Boat Playground : Play Design With a Theme

We have been doing a little research as we are working on a boat playground or two. At Learning Landscapes Design we design on lots of scales and for lots of different audiences. We thought each of these concepts hits a little different part of the clientele we work for. Take a look, one of these cool boats might work for you!


Really simple boat placed in a river bank type setting. Great for early childhood.


Hand carved canoe! Nadaka Park, Gresham OR.


We like how open to interpretation this is. There are lots of climbing opportunities. From Edgar’s Field Park. 



This boat playground was still under construction. I could not pin down a location. We like how BIG it is. It includes a whole amphitheater, slides, climbing and soon to have a plank to walk! 


This is the one we landed on as our template  piece. We like how simple and small this boat themed play area is. It is open to lots of uses. Just a few safety changes to make and you might see this on a playground near you soon.


Why loose parts make me want to tear my hair out! (And tips on how to solve it)

I have a fierce commitment to getting more loose parts into kid’s hands because I regularly see their immense value. I am also a parent who has a strong desire to stop picking up (and stepping on) these loose parts. Even with all their play value, loose parts are tricky. Kids take ‘the stuff’ and move it around, lose it, break it, and general play with it!  I hear from parks staff that have to regularly return building sticks back to their play area. Some pieces will inevitable be stolen or disappear as a pocket treasure. In some circumstances, loose parts could hurt kids. Kids could fall on them, get cut by a broken piece, or even choke on a small part. Then starts the liability conversation. 

I decided to call on Garrett Riggs, my favorite loose parts guru from Childswork Learning Center in Portland OR to inquire about their loose parts strategy. Their school is play based and filled with paint, blocks, pets, glue guns, glitter, and baskets (of the loved and dreaded) loose parts around every corner. They have a wonderful loose parts shed in their new Salmon Creek Children’s Forest. In the following interview, Garrett and I explore how my two loose parts sides might find peace. 


Michelle: Why do you use loose parts outside? 

Garrett: So many reasons. One of them is that concept that loose parts can act as an invitation to play, so that when you go outside, the space that you’re in is not the same every single day, like a solid structure for climbing on, a solid structure for swinging on. You can have dump trucks and shovels and wood cookies and those things change every day. It’s a different invitation when you see loose parts. I think that’s one component of it. Loose parts outdoors and inside, give your brain that challenge of, how do I make this thing be what I need it to be? Or if I need something to be this, what can do that job? I think both those things have beenproven to help children with their executive functioning and their planning skills.

Michelle: I’m glad to hear you say that, executive functioning. I feel like that’s what it’s all about.

Yeah, I think that’s a huge driving factor for our school. We are starting to think about education in that light. We read “Mind in the Making” last year. It outlined essential skills for growing up into a well functioning adult. It’s very heavy on the executive functioning. The ability to plan, and the ability to use your prefrontal cortex.

Michelle: What’s passed this test of time here? What works best?

Garrett: Natural materials, for a couple of reasons. They break and they break down, but they’re easily replaceable. It’s almost like, as they break, they go through a different life and a different use. It might start off as a full wood cookie, or a full stump, and it slowly degrades or breaks into triangles. When it’s a triangle, it becomes a very different thing. When it stops being a triangle, eventually it just becomes a bark chip and you don’t have to worry about it. The stump does the same thing, it rots. It might be a stool at this point, but 2 years from now it’s a place to look for slugs and turn it into something to investigate. I think natural materials are the best of the products that we found, especially compared to plastic materials. Which are great, can be great, but break, don’t last, are dangerous, often become weapons. I don’t know why, but in my mind there’s a difference between swinging a PVC tube, and swinging a stick.

Michelle’s Note: This is nice to hear. I have experienced natural pieces having a superior value.  I am not the only one!

                                                     Childswork has this cool big tube that passes muster for longevity and free play.

Michelle: Do you find that kids use them (natural and non natural materials) differently?

Garrett: I don’t know. I think the stick has more possibilities. A lot of the plastic loose parts seem to come with one, very specific intent. So a PVC tube is for moving water, if it can’t move water, then you struggle to find a good use for it and it becomes a great swinging implement. But a stick, it can be a cane, or it can be a wand, or it can be a staff, or something like that. The possibilities are more open, so maybe it’s less likely to become a sword, or a baseball bat.

Michelle: Is there anything that you’ve implemented that was a big flop? Too dangerous, too messy? Horrible for some other reason?

