Ideas for Better Play Areas

by rochelle

in Books, Family Gardens

Wow, I just realized that the last post (Daily Garden 042) WAS MY 500th POST! Well, that feels like something – but I am not sure how to celebrate…any ideas?

But moving on….You know what I dislike more than anything else in the garden….play areas with some sort of swing set thing set in the middle .  Most especially horrible are the cheap garish plastic ones.  The ones that have more durable and natural materials are better, and better still are those that have made some significant effort in design, but they all have one common (negative) feature…they relegate kids to one area of the yard and to me seem completely repetitive in their offerings.  Why not go to a local playground?    As a mom, I get the practicality that this can have, especially if the play structure is located in plain sight from, say, a kitchen window, but personally, I prefer to integrate the play opportunities with the rest of the garden as much as possible.

modern swing garden blasen landscape architecture california

by blasen landscape architects

Here is why — (at least from a kid perspective — I assume I don’t need to mention that ‘jungle gyms’ are a general blight on the landscape)

1) Kids can get bored quickly and move on.  If there is only one play area…then there is no place to move onto.

2) The play area tends to encourage only one type of play – that is playground play…where kids are excitedly swarming all over the structure like ants.  It is all energy and excitement – and it is good, but there are other things too.  Play structures can encourage kids to interact with their surroundings and they should — it is possible to provide better options than just a pile of plastic to climb on.

3) There is no opportunity to move around the outdoors, they just stay in that spot. Sure there is exercise in climbing, but giving them destinations and ways to move to them is much more interesting not just for kids but for adults too.

What would I prefer? and of course this is dependent on how much space you have, but I will give you a for example.

Create multiple areas, with simpler more natural and less obtrusive garden based features.

At my house we have a tree platform with a slide.  My little people and their cohorts have taken it upon themselves to accessorize the platform with  their own creations – pull up buckets (created from plant pots), and variations on rope swings made from found wood and rope scavenged from the garage.  While I want to add on to this tree house, I am discovering that it is becoming it’s own thing with out me having to spend too much money or imaginative effort.  The kids are leading and we are following and it is really nice.

On the side of the house, we have a gravel patio that doubles as a sandbox.

Around back we have a hammock strung between two oak trees.  I can see it from my desk.  My kids love this thing.  Roughly 4 children can be in it at at time and you would be surprised by how many hours are spent in this thing with stuffed animals, books, pets, swinging,  etc.   It is totally separate from the tree house and this play is much more contemplative and  collaborative (because they are all swinging together). It is not uncommon for me to find my 3 year old gently swinging and daydreaming by himself here.

willow tunnel for playing in the garden

image from usedcarspecialist

My garden shed frequently doubles as a playhouse and garden paths are inviting journeys to other things.  Oh and I should not forget to mention the ‘play tree’ which is a bunch of giant rhododendrons that have be denuded from about 4′ down by deer that have fun branches to climb in.

So I guess what I am saying is that when you see all this, you aren’t immediately struck by the presence of a play ground in the middle of our garden but rather by an interest to see what awaits around the next corner and I think that is infinitely more interesting to kids and adults.

While at Blasen Architects website, I saw these two beautiful example of what I am taking about…. The swings above are so simply beautiful and I would happily sit there to chat with my husband as eagerly as my kids would.  This slide is so pretty, I had to take a second look to realize what I was even looking at….a slide on a hill that blends beautifully with the landscape. Nice.

modern in ground slide blasen landscape architecture california

by blasen landscape architects

Along this line, the best book that I have ever seen about this different sort of approach to a childs garden is 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children (Archetype Press Books) by Molly Dannenmaier…(I mentioned here before) but it really is worth a read if you are looking to create outdoor spaces that children can interact with.