paths throughout the park. Despite the secluded nature of those areas, I felt very safe while there.

I was at the park on a Tuesday morning, so it was not packed with visitors. I would imagine that it attracts a lot more users during weekends and summer evenings, especially residents of the surrounding high-rises. The park provides many opportunities for imaginative play for kids, and serves as a pleasant environment for all.

 


Hillside slide with rock steps and overlook

 


Pre-school sand play area

 


Water play area

 


Wildlife in the water play area – the robin and the littlest boy are color-coordinated!

 


A seating area above the water play zone

 


Rock wall resembling natural strata

 


Portal through the rock wall

 


South (back) side of the rock wall portal

 


People relaxing in one of the lawn areas

 


The northern-most lawn area slopes toward the south to take advantage of the sun.

 


A small nook for imaginative play at one end of the wetland path

Photos by Alice Webb

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