Garrett: Yes and no.  I’m big on the concept that getting out of bed is dangerous, and we have to learn how to navigate a world of dangers. So children practicing in a fairly safe space is important, in that, when a PVC tube breaks because it got whacked too hard on the ground and has a sharp edge on it, yeah, that has to be removed. B
ut at the same time, children have to learn how to understand that, okay, this has to be cleaned up now, this is dangerous. Now the play has changed a little bit, and that’s important. I would never consider that a flop, that this thing broke and became dangerous. The plastic materials that break, I think, are the ones that we are most often replacing. Metal that gets sharp edges on it. But again, I don’t see them as flops. PVC tubes, I think, are really cool and have a lot of opportunities, but they became very difficult to manage. Other than that, no, no such big flops.

Michelle’s Note: Ok, I am listening here. Find success within your ‘failure’. It is all learning. 

Michelle: What’s your strategy for maintaining sanity with loose parts everywhere?

Garrett: Howdoes that Frozen song go again? Let it go? I think there’s a component of that, though. In early childhood studies, you’ve got to be okay with letting some things go, and the shed not being just exactly perfect at the end of the day. Knowing a couple of times a year I’m going to have to empty out the shed, reorganize the baskets, and put it back together. To a degree, you maintain your sanity by not forcing the children to live up to my expectations of a beautiful, organized structure at the end of every day. Being okay with it being a little messy and untidy and a toy or 2 left outside, or a material stacked up and left somewhere.

More and more, I’ve noticed this year, children need scaffolding and a whole lot of areas that adults take for granted. One of them is cleaning up and tidying up at the end. The blanket statement of, “time to clean up and line up”is like a free for all for children. They find a toy or a material that they can clean up, and then get it to the shed in the location where it goes. They tossed in, because they’ve done it a couple of times, there’s no organization for them to even be able to see how to contribute to this. We forget that, if we’re going to hold children to the expectation, this is what a cleaned up shed or a cleaned up basket of loose parts looks like, then we have to show them that first. We have to have a system that they can understand, that can be accessible to them. One of our challenges as a school that we haven’t corrected is the shed is very accessible to adults, a child almost needs to come up to me and say, I need this. Now I’m not observing or being a part of the play, I’m getting a material for a child who should be able to access materials on their own. 

                                                                  Notice the very empty shelves!

The maintaining sanity with, loose parts are really important. Having materials for children is really important. But a basket full of materials is going to be dumped out in its entirety because a child can’t see the bottom of the basket. Their only method of finding it out is dumping it out. You can organize it by remembering that less is more sometimes. Just a couple of cups and stainless steel bowls in the basket is better. Then I can see everything that’s in there. I don’t have to dump out the whole basket to find what I need. Then run away because I want to play with my materials and I don’t want to clean up the basket that I just dumped out. Remembering that loose parts doesn’t just mean fill your shed with components for children to use, but to be intentional in what you’re choosing, how it’s presented to children, and how you expect them to contribute to the cleanup portion of the show.

Michelle’s Note: This is where we are getting to the good stuff. It is simple and makes sense, but as an enthusiastic adult we sometimes forget. Keep it simple. be intentional, show kids how to clean up properly, and lower your expectations a bit. 


Michelle:  In an ideal world what would you try with loose parts?

Garrett: In an ideal world, I’d have a shed that had 500 baskets, so that I could have little glass jewels in this basket, small animal figurines in this basket, small wooden cookies in this basket. I’d have all of these options and materials, all available less than 3 feet off the ground so that children could access all of these things and use their imagination for anything. Then me as a teacher could say, okay, this day we’re going to use this line, and I’m going to set up some invitations with this line. We’re going to listen and hear these stories. When I hear them developing some idea, I’m going to change it a little bit and get out a new line of materials. Then I could see, how does that change the way they approach that topic, or the way they approach the story that they’re telling? I would have thousands and thousands of options with a system that could manage that.

Michelle: Like a conveyor with certain set of boxes for the day.

Garrett: Yeah, right. Like the sushi train going by. It’s not always me choosing it, but that children know that these are our materials. It doesn’t become 500 baskets dumped out across the ground that need to be now sorted, and put back into their locations.

Michelle: Awesome, I can picture it.

Garrett: Yeah, that concept of using different materials to tell the same story I find really fascinating. I really like that. That ability to add details to a story, and to make it a little more rich. It’s different than pre literacy skills. Like, you start with the beginning, and you have a setting, and a character. It’s teaching children how to add richness and depth to a story. I guess that’s the ideal scene because we work on the rudiments, and we’ve got to teach the rudiments. If you have the capacity to teach a child the, I don’t know, the thing that can’t be named. The reason we read certain books and we go to certain concerts. If you could start that in earlier in childhood, I think that could be a very cool thing.

