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SPRING 2014 Playground Magazine 3

Contents 8

Playground Magazine | Volume 14 No. 1 | Spring 2014




An Interview With Steve King Design Challenges... Thinking “Outside the Box” How Design Relates to Play

By Jay Beckwith


Mindful Design

The New Face of Play By Todd Lehman



Shady Lane Park

A new era of playground design forges memories for the whole family By Anne-Marie Spencer


Creating Relevant Playgrounds in a Tech-Driven World By Ian Proud


Themed Indoor Commercial Playgrounds By Alexandra Estanislao


Departments 7 PGPEDIA.COM 24

CPSI Course Calendar


4 Great Play Designs


Who’s Talking About Play Design?

Cover artwork features photography from Shady Lane Park, courtesy of PlayCore and Viachaslau Kraskouski/

4 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

Curtis Stoddard Publisher

Play Design

Publisher Curtis Stoddard

Editor Rita Watts

Advertising Director Lauri Burns

Design Jake Amen Printing Falls Printing

Accounting Evelyn Coolidge Webmaster Jake Amen

Contributing Authors Jay Beckwith Alexandra Estanislao Todd Lehman Ian Proud Anne-Marie Spencer

When I told the Playground Magazine staff that the theme for our Spring 2014 issue was “play design,” there was some concern about the broad spectrum of this topic and where we would focus our efforts in providing the best play design information. I must admit that play design has a wide range of meanings and implications; hopefully we have provided some great thoughts about modern playground design. As a child in the late '60s in Lorenzo, Idaho, my days were often filled with play design. Kelly Statham and I had the ultimate fort in the attic of the old Lorenzo stone church. The church was a magnificent two story rock building that had been abandoned for a few years. With eight-year-old ingenuity, Kelly and I accessed the interior of the rock fortress and set up headquarters in the attic. Unintentionally, the focus of our days involved designing imaginative play as Kelly and I staged the fort to monitor enemy invasions (tourists driving by to Yellowstone), searched for red rubies (raiding Iris Layton’s strawberry patch), replaced Evel Knievel (performing bike tricks in crazy places inside the fort), gathered fiberglass insulation to build itch bombs, and worked our way through enemy territory (involving the building’s heating and electrical systems). I could fill this magazine with great stories of play design, both intentional and unintentional, by myself and my friends in that rock fort! Each of these stories could tie into an analogy of how the abandoned Lorenzo rock church and its play experiences contributed to my adult view and tendencies toward play. Today play design plays a large role in my life as part of my career, and many others have chosen careers that involve play design from toys to play structures, birthday party facilities to amusement parks. In this issue we hope you enjoy our collection of play design articles. We also hope you are noticing the changes in Playground Magazine. We are celebrating our first birthday as publishers of the magazine, and we are excited with the new and interesting aspects of it. Besides the broader focus on play and playgrounds, last year we developed the 4 Greats as a unique spotlight on specific play items. We also added “Who’s Talking About” as a specific way to introduce people to you who are putting a lot of thought and effort into children’s play. A listing from The Play and Playground Encyclopedia that relates to each theme has also been added as a regular feature. Beginning with this issue we are introducing the Playground Magazine Interview, which will continue to be a highlight of each issue for our readers. And for 2014 our featured play expert will be Jay Beckwith. You can expect four great thought-provoking feature articles from Jay this year. Playground Magazine has also introduced its free online subscription. You can subscribe to the digital version or purchase print copies at

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fessionals, LLC, 4 issues per year, sub rates, back copies, foreign, reproduction prohibitions, all rights reserved, not responsible for content

Thank You, Joe, and Welcome, Jay!

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CORPORATE OFFICES Playground Professionals LLC P.O. Box 807 Ashton, Idaho 83420

6 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

The staff at Playground Magazine wishes to extend their heartfelt thanks to our frequent contributor, Dr. Joe L. Frost. Joe has written numerous articles for us through the years and was the 2013 featured play contributor. With more than 50 years of teaching, consulting, and writing about child development, play, and playgrounds, Joe is acknowledged as the contemporary father of play advocacy. As he takes time to enjoy some slower-paced days, we look forward to more collaboration from time to time in the future.

We are happy to announce our featured play expert for this year is Jay Beckwith. Jay has worked nearly 45 years in the play design field working with numerous playground companies as well as consulting with Boundless Playgrounds. He is an author, a blogger, and a columnist for the Play and Playground News Center. He continues to challenge himself and others with questions about play design and is constantly thinking of what the future should bring for children and their play. We are excited about Jay’s featured articles this year.

The Play & Playground Encyclopedia - Over 600 listings of play and playground related companies, organizations, events, books, magazines, safety, people and blogs.

Universal Design Playground design has evolved over the years to offer a wide array of equipment and features from traditional steel structures fixed in concrete and arranged in a row to contemporary structures with imaginative and innovative elements to engage children’s interest.1 Playground design has been affected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed in 1990 to assure full equality for people with disabilities.2 However, to satisfy the requirements, accessible playgrounds have often been designed to only allow an accessible route to the playground equipment with little thought of providing inclusive play with others.3 Accessible design tends to focus on the minimum requirements for a select group of users.4 A group of architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental design researchers collaborated to produce guideline principles for “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”5 These principles consider the broader needs of the population, and the design concept was called universal design.6 The seven Principles of Universal Design are: •

PRINCIPLE ONE: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

PRINCIPLE TWO: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

PRINCIPLE THREE: Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

physically, developmentally, emotionally and socially from the environment.8”

PRINCIPLE FOUR: Perceptible Information


The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

PRINCIPLE FIVE: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

PRINCIPLE SIX: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.7

The purpose for utilizing the Principles of Universal Design for children’s playgrounds is to provide “inclusive play where every child, regardless of ability or disability, is welcomed and benefits

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1 Frost, Joe L. Play and Playscapes. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers Inc., 1992. pp. 133-134. 2 Ibid. p. 297. 3 Kaplan, Mara and Ian Proud. “Play for All – Thinking Outside the Ramp.” Accessible Playgrounds. < http://www.accessibleplayground. net/?p=2079 > 7 July 2011. 4 Skulski, Jennifer K. “Designing for Inclusive Play: Applying the Principles of Universal Design to the Playground.” National Center on Accessibility. < http://www.ncaonline. org/?q=node/331 > 7 July 2011. 5 “The Principles of Universal Design.” North Carolina State University. The Center for Universal Design. < design-projects/udi/center-for-universal-design/ the-principles-of-universal-design/ > 7 July 2011. 6 Op. cit., Skulski. 7 Op. cit., “The Principles of Universal Design.” 8 Op. cit., Skulski.

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An Interview With...

Steve King

Steve King and his wife Barb founded Landscape Structures, Inc., a commercial playground equipment manufacturer headquartered in Delano, Minnesota in 1971. Steve is chairman of the board of the company and is also a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, a Certified Playground Safety Inspector, and a founding member and past President of International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association. Steve has also been chairman of a task group of ASTM International updating the ASTM F1487 Specification, a safety and accessibility standard for public playground equipment. 8 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

PM - Thank you for taking time to visit with Playground Magazine. Give us a brief description of your introduction to play design and your original commitment to play and playgrounds. SK - It started with my final project in landscape architecture at Iowa State University. Part of the project was to design activities for an open space in a housing project. A playground seemed

logical, so I started observing kids at play in local playgrounds. Playgrounds in the '60s generally had a swing, slide, and monkey bars spaced sufficiently to force the kids to run from one to the other. I thought there had to be a better way to design the space, and after observing kids at play at the child development department, my concept of continuous play was born. That concept changed the world of play forever.