Speaker 1: Awesome. Well, thank you.

Speaker 2: Yeah, you’re welcome.


If you like reading around loose parts and want to know more. Check out our Loose Parts Hall of Fame Post.


Loose Parts Play – The Hall of Fame

Who does loose parts play well? This post outlines our list of loose parts rock stars, their foci, and a glimpse into the resulting play. The activities are self chosen, the materials are flexible, the play and learning is inevitable. 


Anji Play
Hold onto your hats THIS is amazing! Anji Play is an approach to early childhood education in China’s Anji county, developed by educator Cheng Xueqin. The goal is TRUE play. Students are invited to an open play session with the offered materials in the morning. The afternoon includes reflection of play and review of photos and videos that spur discussion, art, and writing.
Dattern Play Panels
I would be remiss not to include Richard Dattner’s Play panels. This early prototype of the loose parts movement was designed by Dattner for the NY City playground revolution in the 1970’s. Play panels were brightly colored and allowed park visitors a free play building experience in a public setting. 


The Land
This Adventure Playground in North Wales is the gold standard for loose parts in adventure play. Young people experiment with gravity, fire, tools and more. The site purposely fosters risky play for youth through the use of free play. 
Teacher Tom
For serious learning masked in lighthearted fun, head over to Teacher Tom’s Blog. This Preschool teacher in Seattle Washington is an inspiration. His ideas are down to earth and easily replicable. The sheer volume of quality posts and thoughtful reflection is overwhelming. Prepare to be inspired. 


Scrapstore Play Pod
The Scrapstore PlayPod is a process that transforms play at school lunchtimes by providing a pod of loose parts for free play. Not only does the school get the materials, it is accompanied by: Training, support, and a suitable storage area.
SNUG Playground
It is oh so hard to find good manufactured ‘playground’ loose parts. The SNUG system brought to the US by Play Core is our favorite. It is big, it is fun, and meets many of the goals of loose parts play inside a clean and manufactured lens. 
Do some of these approaches seem overwhelming or out of reach? Do not fear. There is another loose parts rock start out there… nature.  Found near you, usually for free! Find it, tough it, enjoy it, protect it. 



Loose Parts and Adventure Play Infographic

Check out this new related loose parts post and cool info graphic. 
“So what can be done now? After this discussion of the importance of free play in the outdoors you may be wondering how you can bring back play for children in your life. There are two things to support you in doing so: nature and adventure. What you are going to need to do is reintroduce adventure back into children’s outdoor play. To accomplish this, you can use loose parts.” – Caileigh Flannigan From Wakeup World

Natural Loose Parts

Natural loose parts are by far the easiest to come by and most beautiful (in my opinion). The seasonal variety is amazing. They can cost very little if you are a good hunter. Colors, shapes and patterns are endless. They are also less precious so if something gets broken, ends up in a pocket, or moves into an art project that is ok (maybe even encouraged). 
Here are some of my favorite arrangements and presentations of natural loose parts. Any of these can be done in your playscape. We often offer a loose parts table to help organize the activity near the loose parts storage area. The following are arranged in a sand box, on a black piece of fabric, on a wood top table, in pea gravel, in a small wooden grid, and in a wood box with small compartments. 
You may notice all of the arrangements are quite beautiful. Kids respond to this and the organization and beauty of the materials will inspire even the littlest hands. 





Loose Part Forts : Here There and Everywhere

One of the most amazing aspects of loose parts in play is that they are ever changing. Children can literally create the setting for their play. Along with this comes some; physics, conflict resolution, upper body strengthening, imagination, and trail and error. 
Westmoreland Park in Portland OR has offered loose part fort building since it opened. They are one of the most dynamic and loved aspects of the playscape. They are constantly in flux, new builders, new ideas, and new play spaces. Park staff periodically review and replace sticks. Most of them have lasted a long time. They look shiny and polished from all the use they get. But, they were never formally prepared or treated.
I was on site all day once giving tours as part of a conference. The variety of forts I saw in one day really opened my eyes to the power and simplicity of this loose part. Here are some of our favorites over the years.


The most loved fort location, up on top of the hill under the logs. I specifically designed a dip in the surfacing here so the fort would have a little burrow feeling. Kids can build from the top too, adding more challenge. 

This one must have been made with the help of an engineering parent. By far the biggest and most intricate fort I have seen here. 

Here they are using the balance logs for support.

Using the fencing and picnic table for support. This looked like it might be a homeless camp. I called the Parks Department to tell them about it immediately.