PM - People put high expectations on playgrounds. They want safe, fun, durable, affordable, and attractive play areas. Has the playground industry met the public’s expectation? SK - I think we have done a good job of following safety standards and making playgrounds more attractive and safer by using a variety of new materials and colors. However, our playgrounds are less affordable than and not as durable as the old galvanized steel structures. I think most would say today’s playgrounds are more attractive and have more play value. PM - We talk about the “value of play.” What factors really contribute to great play value? SK - I define the value of play in a broader sense — it is the contribution made to the physical and mental development of the child. I like to call playgrounds “outdoor learning environments” that provide challenges for all children. PM - Playground safety guidelines and standards have been around for thirty years. How do you think these safety rules have helped or hindered play design? SK - There is no doubt the introduction of standards such as ASTM F1487 (equipment), ASTM F1292/F1951 (surfacing), as well as the ADA Standards for Accessible Design were a major influence on playground design. From an overall design perspective, these influences have been both positive and negative. On the positive side, hazards such as entrapments, entanglements, and protrusions were addressed by the creation of performance standards. Fall heights were established for equipment, making it easier to determine the corresponding requirements for impact attenuating surfacing materials. Impact and stability testing for surfacing materials provided a complimentary and important addition in creating safe play environments. A focus to provide play areas that are accessible to children of all abilities has become paramount. On the negative side, some of the requirements drove too much “standardization” and forced uniformity amongst the various product categories. This uniformity has stifled, to some degree, creative playground design.

PM - What other issues are molding today’s play design?

Weevos. What exciting designs do you see coming out of LSI next?

SK - Design is being influenced mostly by societal trends. We’ve introduced more challenge and movement to keep children interested in outdoor activity, and emphasized the importance of connecting children with nature. We want to promote active lifestyles among children, and we do that by focusing on what will keep kids engaged.

SK - Earlier this year, we unveiled two new playground innovations. Netplex™, part of the PlayBooster® family, is a net-based playstructure that provides kids the challenge they need for healthy development into self-assured adults. And because zip lines have become such a popular recreational activity, we’ve created ZipKrooz™ to bring the adventure of zip lines to the playground. ZipKrooz and its accessible companion, ZipKrooz Assisted, allow for truly inclusive play opportunities.

PM - Nature is in the forefront of play design. What are your thoughts on incorporating nature into modern urban play design? SK - As a landscape architect I like the idea. The benefits of natural elements in play are great, but there is still a need to remove hazards. Products, whether natural or man-made, should conform to safety and accessibility standards. We do this by bringing elements of the natural world into our intentionally designed manufactured playgrounds. PM - Give us a Steve King definition of “inclusive play.” SK - Inclusive play is a play environment where all users have an opportunity to participate in all the activities that serve them at their developmental level, be that by ability or age. PM - Tell us about Landscape Structures’ experience with the inclusive playground at Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics. SK - We worked with our partner in inclusive play, Shane’s Inspiration, to design an inclusive playground in association with the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. The play space is the first inclusive playground to be installed in the country. This is the second inclusive playground at the Olympics in which Shane’s Inspiration and Landscape Structures have been involved, the first was installed in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. PM - You and your company, Landscape Structures Inc., have been designing playground equipment for over forty years. LSI has given us Skatewave, PlayBooster, PlayShaper, Evos, and

PM - The upcoming Summer 2014 issue of Playground Magazine is themed Sports and Fitness. Are fitness-designed playgrounds the next popular wave of play design? SK - I think most playground designs have become more fitness focused. The problem is designing a structure that provides challenges for all ages. Fitness challenges for 5 year olds are very different than those for 12 year olds. We need to include graduated levels of challenge to meet the needs of kids across the developmental spectrum. PM - Offer your thoughts on: Electronics and playground equipment. SK - Electronics are fairly new to the playground industry, but have potential in some environments. In 2013, we introduced Pulse™, a line of multisensory, interactive games that encourage movement in a new way. Not only do the games offer sensory stimulation, but they provide a unique way for multigenerational play — entire families are playing together. However, electronics are being accepted slowly because of the perceived idea that they require a lot of maintenance. It will take time… PM - Heights of playgrounds and risk. SK - In recent years, I have changed my opinion on heights. If we are to provide a rewarding experience for kids over age 8, we need to provide higher, bigger, faster, and more challenging play components. We have begun moving in this direction with the introduction of Netplex, the PlayOdyssey® Tower, and other new designs like our GeoNetrix. This is where our research pays off. SPRING 2014 Playground Magazine 9

PM - Zip lines at schools and parks SK - They’re great, especially for older kids. Our zip lines for playgrounds, ZipKrooz and ZipKrooz Assisted, offer a two-way ride unlike typical zip lines. PM - Let’s visit about the legacy your wonderful wife Barb King created with the Säjai Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children the value of living a healthy life. Last year, The Säjai Foundation merged with Camp Fire. How is that union working out? SK - Very well. Barb’s legacy continues to be fulfilled, while they reach many more kids with a great program. PM - With many major changes to play design in the past forty years, what significant changes do you foresee in the next forty years? SK - I think that there will be an introduction of new materials, more emphasis on nature and fitness-focused playgrounds, intergenerational play, and more acceptance of electronics... that really is the outlook for the next five years, but it could be the same for the next 40 — just refined.

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PM - Visit with us about your book, A Legacy of Play. SK - For years I was encouraged to write down the story of Landscape Structures. It started out as a company history for employee owners that we hoped would help preserve our unique culture. However, when the marketing department found out what I was doing, the scope changed to be the story of a broke young kid with a great idea — an entrepreneur’s dream. The rest is history. PM - You have contributed to play design since the early '70s. How do play and playgrounds fit into your personal future? SK - I hope to be able to play until the day I die. And I feel like I get to do that through my work at Landscape Structures as well as the work I do with Direct Impact Africa (DIA), an organization that helps communities in Zambia become self-sufficient and sustaining. In addition to helping the communities create fish farms, gardens, and small chicken farms, we planned their firstever playground. Since its completion, the playground has become a gathering space for the entire community. And we’re talking about adding three more playgrounds

in neighboring villages. Playgrounds will always be a part of my life as they have for the last 44 years. PM - You have had a very illustrious career designing play areas and play equipment. What are your best memories of your experiences in the playground industry? SK - One of the most memorable was in 1969 when the City of Minneapolis installed their first wood playstructure. The design was based on my idea of continuous play and it was awesome to see how successful it was. That playground launched a company. Memories of kid’s smiles and screams for joy will always be a part of my memory. PM - Leave us with a great play memory from your childhood. SK - Swinging out over the river on a rope attached to a tree limb… it was great fun.