Did I mention upper body strength and cooperation?

Children built this king of the hill, tunnel fort.

My favorite is when the sticks get brought back to their source and end up as a fort under the trees. It is lovely and peaceful under there. 


Why Loose Parts Rule the World of Play

We all like to be in charge of our environment. Play is about choice, spontaneity, and action without serious purpose. Being able to change the environment with loose parts allows users to change the activities, setting, story line, and characters of their play. Loose parts are universal, they can be fun for all ages and abilities.


Tactile – Sensory Awareness
We attribute this to small children, but everyone is more engaged when their senses are intrigued.  This is a brand-new potions kitchen at Clatskanie Elementary School. Despite the lack of variety, soil sparks LOTS of activity.
Experiment with simple techniques that lay the foundation for scientific understanding; gravity, water flow, balance, seasons, growth, weight. “You pump the water. I am going to build a dam.” Champoeg State Park

New Every Time! – World Building
Being able to control your space, your story line, setting and environment for play. I have spent a day at Westmoreland Park and seen the sticks constantly changing (literally constantly). Look for an upcoming post on the transition of the Westmoreland Park Forts. Check out this detailed post of stick forts here

Executive Functioning *
Loose parts support skill building that make us succeed in society: creativity, attention control, focus, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, problem solving, and planning. Yes please! I could use more of these. My kids could use more of these. These characteristics will pave the way for a lifetime of success.
These three little guys did this for 45 minutes! Among a long day at the wonderful Cleveland Zoo, with so many other things to see. There were negotiations, failures, and successes. Creativity, attention, problem solving do you see it? * Executive functioning is so key. I will expand on this in another post.

Did I also mention social interaction, imaginative play, inclusion…? More posts on loose parts to come. 
* Executive functioning is so key. I will expand on this in another post.



Winter Forts!

With all the fallen branches from our winter storms we are seeing so many amazing stick forts!


Green School Grounds As Neighborhood Centers

The Rise of Community Loved Third Spaces

This is a phenomenon that we have seen a lot of in Portland and I assume your communities have seen the same. The rise of coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and friendly meetings in park and plazas.

Third space is an informal shared public space that is not home (first space) or work (second space). “Third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.” ~ Wikipedia

green schools_learning landscapes


Why can’t our schools be part of this growing movement? They are centrally located in most neighborhoods, often have a lot of surrounding land and they could use our help building and maintaining features that reflect the neighborhood. Developing a network of green schools would strengthen our communities by creating a web of third places.

The Intertwine Alliance has convened a group of interested parties from education, health, and community design to talk about greening our schoolyards. I will keep you updated if any great new movements or ideas come out of the coalition.



Sabin School Natural Playground Opens!

We were blessed with a little sun last week for the Sabin School Natural Playground opening. You could tell by all the people in attendance that the space is already well loved by the community.

Sabin School_Learning Landscapes Design_opening

The playground sits on the north side of the school surrounded by the learning garden, three large existing Oak trees and nestled into the hillside. The site features include a climbing and sliding slope, a log and boulder climbing feature, an outdoor classroom structure and amphitheater, three living willow domes, a peace garden, and rain gardens that treat stormwater runoff.



Sabin School_Learning Landscapes Design_outdoor classroom

The students were definitely enjoying the climbing and sliding area. The logs are set on metal brackets for ease of future replacement and adding a little more challenge. The surrounding surface is a soft imitation playground grass that blends well into the play lawn while adding a layer of safety and accessibility.


Sabin School_Learning Landscapes Design_Log climbing and sliding

The three large oaks serve as the anchor and umbrella over the space adding shade, scale, and instant nature connection.


Sabin School_Learning Landscapes Design_playscape

Students and community members gathered to build three living willow play structures. I will post a separate blog on this process with more photos. The kids loved the scale of the structures. The fuzzy buds instantly became a popular ‘loose part’ to collect and share.

Sabin School_Learning Landscapes Design_willow

Right out of the gate the play space in amazingly popular. As it grows in and final touches are installed it will only get better. That is one things I like about natural play areas. Structures only get older after installation. Nature play grows and changes with the students and the community.

Sabin School_Learning Landscapes Design_loose parts

Rain Play Drum Feature

I love the idea of rain play. Maybe it is because I live in Oregon. Maybe it is because I think we miss out of so many outdoor experiences because the weather is not what we hoped. These rain drums at Cedar River Watershed Education Center combine a lot of fun concepts. They would be a fun addition to a playscape to integrate weather, seasonal interest, water play, and music.