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by Jay Beckwith

How Design Relates to Play

10 Plus courtesy of KOMPAN Throughout my nearly five decades of designing play apparatus and spaces I have been really gratified to see kids play on the results of my efforts. These days, however, I have begun to consider that perhaps design and play are antithetical to each other. I now suspect that I was seduced by the whole process of bringing an idea into reality and having it accepted in the marketplace. Even at the start of my work I knew that kids played better in a natural setting than anything I could create. My justification for focusing on creating play apparatus was that kids spent much of their time at school and needed something that was fun and safe to play on. I also felt that it was possible to create experiences that were rarely available in natural settings. The first schoolyard structures were such a hit that I never looked back. The early 12 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

wood structures I created gave way to metal and then plastic and then accessible features and the rest is history. While I was instigating lots of volunteer built play structures in San Francisco and the Bay Area, Robin Moore was developing the Washington Environmental Yard. I loved the changes that he was able to accomplish there. The natural features that he was able to introduce and the level of participation and enthusiasm of the teachers and parents were phenomenal. I felt that the combination of active play apparatus, natural features, garden, and game spaces made for the perfect environment for kids in school settings. Indeed, an active play structure was added to the Washington yard to set a model that I was sure would be replicated everywhere. Looking back over the last 40 years it is clear that we knew then what made for

the perfect schoolyard, but that model never gained ascendancy. In hindsight it may be that there was insufficient value given to including nature in children’s spaces that we now have come to appreciate. Perhaps with the burgeoning interest in natural play the time has come to revisit the comprehensive model that Robin created. But what about my contention that design, at least as the idea is typically construed, is antithetical to play? The primary role of a design is to create the form that follows the intended function. But what if the “function” is play? A child can turn an apple into a hot rod by just saying “Brrrumm” and pushing it around or calling mommy to say “I love you, Mommy!” on his apple phone. In the literature this is called “counterfactual” thinking; the apple is not a car. If I design a play car, then it is a car, and this essential creative process by the child can be thwarted. My friend Tom Lindhart Wils, who founded and directed KOMPAN, used his considerable design talents to create

The latest Apple phone

abstract play forms based on the notion that these would not be too literal and would allow children to more easily imagine that a spring toy was a horse or a unicorn or a motorcycle. The thrust of this Danish Modern design approach, if you will, is to simplify forms down to their essence. The question I have with abstract play forms is that there is no evidence that children respond to them more creatively than literal forms. We do know that children have longer and more complex play episodes in natural settings than in typical playgrounds, and nothing is less abstract than nature. I suspect that when it comes to play settings, rather than simplification, the more complexity the better.

how playgrounds are used today. In the last couple of decades we’ve learned a lot about how communities use recreational spaces, so we must ask who will come and how will they use the play space? • Kids don’t come to the park on their own, they are driven there, so playgrounds are predominately a family activity. • Isolated parks tend to be vandalized, so we want to encourage multigenerational and multi-functional design. For example, the City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation now put community gardens adjacent to some of their playgrounds with great results.

Play Area Design Good design is all about asking the right questions. When it comes to play and playground design, we tend not to be honest about the first and most important question to be asked: “Who is the client?” In my earliest work I can honestly say that the client was the children. As time progressed, however, the client became the manufacturer, then the park director, the risk manager, and finally the maintenance crew. Needless to say, the answer of what is a good playground design is VERY different depending on which one of these constituents is the real client. I feel the weakness of most playground projects is the idea that it is possible to satisfy this wildly varied collection of constituents, and by trying to please everyone, we end up with the cookie cutter blandness that is all too common on today’s playgrounds. I’d like to suggest a new approach to play space design and look at the reality of

• Despite the efforts of playground regulators, toddlers will use play structures designed for older children, often with adult assistance. • Tweens will hang out on play structures. • Lawns are increasingly valuable as they disappear from neighborhoods. • People will bring bikes, strollers, toys, balls, and dogs.

• Play spaces without bathrooms are used far less than those that provide for human comfort. Parks with grills and tables get more use and for longer periods than those without. We also know that creating a sense of place is essential for a successful and popular facility, and we should look for ways to preserve or create unique place identifiers. • What elements exist or can be added that give the play space a sense of place? • How is this space connected to the people who will use it? • What is the “message” the play space gives to people? Is it warm, inviting, hip, cool, exciting, calming? How does it make you feel? • How does the play space connect to its neighborhood and community? What are the existing circulation patterns? Are there schools nearby and will they use the space? • What community groups are involved with the design process and how are they empowered to remain engaged? • How will the play space evolve over time; for example, is there a post installation review and retrofit process? • Are there places that provide a sense of enclosure where small groups of kids can just hang out? These are just a few of the observations and questions I share with my clients before we even start the play space design process. My goal is to have those participating in the design process to begin to think “outside the box” that is, to not design with the shapes drawn on a plan and drop in equipment from catalogs but to visualize the play space as a fourdimensional living entity. These days with

Courtesy of UPC Parks

SPRING 2014 Playground Magazine 13

the ease of using 3-D rendering tools it is possible to provide excellent images of any proposed project. The specific questions are not as important as the intent of the process. The best play spaces are those that people care about and that have been clearly created with attention to details that reflect respect for the users. The process of play space design is far more important than any other consideration. When the design process is inclusive, and dare I say loving, the opportunities for creative innovation and for creating enduring and endearing spaces blossoms.

Play Structure Design Let’s get one thing straight: a play structure does not make a play space. Indeed I often advise my clients who are creating preschool play spaces not to install a play structure at all as these products tend to take up too much space and budget for what they deliver in benefits. There are three main consideration when implementing a design for children 6 years and younger. • Sizes and abilities will be all over the map so variety is a key requirement. • Adults generally accompany little kids and designs should consider how the parent/child dyad will use the space. • Details matter. A play structure that is composed solely of plastic and powder coated metal just doesn’t cut it. Designing play structures for older kids is an entirely different matter. We all know the basics, play structures should be heavy on physical challenge and linkage, but beyond that we tend to be less clear. Here are some of my suggestions:

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 Graduated challenge is important. For example, one type of overhead event is very limiting. When adding upper body apparatus, there should be some that are simple monkey bars and others that require more complex movements. And don’t forget turning and chinning bars. These cost very little, have big motor development benefits, and are perennial favorites with kids.  Climbing is a huge draw, but here the playground industry has let us down a bit. Many years ago I was collaborating with Dr. Larry Bruya and he taught me that there are “climbing gaits.” I was familiar with walking and running gaits but hadn’t thought about using that idea in regards to climbing. In walking and running the feet face forward and the arms and hands are at the sides. As any mountain climber will tell you, real climbing requires all sorts of movements and positions. Unfortunately, almost all playground climbers that are not rock walls or boulders are designed for this sort or movement.  Balance activities are one of the most important pieces of apparatus on any playground. Children’s bodies are changing proportions very rapidly, and they need constant opportunities to adjust their balance system to match their current body shape.  Consider the paths of travel. I’ve seen designs with four slides down and only one way up. If a play structure has four ways down, it needs at least four ways up. More is even better, since going down takes far less time than climbing up and it’s the climbing that provides motor development and the slides that provide the motivation.