Spiderweb Play Installation

I ran across this amazing play space today. It looks like an Italian installation by the firm Ilia Estudio. The spiderweb play installation looks amazingly fun, relatively easy to install, and low on the potential risks.

Park Villamanin in Italy2

I like how it is free form and attracts older kids as much as younger kids. The use of slack-line hardware is a great idea. It is widely available and easily replicable.

Park Villamanin in Italy.

The ‘installation’ umbrella on this piece would probably help exclude this type of installation from many of the rigid guidelines we have here in the US.

Park Villamanin in Italy

Park Villamanin in Italy1

Sabin School’s playscape is just about complete!

The Sabin School community has been working hard to develop and build a natural playscape for their school. Portland Public Schools has put together this video showing all the work they have been doing. Here at Learning Landscapes we have enjoyed working on this project with the school and community. It takes lots of hands, minds and hearts to get something like this built. Final pictures coming soon!



Where the City, Play, and Computers Overlap

I hear a lot of people talk about bringing games to playgrounds. Some manufacturers have even tried to make digital games part of their equipment. The ones I have seen are seldom used, suffer from simple issues such as glare and lack the graphics of today’s technological savvy world.


Until I saw this. pvi collective’s deviator project is amazing! It brings play into the city in a temporary and fun way. It brings play to adults and intersects people’s typical days. It meets them where they are. No need for a special trip to a play area. No need to bring the kids, although I am sure they are invited. This app puts play into people’s hands to improve daily happiness.

Now I just want to see it available in every city all the time. 🙂



Urban Play

Kids need a place to play, to connect with their neighbors and just be kids. In our urban centers it is harder and harder to find places that are for kids besides the neighborhood playground. But, we believe we can do better. That play can be around the corner to every child even in urban areas.

Learning Landscapes Design recently started an Urban Play in PDX Project. We will take the next 6 months and frame the urban play issue in our Portland neighborhoods. We will look at play streets, play in left over spaces and play events or temporary play spaces. Let us know if you are interested in joining in the conversation.


As we started our research we ran into a great New Orleans based educational non profit with similar goals called PlayBuild.

PlayBuild’s Big Idea: blight eradication through design education.

We proposed to target vacant lots in close proximity to elementary schools and to transform them into architectural playgrounds by combining unique playground equipment with elements of an outdoor classroom and creating a safe, fun, accessible environment for kids and families to play and learn.


Their 2828 Thalia play space has a ton of fun building toys and blocks. Kids build community and learn about the importance of design in their rapidly changing neighborhoods. We love how education play and community building overlap here and we can’t wait to see where this non-profit goes.






Nature Play Through the Trees: Today’s Photo

I love how the Westmoreland Park Nature Play Area is bound on one side by giant sequoia trees. Kids will often play in this area because it has a great sense of place. It is open and calm. I think it helps them connect play on the nature play build environment and play in a natural environment. Hopefully this will click in next time they are in a natural area, and free play will follow.


Westmoreland from the trees2_learning landscapes design

Loose Parts in Nature Play

I met with a client that recently completed their playscape construction. (More photos on that soon.) We were out watching the kids enjoy the area and everything looks beautiful. Maybe even too beautiful! We both knew that the project needed a layer of loose parts. Let the kids be creative. Let them build and mix and imagine. Often this looks like …

let them make a CREATIVE, NOISY, TALL,


I put together the following list for them. It is specific to their playscape. But, you might find some of it helpful and interesting. If you have any loose parts you like please send a link or comment below.


Ball Ramps
For using in a building area
Slate Drawing Table
In the quite area or art area
Sort and Sift Trays
in the workshop
Put this drum anywhere
For building
Buy this beautiful set or make your own. I like cherry sticks, the bark stays on well.
A roof, a cape, anything!
These playground silks are great and multifunctional.
for building everywhere
For the fairy house building area in your playscape
For the fairy house building area in your playscape
Buy or build some fairy furniture
A playground scale
I just love theses, wonderful for any workshop or loose parts play space. Check out our pinterest link above for a pin on how to make your own with a wood hanger!
Letter rocks
This is an easy and fun way to bring literacy outside. I have also seen amazing story rocks. Buy these or make your own!
More loose parts
I am still on the search for the perfect playground pulley. This is awesome! But they said it does not work well 🙁
Upgrade your sand put past a bucket and shovel
We were talking about something that would last outside, kids could carry, would drain water and not gather lots of icky things in the bottom. We wanted kids to be able to grab them as they went for a hike to collect things.
Interesting mesh buckets
stackable, but no handle
Cool loose parts shopping basket
I am not sure how this would do outside long term, maybe in galvanized or stainless steel?
Woooo I kind of went off! Have fun.