ADA Design It’s been 24 years since the ADA law was passed, and I find it hard to believe that many people think that ADA compliance is still a separate part of the design process. Throughout my participation in the citizen advisory process, consultations with manufacturers, and discussions with clients, I have been steadfast in my contention that we have gone about this in the wrong way. While I think that the goal of the ADA was and is noble, both the process and outcome are flawed. To me the whole ADA process got started on the wrong path. In my experience the reason that the whole issue became so contentious and the resultant product so unsatisfying is that there were, and are, two points of view that have to this day been unresolved. On one side of the argument there is the parent, let’s call her the “access” advocate, who wants to take her child to the playground only to find that she and her child can’t use the wonderful play setting that her tax dollars have been used to create. Her position is very simple: if you provide a service, it should be available for all, and by golly, if you have a slide in the park, then her child has the legal right to access it. On the other side are those who we can refer to as the “inclusive” advocates, who do not have a specific child in mind that they want to accommodate but rather have the goal of insuring that all kids have the chance to play together. As this drama played out, the process was driven predominately by access advocates. Logically they looked at existing legal standards for structures, we are after all talking about play structures, and basically applied the architectural standards with very minor adjustments. The results of the standards so created are heavily ramped monstrosities that ended up appealing to no one. For me the saddest sight in the world is a child who uses a wheelchair on the playground without anyone to play with. More and more people are beginning to accept that the legalistic approach to design required by the current ADA regulations doesn’t produce an appealing play space. Fortunately, progressive designers are beginning to find ways to both comply with the standards and provide universal appeal. Perhaps the most important innovation that addresses this issue is the development

of ground level play structures. Perhaps a little background is needed here. Historically all of the old freestanding monkey bars, jungle gyms, and cube climbers were ground level play apparatus; the only event that required elevation was the slide. When the notion of linkage was introduce, all that really happened was that those activities were attached to decks. While this innovation made for much greater appeal and benefits for kids, it created barriers for some. The new ground level designs, to a large extent, overcome this problem. To my knowledge the 10 Plus product range that I worked on with KOMPAN was the first example of the ground level play idea. This was followed by KOMPAN’s Galaxy range brilliantly executed by the design team lead by Michael Laris. In short order, Landscape Structures and others brought out other versions of the concept. While the ground level systems remove most barriers, they can’t solve the access issues for slides. The workaround that most producers have adopted are apparatus designs that kids can kinda-sorta slide on but they aren’t called slides. Another play apparatus that helps us move toward universal design is the climbing net tower. The initial designs were based on pyramid shapes supported by masts. More recently we’ve seen many beautiful and complex shapes introduced. While a climbing net is not as challenging as real rock climbing, it is better than the typical walking-movement style climber. Best of all, nets are flexible and move with the players, which is fun. Or at least they were formerly. Many of the ones I’ve looked at recently are so stiff they might be made out of iron. What’s up with that?

Conclusion I’ve made a number of perhaps controversial statements and asked some provocative questions and I’d close with some more questions that may be the most important: • What elements on your playground design introduce a sense of whimsy? • Where will giggles happen? • Will children discover hidden treasures? • Will everyone in the community feel welcomed and included? • Are you having fun?


Jay Beckwith

• Began designing play environments in 1970. • Has written several books on designing and building play equipment. • Is a Certified Playground Safety Inspector. • Has written publications and developed programs for playground safety. • Has consulted with playground manufacturers in their design process. • Writes a blog at • Completed a comprehensive upgrade of the Gymboree Play and Music apparatus. • Currently developing location based mobile games with the goal of using smartphones in outdoor play. Read More at

SPRING 2014 Playground Magazine 15

Casey’s Clubhouse photos are courtesy of City of Grapevine, TX

Mindful Design The New Face of Play Our kids deserve more. They deserve a play environment that grabs them when they walk by, makes their jaw drop, and shakes them silly instead of one that says, “Hey, I’m over here if you’re bored.” Playground designers are up against some tough competition, and originality is more important than ever before. Kids have seen it all these days from the virtual realities on iPad games and apps to the CGI in a Pixar film. They have been raised to crave something unique, different, and the latest new thing to knock their socks off. They’re looking for something just as stimulating to pull them away from their gadgets, get them moving, and demand rigorous play. And the reality is they need exercise more than ever. The U.S. continues to battle the epidemic of obesity in our youth. We need to give these kids a reason to get moving. With a little “out of the box” thinking by a team of talented designers that push the limits, the playground can be that amazing place it once was. And not just for some kids, but kids with disabilities too. All kids of all abilities deserve an environment that draws them back into physical play. For years traditional playground design has lacked variation with not enough options to engage creative play. The tired, snap together, primary color playgrounds with the limitations of the post and deck systems are being left behind by companies who are increasingly looking for more innovative ways to encourage play.

Define Original Google the word “original” and you’ll 16 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

find a host of definitions, most of which when boiled down, share the same common idea: created first, directly and personally by a particular artist; not a copy or imitation. “Personally” is the keyword in the definition that defines really good designers. They put their hearts into being original, take their creations very personally, and pride themselves on truly unique design. “Copy” and “imitation” are swear words to a designer passionate about true original design. A truly original design cannot be an adaption of something that’s been done before. It just can’t. Play environments must be motivated by life, art, people, but mostly by kids. Today’s play designer needs to push the envelope and stick with that “‘out there” idea. It’s like this, an original unique design spawns from that crazy idea someone had while lying in bed at 3 am and the drive and passion to get up and make it happen. It has been great to see more and more themed playgrounds hitting the scene in recent years. In theming, research is critical. Great designers look into the people and history of a town and work with the existing landscape. It’s always been known that a custom theme can give a play environment more meaning. The problem with most post and deck playgrounds is that they are pre-programmed and leading. You can see this playground in your head if you stop and think: it’s the same thing every time. They lead the kid up the standard ladder across the standard bridge down the standard slide.

by Todd Lehman

Parks and recreation departments and city planners are starting to move towards more interesting custom themes that tend to create a deeper connection for kids, adults, and communities. Good playground design listens to kids, but doesn’t forget about adults. Before kids can have the opportunity to visit the park, their parents need to see added value and decide whether or not they want to drive their kids to that particular playground. Theming can provide that extra draw and make it more of an experience rather than simply “something to do.” Whether realistic themes, such as a native wildlife and sea vessels, or fantastical, such as the enchanted forest or space aliens, themed playgrounds are 1) more engaging to the child and 2) viewed as more worthwhile to an adult. A theme can better immerse the child into an alternate universe through something that will be meaningful and special. In an age of technology keeping kids indoors, we as communities need to

make the offer more attractive. We are at war with inactivity - it’s time to design and build playgrounds that will get kids outside.

Immersive Design A great theme is a good start, and it must be amazing to keep kids’ interest. The idea behind immersive play is to design an environment where the children will become “lost” in play. Walt Disney is the originator of the immersion design technique. Immersion is the state of consciousness where physical self-awareness is diminished or lost in an engrossing and engaging environment. The idea is that the child will become part of the alternate reality and lose a sense of reality. Instead of equipment to merely “play on,” playgrounds should be designed to be worlds to “play in,” and there is a huge difference between the two. In a gadget and game driven society the immersive qualities of the playground are as critical as ever. The reality is our children as young as two years old tote their parents’ iPads, and five year olds have their own iPods. We need to show kids that physical active play can be as colorful and imaginative as Angry Birds or Temple Run. While sensory rich, these apps and games cannot match the benefit of raw

emotion and activity from physically interacting with people. Forward-thinking designers need to understand that their competitive set has broadened to include gadgets, apps, online group-gaming, face timing, and texting friends. So what are the factors critical to achieving an immersive environment? Immersive environments emerge from designers who take the time to roll up their sleeves, dig in, and research. Playground designers need to ask a lot of questions and think like kids. If designing an enchanted forest, how do kids move through that forest, what would they like to see, and how would it look to them? A typical design might incorporate small statues of forest critters, and this makes complete sense, however, an immersive design will incorporate trees that swallow the kids whole, hidden critters inside a peek-hole, and forest sounds. Immersive environments are designed to be sensory rich incorporating all the right materials, textures, colors, sounds, and activities in order to bring the play environment to life. Every single element needs to con-

tribute to an intense level of immersive play. If it doesn’t pass the test, then it doesn’t fit the immersive play environment mold and should be axed. These environments may take a bit longer to plan, but at the end of the day they offer a better pay-out for playground owners as they are visited more often and generate more activity for years to come. A truly immersive experience can encourage children to forget about their iPods and their parents sitting on the bench checking their phones, and can, in fact, draw parents into the play environment. The right mix of materials will breathe life into an environment. Bent metal and molded plastic can only do so much. Good playground design explores a wide range and combination of materials including concrete, GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete), steel, sculpting epoxy, composite wood, various plastics, and custom colors. GFRC is a wonderful material as it can be shaped and molded to give realistic textures and color. It allows accurate detail of a fairy’s wings or the hair of a buffalo. Color is also extremely important. It might take mixing 17 different reds, oranges, and yellows to accurately achieve the fire from a fire breathing dragon. Today kids spend

Courtesy of Cre8Play

SPRING 2014 Playground Magazine 17

many more hours in front of a computer than they do with another human being. According to the CDC, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980 and more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. An immersive play environment encourages interaction and demands physical play between kids. These healthy worlds of physical interaction as young children will set the stage for physical activity later in life and ensure we raise well-adjusted active adolescents and adults.

Removing Barriers All kids deserve a play environment that will blow their minds and get them moving. The focus in recent years has been to move towards play design that allows all kids of all abilities to play everywhere. One or two accessible elements is old-think; it’s just not enough for our kids these days with such a wide spectrum of abilities. It is important to shift our thinking to wholly inclusive play environments where we offer more than just a simple ramp or accessible area for the child with a disability. That’s not to say a sea of ramps is a better alternative. Rather, inclusive design needs to allow all of our children, abled and disabled, the ability to access the same activities and adventures. This is called seamless accessibility integration which fosters environments where all kids can play together everywhere. A recently constructed play environment, Casey’s Clubhouse in Grapevine, TX, displays seamless accessibility integration beautifully. This environment includes an oversized universally accessible clubhouse with interactive elements, slides built from materials that eliminate static electricity so as not to zap cochlear implants, and play pods that address overstimulation in children with autism, and these are just a few. Experience can be gained through partnerships with organizations that address inclusive play such as Unlimited Play and

All sketches courtesy of Cre8Play 18 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

Casey’s Clubhouse photos are courtesy of City of Grapevine, TX Miracle League. The common goal is to make the environment as entirely inclusive as possible.

NFL Play60 photo courtesy of Carolina Panthers

Sustainable Materials / Environmental Footprint Being in the business of children’s futures, it should also be the responsibility of playground designers to make the most sustainable choices possible. When playground designers select sustainable materials and choose responsible processes, everybody wins. Many materials are available that have been recycled such as recyclable steel as well as composite decking and wood materials made with 95% recycled materials. The process of producing GFRC produces zero chemical off-gas or byproducts. When feasible, designs can use repurposed materials; some materials, however, have to be new for structural, safety, and durability purposes. When possible, it is best to select as many sustainable materials as possible. It would be hypocritical for a company to be in the business of caring for children if they did not care for the

planet they leave them with in the end.

Future of Play Design Years ago playgrounds were designed as a box. Here’s a 50’x70’ area, now make your playground fit in that box. Cutting edge designers try to see how it can be done in a different way. They look at how the play can flow through the park with unique twists and turns to encourage movement along the way. More and more designs are starting to mess with traditional spatial arrangements and even incorporate play in elevation changes. Forget the retaining wall - build the playground into the side of the hill. Designers also realize that play isn’t just physical; it uses all the senses. It can start visually at the entrance of the park and be designed to have no end point. At Walker Mill Regional Park, the path to the play area has interactive visual, audible, and physical elements starting at the parking lot, turning the whole park into a playful experience. If play designers want to compete in the years ahead, they’ll also need to embrace technological advancements rather than deny them. They need to integrate the technology and electronics that are available and turn them into physical play. Since kids love video games, incorporate them into the playground but make kids move. They can include elements of custom lights, sounds, and activities that keep kids on the go. Examples include Playworld Systems’ Neos 360 electronic interactive system which gets kids moving while building auditory and spatial awareness as well as Imagination Playground

foam blocks to encourage hands-on collaboration in play. Cre8Play’s NFL Play60 KidZone obstacle course for the Carolina Panthers features an advanced sensor 40 yard dash timing system and a custom Pep Talk station with recorded messages such as “Be smart, stay hydrated because you worked your tail off!” from Panthers’ players. Carolina Panthers' Director of Community Relations described the Play60 environment as “reinventing what a playground can be.” He said that kids are drenched with sweat-soaked shirts when they finally leave the park. This is music to the play designers’ ears as they’ve just made kids have more physical fun than they thought they could ever have. Play design needs to look forward with the idea that “good enough” is no longer good enough. If you start a project and it looks good, be prepared to shift gears fast and quickly get to awesome.

NFL Play60 photo courtesy of Carolina Panthers

About The Author

Todd Lehman is the “Design Guy” behind Cre8Play and has over 20 years of experience designing and building play environments. Sporting flip flops most days, Todd has been coined the “Willy Wonka of playground design” and he insists on having fun. His talented team of designers pushes the envelope to build worlds to play in rather than equipment to play on. Projects are taken from napkin sketch to fully built in the same facility in New Hope, MN. He and his team have created immersive and inclusive play environments throughout the U.S. and overseas. Visit