Safety in Nature Play Areas

Designing natural play areas is such a wonderful process and profession. In every project the conversation always goes to safety. As a parent and designer of spaces for many children, safety is always at the forefront of my mind. I am a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI). This certification is very helpful in understanding what the American Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Playground guidelines say and why. But, these guidelines cannot always stretch over every space and new type of play area.


Safety in nature play areas is often a balancing act. How do we offer some sort of risk for kids, deciding to take a risk is often part of the fun.  But we need to protect them form injury and undue hazards. Often a fear of litigation will take some interesting challenges and play opportunities out of the design. This is a problem almost every project faces. Each project and client draws the line in the sand at a slightly different place.


Both of the following resource are interesting takes on design and safety in nature play areas and playscapes.


I really like this article titled “What’s the Price of Safety”. It is a recent piece from the Chicago Tribune.

For those of you who are in for a bit more reading, this resource by Play England is also great. Managing Risk in Play Provision


In the end I think it comes down to who will be using the space, how it is monitored or supervised and what the intended outcome or activity is.

The Cosmic Earth Path on Kickstarter!

We are happy to announce this unique kickstarter opportunity. The Franciscan Earth Montessori School is building their Cosmic Earth Path and looking for you to join their team. We had a lot of fun helping with this unique design. It will be such an asset for the school and surrounding neighborhood.

Franciscan Site

Go Wild Oregon Child: Oregon’s Nature Playscapes get National Attention

“Kids in Oregon, it may surprise you to know, can be as indoorsy as any others, but three rugged new projects show that the natural play movement is taking hold.”


Go Wild, Oregon Child will be published in this month’s Landscape Architecture Magazine. It is a beautiful piece by Katharine Logan highlighting three of Oregon’s most recent nature play areas. Check it out!

Landscape Architecture magazine feature on natural play in Oregon


Having a hand in the Silver Falls and Westmoreland design, it is fun to see them featured like this. I even have a cameo quote! You can see the entire article at the link below.

LAM_03Mar2015_OregonPlaygrounds-spreads (1)

LAM_03Mar2015_OregonPlaygrounds-spreads (1)-3



Student Playscape Design Workshop

Last week Learning Landscapes Design completed two design workshops with Clatskanie Elementary School. We surveyed students and teachers to understand how the existing playground was working, or not working. Then we envisioned how the new playground space might look and feel. The local paper picked up the story and put it on the front page!




Much of the student playscape design workshop consisted of kids busily building models and talking about design with their friends. Each student built a model from natural materials, had a chance to build in the sand bins, and voted on their favorite imagery and play ideas.

Clatskanie student playscape design workshop_Larning Landscapes Design 1


The group of kindergarten to 6th grade students was amazing. Their ideas were well thought out, and they were really responsive. The workshop was offered as a reward for good behavior throughout the school. I think my favorite part was when we started looking over the possible play area images. The room was full of gasps! and ohhhh’s! The students could finally see that their asphalt fill playground could one day be a varied and fun space for play, learning, and relaxation.

Photo from The Chief


Clatskanie student playscape design workshop_Larning Landscapes Design 2


Student playscape design workshops are at the heart of what we do. Play is a universal right of children. But we know every group of kids and every school uses their play spaces very differently and has different existing issues to address. The workshops are our time to really listen to the kids and see what the current site issues are in their eyes. Then they help us envision and frame the vision for the new playscape.


Clatskanie student playscape design workshop_Larning Landscapes Design 3


Clatskanie student playscape design workshop_Larning Landscapes Design 4

Bay Area Discovery Museum – Outdoor Playscapes

At the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Area Discovery Museum offers a huge range of activities for young visitors. It was blustery and rainy for our visit, but it was well worth it. They offer two separate outdoor spaces; one for tots and one for older kids. Both had lots of activities for creative play and nature play. These spaces were so much more then a playground.

The little kid’s area had a nice raised water play creek. I like the raised aspect; kids are a little less likely to end up soaked. The absence of sand is a detriment to creative play, but makes the water feature function a little more smoothly and reduces mess.

Bay Area Discovery Muesum_Learning Landscapes Design_raised water feature

The gopher hill was a pretty cool combination of pour in place rubber, concrete and soil. It had lots of fun little things to find and a tunnel!

Bay Area Discovery Muesum_Learning Landscapes Design_hill


This little stage was so very inviting. Arranged around an existing tree trunk it took advantage of the proximity of the tree while protecting the root zone. The three separate stage windows allow for more kids to play at once.