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Shady Lane Park a new era of playground design forges memories for the whole family

by Anne-Marie Spencer

I had the honor of attending the grand opening of Shady Lane Park in Houston, TX on Oct 10, an event which capped off the National Recreation and Park Association Congress. The project is the 4th in a series of “leave behind projects” designed to create lasting legacies in the cities that host the Congress, and was a collaboration between NRPA, PlayCore, the City of Houston, and several other partners and advocates. Although I have attended a lot of grand openings and ribbon cuttings over many years in the recreation industry, it seems there is something new to be learned from each one, some nugget of wisdom that continues to point out and make one truly understand how important parks and green spaces are to people. Shady Lane was no exception, as it pointed out how unique and imaginative design can encourage people of all ages to simply come out to play. Shady Lane was a shining example of a new trend in playground and park design, departing from the normal “pipe and 20 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

plastic” construction associated with commercial playgrounds, and promoting a city’s heritage through themed play, interpretive signage, and imaginative design. Shady Lane Park had needed attention since Tropical Storm Allison came ashore in 2001, dropping almost 2 feet of rain and flooding many neighborhoods throughout the city, including approximately 13,000 homes in the area around the park. The 12.4 acre Shady Lane Park featured an almost two decades old playground that showed heavy signs of use, but was still beloved to the many families in the area who come to Shady Lane Park for its walkability and proximity to their homes. Now, the park is an amazing example of how themed play can be a teaching tool, a family oasis, and a connection to the history that creates pride of place in a community. A park in its purest form creates a space for people to connect to nature and unplug their mind and body from the stress of everyday life. A well-designed park is a place where memories happen. Memories that are rooted in childhood and become part of who we are as adults, memories that shape the very heart of what is important to us and what we decide to pass down and share with our families. At Shady Lane Park, the stage is set to create a wealth of treasured memories, while illustrating the history

of Houston in the days before skyscrapers, cell phones, and fast-paced life. Combining elements of a nature park and restorative green space, education center, water play areas, and active recreation, this park was designed to be meaningful and memorable, turning a flood-prone area into an attractive jewel for an underserved Houston community. The park includes play structures shaped like treehouses, a life-size bayou boat set in a cleverly designed mini wetland, logs to crawl through, alligators to climb on, and a spray park that features a little bit of all of the above in a fanciful, imaginative layout. Interpretive signage throughout the park shows images and shares history of the landscape, animals, and indigenous plants found in these pre-settlement days. Landscape design by Merrie Talley of Talley Landscape Architects ties the park elements together with indigenous plants that promote the natural splendor and history of the area. In that single day, I was witness to a wealth of lifetime memories that I had the honor of watching take shape before my very eyes. There was the father and daughter that held hands while reading to each other of the indigenous animals

Photos courtesy of PlayCore

that lived in the area before it was settled, then discussed why they hadn’t seen any of the animals, which prompted the little girl to say “I think we need to do a better job of sharing with animals. They have a right to live here too.” In that moment, an advocate, an enthusiast, a conservationist may have been born, changing the path of life to one focused on preservation of our resources. I witnessed another mother, struggling with a fussy baby, who placed her small son in an adaptive swing seat, then marveled at how he fell asleep almost immediately to the gentle rocking of the swing. She turned to me with an amazed look and said, “this is better than his cradle, and we can be outside! I just live across the street, I think we’ll be coming here a lot.” But what amazed me the most was how the parents who attended the grand opening were with their children…really WITH them. No cell phone conversations, no distracted half listening, these parents were actively engaged in the act of play, from imaginative play in the life-size bayou boat which harkened the days of Houston’s swamps, to the moms and dads who pocketed their phones and romped in the spray park jets, getting their clothes soaked to the bone as they frolicked together with their children. One child, who asked her mother if she was going to answer the ringing phone in her purse, looked stunned (and thrilled) when the mom replied, “No, we’ve got to go hide

from the alligator, come on!” While I certainly understand and embrace the importance of child-directed play, the wonder of watching these children involve their parents, who were suddenly available and open to imaginative play, was nothing short of wondrous. They were just as amazed by the huge treehouse play structures, and I think I saw more adults interacting with and having their photo taken “in the mouth of the gator” than children. (Yes, I was one of them!) In a park that was designed to promote the history of a city, I cannot help but feel that I was witnessing history being made anew, in the memories that were being created before my very eyes among a lucky bunch of families who made the decision to simply be together and foster human connections instead of electronic ones. And in that magical afternoon, I forged lifelong memories of my own. As a person fortunate enough to be involved in the play and recreation industry, the greatest joy in the world is seeing children re-living a moment that had me enthralled as a child, with equal happiness and excitement. The very act makes me feel like a child again while promoting a strong feeling of satisfaction as I witness these very special moments, and a renewed sense of pride in the people that I work with every day, whose sole mission is to build communities and memories through meaningful play and recreation.


Anne-Marie Spencer Home grown in Seattle, WA, Anne-Marie is the Corporate Vice President of Marketing for PlayCore in Chattanooga TN, and works with the company’s Center for Professional Development. Anne-Marie has presented over 60 national and regional seminars on a variety of topics, including inclusive play, nature play, playground planning, and grant research. During a 20+ year marketing career, she has written 23 books, and authored over 100 articles. Anne-Marie enjoys anything to do with health and fitness, as well as spreading the word about the power of play. Read More at SPRING 2014 Playground Magazine 21

Creating Relevant Playgrounds in a Tech-Driven World by Ian Proud How vital are playgrounds in today’s society? For many people, unstructured outdoor play is viewed as a luxury, not a necessity. As a result, children don’t devote as much time in unstructured outdoor play as they did decades ago. Multiple societal forces – both positive and negative – are affecting people’s perception of the importance of play in their lives. One factor disrupting the amount of outdoor play time is the over-scheduling of family life. Free time, for both children and adults, is rare. Schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and chores fill daily calendars, edging out opportunities to roam around freely outdoors. Many par-

Courtesy of Landscape Structures 22 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

ents have concerns about their children’s safety outside the home – whether the threat is as minimal as a skinned knee or as extreme as “stranger danger.” Instead of running out the door to play after homework and other responsibilities are finished, today’s children often turn to television, video games, and other electronic gadgets to decompress from their busy lives. Technology vies for children’s time, and all the while, parents are dealing with the demands of balancing work and home life. According to Howard Chudacoff, author of Children at Play: An American History (2007), “Beginning around 1960 or a little before, adults began chipping away at outdoor unstructured play by increasing the time that children had to spend at schoolwork and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. Adult-directed sports for children began to replace ‘pickup’ games; adult-directed classes out of school began to replace hobbies; and parents’ fears led them, ever more, to forbid children from going out

to play with other kids, away from home, unsupervised.” Today, children get 50 percent less unstructured outdoor play time than kids of the 1970s, according to the notfor-profit advocacy group The Alliance for Childhood. Childhood obesity is just one negative outcome of this new reality. Unstructured outdoor play is a necessity for raising happy, healthy children. Without play, kids’ cognitive development, creativity, and socialization skills suffer. Play takes away stress, reduces obesity, and promotes spiritual development. It also unites us and strengthens our sense of community. Play is not a luxury — through play, children develop their entire being: physically, creatively, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. In Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Dr. Peter Gray states that our children, if free to pursue their own interests through play, will not only learn all they need to know, but will do so with unbounded energy and passion. Unstructured outdoor play helps children develop into thoughtful, capable adults by presenting them with risks they must learn to handle appropriately. According to clinical psychologists Drs. Susan Davis and Nancy Eppler-Wolff (Children Who Soar: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Take Good Risks (2009)): “Risk is inevitable, and without learning the skills of good risk-taking, our children will be more apt to take impulsive and poor risks. Through the development of thoughtful risk-taking, children will be better equipped to leap at life’s opportunities, and to rebound from life’s disappointments. Learning to take smart risks early on prepares them to recognize and think through issues of safety and danger. They will have had experience identifying the challenge and the risk, and have worked with parents and teachers on how to proceed to the next step, using their intellect and emotional skills. They are also better able to struggle more tenaciously through failures because they have experienced small setbacks.” In the past, outdoor areas for recreation and play were a vital part of the community. In order for parks and playgrounds to once again be viewed that way, the industry must meet the needs of people today. We must create relevant outdoor play experiences based on the unique value outdoor play holds for

today’s society. Only when we acknowledge the reality and discover the current value proposition can we begin to reinvent the traditional playground to make play essential to everyday life now. How can we design and manufacture equipment to make outdoor play relevant given all the current forces keeping children indoors? How do we make outdoor play matter once again?