Bay Area Discovery Muesum_Learning Landscapes Design_stage

This ship wreck was a cool piece of history as well a place to find hidden treasure and explore your inner pirate.

Bay Area Discovery Muesum_Learning Landscapes Design_ship wreck


I have been working through an idea of a mini play city feature. This area had some great construction theme ideas. Even the simple cones add a lot of value. They might also be functional for a child to protect an area they are working in from other little visitors.

Bay Area Discovery Muesum_Learning Landscapes Design_construction

This themed climbing piece is cool. The green leaves with fabric selves over the metal posts. I thought that was an interesting way to ‘theme’ the climber without doing a bunch of custom metal work.

Bay Area Discovery Muesum_Learning Landscapes Design_climber

The older kid’s zone featured a Patrick Dougherty woven sculpture. I absolutely love his work and community process. You can see more details about his art in this past post.

Bay Area Discovery Muesum_Learning Landscapes Design_willow_Dougherty



The whole outdoor discovery area sits in lush gardens with enticing topography. Looking around felt a bit like a scavenger hunt with great surprises around every corner!



Have we reached the tipping point for urban play?

I am not sure if I have just delved too deep into the world on play, or if the topic has reached it’s critical mass and tipping point. But, I am seeing signs about the importance of play everywhere. Literally signs… The one below is a bit blurry but it reads, “What this place needs is active play every day.”



I think this is pretty cool. It opens the discussion for urban play and urban nature play. How can this space have active play every day? It is available for development by the way!




Big Scale Obstacle Course: Can We All Play Together?

On a recent trip to Ohio we did not let the icy ground and frozen temperatures slow us down. My daughters and in laws and I went to visit the Rotary Obstacle Course at the Scioto Audubon Metro Park in Columbus. The park itself is amazing! Today I wanted to focus on the free play, climbing, and gross motor activities in the obstacle course.

“The Columbus Rotary Obstacle Course features a quarter-mile running track plus a tire run and flip, 8-foot wall, tunnel crawl, balance beams, monkey bars, cargo climb, belly crawl, over/under and a log run.”

site map_Learning_scioto obstacle course_Learning_Landscapes_Design_copyright


It was the log pile that initially intrigued me, but once we got there many of the features had their own charm. The elements were not called a playground. My daughter and her grandparents got equal enjoyment out of them. You can see my daughter in the background enjoying the ice in the snow. The cold added a little bit to the excitement!

log scramble_scioto obstacle course_Learning_Landscapes_Design_copyright

rope climber_scioto obstacle course_Learning_Landscapes_Design_copyright

I could see it as something my husband would actually use as a workout on his run. In that respect, I am not sure if they would meet current playground safety code. I am not sure that they have to, since it is an obstacle course. A loop hole maybe, but maybe not.

under over_scioto obstacle course_Learning_Landscapes_Design_copyright


This huge tire flip and run was really fun. My 3 year old found a tiny tire to roll. The only problem was that the tires all ended up at the end of the run. The use of this simple and cheap material was well done here. The later elements utilized more wood and rope adding new interest to the challenges.

tire flip sign_scioto obstacle course_Learning_Landscapes_Design_copyright

tire flip and tunnel__scioto obstacle course_Learning_Landscapes_Design_copyright


I liked the simple use of materials, the appeal to many age groups, and the huge scale. This was a great opportunity for any weather out door play with the family.


Renee Wilkinson Joins the Learning Landscapes Team

We are pleased for many reasons that creative children’s outdoor spaces are becoming popular. Thanks for continuing to contact us about your amazing projects! In response to this or team is growing. We are pleased to add Renee Wilkinson to our team. She is creative, intelligent, and fun. We feel lucky to have the chance to work with her.



Renee Wilkinson designs beautiful outdoor spaces that provide refuge, recreation and opportunities to connect with nature. Her background includes a masters degree in landscape architecture, a bachelors degree in journalism, over a decade of experience in strategic marketing, three years of professional experience as a landscape designer and a lifelong obsession with plants.

“As a sixth generation Oregon homesteader, I have a fascination with watching things grow and getting my hands dirty.”


Wilkinson is also a garden writer with credits including magazine articles in national publications, guest blog posts and a published book titled Modern Homestead. In 2007, she launched the website HipChickDigs that focuses on edible landscape design and sustainable living. Book readings, workshops and lectures have taken her across the country.



She lives on a tenth of an acre city lot in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, daughter, two cats and seven chickens.