Courtesy of Playcraft

We must place value on the limited time children have for unstructured outdoor play and make it more meaningful. Everything we do should be based on the tenet that children have a fundamental human right to access a place outdoors where they set the rules, engage and interact freely, and discover their abilities on their own terms. Our industry must be more thoughtful than ever before about the equipment we design and manufacture. The play experience should be purposefully designed to delight today’s children and keep them engaged. The focus should be on producing equipment that embraces and encourages creativity and communitybuilding in a world where many people prefer solitary digital interactions. Technology is all-pervasive and the role it plays in everyday life will only continue to increase. It is therefore an essential ingredient in our re-imagination of the playground. To connect with the needs of today’s children and families, playground experts must embrace the irresistible attraction of technology and combine it with all the unparalleled possibilities the natural world holds. Saving play doesn’t mean shunning technology; it means connecting digital and physical worlds to reinvent the outdoor playground. The hi-tech world

and unfettered outdoor play cannot be mutually exclusive. We must find ways to leverage technology to create unique play experiences each and every time a child visits an outdoor play space – whether it’s creating a digitally empowered scavenger hunt through the woods or bringing the sound and lights of video games onto the playground. It is equally essential to offer outdoor opportunities where people can disconnect and escape from their digital world if they choose to do so. Much the way museums provide an opportunity for guests to use a guided audio tour or not, playgrounds can include tech-charged features and peaceful aspects too. As an industry, we must ask ourselves: If we were to invent playgrounds now, what problems would they solve? What challenges would we tackle? To endure, today’s playgrounds must offer value on today’s terms. We can accomplish that by understanding and connecting the realities of today’s society to the priceless feelings unstructured outdoor play evokes. By shifting our thinking away from selling a product to creating an experience people can’t live without, we will save play for future generations. About The Author

Ian has led the Inclusive Play initiative at Playworld Systems since its inception, culminating in development of the Inclusive Play Design Guide, a manufacturer-neutral, inspirational, and educational resource for inclusive play. He championed development of the nation’s first electronic outdoor play product, and created the company’s first market research department. Ian has a lifelong fascination with trends, the future, and how we manage change.


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CPSI Course Calendar March 18-20

Milford, DE



Phoenix, AZ



LaGrange, KY


April 1-3

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Chicago Area, IL



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24 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014


Las Cruces, NM



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Dublin, OH



Play Designs

Over and Under

Under the Sea

Imaginations are running in overdrive with this arch designed net structure. One minute on top of the world, the next climbing through a tunnel!

This colorful design is a delight to young children as well as providing a safe place to land when playing. This takes surfacing up a playful notch!

Dynamo Industries

ECORE International

Running, Bouncing, Climbing

Kids & Cardboard = Play Design

This simple design offers a unique play experience similar to playing on a hill with climbing, jumping, somersaults, and pairing up with pals.

Children and cardboard boxes have resulted in countless examples of play design. Children have been inspired around the world to design their own creations with the Imagination Foundationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s annual Global Cardboard Challenge.

Playworld Systems

CAINEâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S ARCADE | SPRING 2014 Playground Magazine 25

Themed Indoor Commercial Playgrounds by Alexandra Estanislao

Polar bear playground at the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo courtesy and property of Orca Coast Playground Ltd. 2014

The longing to play is a natural desire in all children. Play is fueled by curiosity, and creative playgrounds spark spontaneous play for kids and provide wonderful opportunities for children to interact and actively learn. It is through the option of diverse types of playgrounds that various types of play are promoted which are vital for a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development. Indoor playgrounds in particular have become a growing asset in play today as they offer a safe way for children to freely move and explore, rain or shine.

Adding a Theme Choosing to design a themed playground can benefit playground owners much more than the choice of a traditional play space. Theming can help portray a mood to the play area and its surroundings, and the ultimate uniqueness of a playground can attract children and parents alike. From castles, animals, jungles, to pirate ships – bringing a playground to

life through a world of make believe can boost the popularity of the playground as well as expand a child’s imaginative play. Much like the mood of a café is portrayed through its aesthetics, music, furniture, and overall impression to its customers, a themed playground can similarly embody its own unique ambience and artistic imprint that will keep children coming back for more play time.

Inspiring Imaginations Children love to use their imagination. Indoor playground companies design playgrounds to not only provide a basic standard play area but to also challenge a child’s mind through the creation of themed playgrounds. Playgrounds are much more than just playing fields with the obvious benefit of physical activity – it is through the appearance, structure, and diverse themes of playgrounds that make imaginations soar. Photo courtesy and property of Orca Coast Playground Ltd. 2014 26 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

Themed playgrounds promote role playing where a child can imagine different roles, such as a nurse, doctor, pirate, or astronaut, depending on the theme. Role playing allows children to imitate what they have observed from past experiences in real life settings and imitate the movements and dialog they observed in pretend play. This form of imaginative play provides cognitive and social benefits as it develops a child’s verbal skills, creativity, and social interactions. When designing a themed playground, multiple choices of interactive play can be incorporated. Imaginative climbing structures, such as rock walls that could be designed to look like buildings, and background designs that grasp the concept of a theme, such as national history, plants, space, or animals, add to the overall experience. Creative design helps incorporate an educational and variety-filled play adventure for both the children and parents. Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba is a polar bear playground residing at the Assiniboine Zoo that is a great example of interactive themed play. This playground is a fully immersive play area designed as an arctic wonderland of active participation intended to educate and entertain visitors about the great polar bears of Churchill. Features include sliding and climbing as well as an ice cave with hidden messages, a moving ice-mass floor that responds to footsteps, a responsive Aurora Borealis wall where children can conduct the northern lights, and a wallsized icicle xylophone!


Photo courtesy and property of Orca Coast Playground Ltd. 2014

The design of themed playgrounds goes beyond the requirement to be structurally flawless in safety and appearance; the design also appeals to the creative mind of a child. More than just an area to climb and slide, the overall mood built into the theme spurs children to engage with the imaginative activities and encourages them to want to come back for more.

Using Imagination when Theming Theming a playground is not a simple task, or at least it shouldn’t be. A theme dramatizes a feeling; it is added to invoke emotions, a sensation, a memory, or a mystery. It should inspire and create awe.

The children should feel completely enveloped in the theme of a playground when done well. “Thinking outside of the box” by play designers produces imaginative themes that will accomplish the goal of immersing children in the experience of the play area. Since indoor themed playgrounds are custom designed, often the original design request from the playground owner may be vague. A suggestion of a theme of using only boxes would require the designer to literally “think outside of the box” and add an artistic twist to the design. Current trends call for modern and artistic approaches. When constructing a theme, it must always be eye catching, brilliant in

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color, and ultimately more than the playground owner imagined, giving that “awe” factor.

The Tommy K Play themed playground is a great example of branding as a theme. Photo courtesy and property of Orca Coast Playground Ltd. 2014

Branding as a Theme In many cases a playground owner’s brand is clearly identified by a theme, but is a playground a theme in its own right? A particular play facility that stands out from the rest is Tommy K Play in Calgary, Alberta. Tommy K Play is a company that believes in both parent and child stimulation and satisfaction. While the child needs that spontaneous free play time, it is necessary for a parent to also enjoy the environment and setting. Due to its cold harsh seasons outside, Calgary has many indoor play centers. The owner of TKP wanted to create a facility that was known for cleanliness, adult comforts, and an extreme level of fun for kids. Rather than becoming the next “jungle” or “space mission,” TKP

created a brand that stands for quality and fun equipment while also screaming clean and safe. They chose color schemes that appealed to adults with a jet-black playground and soothing wall colors that left the entire structure looking clean and sophisticated. The choice to accommodate both a mature and younger audience is what made this particular play facility stand out. The brand itself is the mixture of color coordination, flawless structure, and versatility in mood – appealing to all people who visit the facility. Through smart and attentive choices when creating their facility, they have generated strict brand identification. Visitors know they are entering a Tommy K Play facility because of their unique mixture of set up, service, and ambience. This play facility built a playground without intending to create a theme. The brand and method it delivered turned out to be so powerful that it essentially did create a theme, their own.

Is Theming a MUST Do? Theming is important depending on the playground owner’s goals. Not all facilities are required to have a jungle look or a cubism feel. Some really don’t even need a powerful brand at all. Everything is demographically based when it comes to the must do’s or don’ts in theming. For example, in certain areas with a smaller demographic than others with less competition, the playground can survive strictly on demand and service. However, in

larger markets where it is more competitive, it must be instinctively different and exceptional to survive. The decision to theme or not is based on the playground owner’s business plan. The cost of theming a playground can typically add anywhere from 15% to 50% depending on the level of detail and volume.

Cost of Theming Indoor themed playgrounds are custom designed and manufactured. When branding is involved, they must be unique and identifiable. The cost of custom themed play pieces does not need to deter their choice as an option. Budgetary theming is available and a playground design company will have a multitude of options for the buyer. In short, countless communities are eagerly looking for various ways to make their play areas stand out from the rest. In order to draw individuals of all ages and abilities to such facilities, they must embody an environment that can inspire imaginative play and provoke curious children to explore the many features of a well-designed play area. About The Author

Alexandra Estanislao is employed by Orca Coast Playground Ltd. With over 400 installations worldwide, Orca Coast specializes in designing and building indoor themed playgrounds.


28 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

SPRING 2014 Playground Magazine 29

Who’s Talking About Play Design? PlayGroundology PlaygroundIDEAS


“There is much art in the creation of vibrant public play spaces. Their aesthetic, their physicality and their spatial rendering push mind and body to new imaginative experiences. This presents a great opportunity for virtual galleries like PlayGroundology FB to curate news, design, research, advocacy and trends.”

“Play is not a luxury. It is a necessity and a right. Spaces for play need not be limited to the plastic, prefabricated swingsand-slide model, costing thousands of dollars to create. Playground Ideas can help anyone create a stimulating play space, on any budget, using only local materials, tools and labour. We exist to create a community of designers, researchers, educators, parents, and advocates making play spaces accessible to all children everywhere. That’s why all of our resources are open-source and free. Stimulating play spaces should be, and can be, available for all.” “Today we’re proud to announce that our design library is now bursting with over 150 designs. That’s over 150 step-by-step instructions that anyone can build. To celebrate this exciting milestone, over the next 150 days we’ll be profiling a design a day from our library on our blog, along with stories of how these elements were created and examples of how they’ve been used around the world.”

“We believe that playground design should be a reflection of the world surrounding us. We see the world as a place full of color. We meet boys that like pink and girls that like climbing trees. Why only play on a monkey frame and in a sandbox, when you can play in a moon crater or a submarine or a giant spider or an enormous snail or a Trojan horse or a rocket or an ant or a princess castle. The fantasy is infinite.” “The world is a truly fantastic, colorful and dangerous place for kids to grow up in. The playground has to be an equally inspiring alternative where kids can learn to assess risks in a safe environment.”

About PlayGroundology Written by Alex Smith, PlayGroundology is a blog that “scours the web for all things bright, beautiful and occasionally tarnished about the world of playgrounds.” Unique and interesting playgrounds, both old and new, are highlighted as well as posts about design, art, history, advocacy groups, and civic engagement as they relate to playgrounds. Alex writes about playgrounds from around the world and includes beautiful photography with his interesting descriptions. Concrete sculpted art playgrounds from France, vintage photographs and video clips of adventure playgrounds in England, and unique designs of new playground equipment with features such as musical swings are samplings of the varied subjects he brings to his readers. Alex has recently compiled beautiful pictures of playgrounds and organizations that work with providing play for children. He has used Haiku Deck to create these mobile slide decks (think of them as digital picture books) and currently has two available for view: The Book of Play and Hearts of Play. Calling himself a PlayGroundologist in training, Alex asserts that PlayGroundology is an emerging social science. He lives in Canada and is kept busy with his young children as they make an adventure out of visiting as many playgrounds as possible. 30 Playground Magazine SPRING 2014

About PlaygroundIDEAS PlaygroundIDEAS first began in 2008 with a group of volunteers building playgrounds along the Thai-Burma border. In 2010, they started a website to share what they had learned with others interested in doing the same. People started joining them. They have now built an online network of passionate people from Azerbaijan to Zambia who are creating access to play across the globe. PlaygroundIDEAS is a not-for-profit organization that designs and builds play spaces for the world’s most disadvantaged children. They operate with the help of international volunteers and funders, to help organizations and individuals create quality playgrounds for children all over the world.

About MONSTRUM MONSTRUM was founded in 2003 by the passionate spirits of Ole B. Nielsen and Christian Jensen. The company is located in Hvidovre, Denmark, a suburb of Copenhagen. With a background in designing and building theatrical sets, the artists and designers at MONSTRUM use this experience to combine elements where not only physical activities and play evolve, but also a visual story is created in the play space to allow fantasy to thrive. MONSTRUM’s core focus is on visual design, motor challenges, and safety. Their play structures are made of wood and are whimsical in nature. Their playground designs have been nominated for numerous awards, and in 2012 they won the Danish Design Award as well as the AOK, Best child experience in Copenhagen.

Find others who are talking about play in The Play and Playground Encyclopedia.


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Play Design - Spring 2014 Issue Vol.14 - No.1  

In this issue we hope you enjoy our collection of play design articles. We also hope you are noticing the changes in Playground Magazine. We...