Managing Risk in Play Provision: New Risk Benefit Analysis Tool

Nature Play is making its way into our mainstream society. We are seeing requests for, and plans to implement, nature play areas in schools, parks, kids’ destinations and recreation areas. Most people are on board with the general concepts. Just about everyone loves the evocative imagery of the spaces. Even those that have not seen the research inherently understand the benefits of playing in nature. So, what is holding us back? There is more likely than not a voice in the room asking about safety and risk.

New Ark Adventure Playground


Current safety procedures are based on ASTM (American Standard for Testing and Materials) and CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) guidelines designed for playground equipment. There are many difficulties in applying these guidelines to a log, a rock, or a water channel. New national guidelines for natural play and learning areas begin to address this misalignment. You can see my post on these guidelines here.


In this post I wanted to talk about balancing risk and benefit. There is a great UK based risk benefit balancing tool that was just developed. I think it has many possibilities for use in US natural play areas too. How do we design and build play opportunities that challenge and offer risk, but protect from serious injury?


“Risk management in play contexts is different from workplace or factory contexts in one crucial respect. In play provision, a degree of risk is often

beneficial, if not essential. Children and young people enjoy challenging, adventurous play opportunities where they can test themselves and extend

their abilities. Giving children the chance to encounter hazards and take risks provides other benefits, such as the chance to learn how to assess and

manage these and similar risks for themselves. Hence accidents and injuries are not necessarily a sign of problems, because of the value of such

experiences in children’s learning… Judgments about the balance between risks and benefits can be complicated. They involve many factors, and

are often partly subjective.”




This Risk-Benefit Assessment Form was co-authored by David Ball, Tim Gill and Bernard Spiegal on behalf of the Play Safety Forum. Sponsorship was provided by, and the copyright belongs to: Play Scotland, Play England, Play Wales and PlayBoard Northern Ireland. These are some of the biggest names in play safety and risk. They have created a form that can be filled in by interested parties when making decisions about play and risk. Not only do they provide a blank form, they have also provided an example and a Glossary of key terms.


Take a look and let me know what you think. I think it could be a very useful tool to document the decisions and thought process that goes into our play decisions.

Westmoreland Nature Play Area Opens

There is something very satisfying about seeing a play area you have worked on finally open, letting the young masses flood in. At Westmoreland Park in Portland Oregon that happened last week. This pilot nature play project for the City of Portland has been in design for a few years.


The essence of the design replicates the nearby Crystal Springs Creek from its headwaters on Mt. Hood to the spring fed creek the flows through the park. The creek itself is Salmon spawning habitat and inaccessible for play. But the sand and water play feature gives kids a similar experience.

boy in creek_westmoreland_leanring landscapes


Two hand pumps supply ‘spring fed’ water to the creek mound. Water follows one of 4 channels down into the sand play area. This is a mecca for cooperative play as dams are built and ‘water rights’ negotiated.

creek  mound_westmoreland_learning landscapes


The creek play area is roughly 50 to 60 feet long and 30 kids played comfortably in the area on the day I was there. Nearby sand tables, willow arches, water weirs and lots of sand tools help facilitate creative play for all.

creek play_westmoreland_learning landscapes


The Mountain Mound and Forest Mound call to the more adventurous kids. Climbers and risk takers are all over these pieces. Large logs really add to the natural feeling of the space, but are organized in a more traditional play experience.

forest mound_westmoreland_learning landscapes


The young and young at heart are invited to climb a stump ‘tree’, jump over and around a ‘log jam’ and ascend a challenging ‘mountain’ with climbing ropes.

log climbing_westmoreland_learning landscapes


Tucked back by some amazing existing trees are opportunities for loose parts play and fort building. I have been impressed by the caliber of the forts built so far. I wonder if there are not a few adults joining in the building fun.

fort building_westmoreland_learning landscapes


This project was designed by GreenWorks PC. I had the pleasure of leading the design team through construction documents when I worked at this prestigious firm. Every Project is very much a team effort and the GreenWorks staff along with sub consultants really made this project a success. The design Team also included:

Adam Kuby Artist

Main Line Design

KPFF Engineering



Nature Play and Learning Places – A New National Guidelines Document Released Today!

Nature Play & Learning Places, a guide for bringing nature play areas to children in every community, is now available as a free download.  The guide explains how to plan, design, and manage nature play areas, so that kids have a chance to connect with nature at places that they visit every day like parks, schools, and childcare centers.



Nature Play & Learning Places is a project of the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative at the College of Design, North Carolina State University.  The guidelines draw from principal author Robin Moore’s extensive landscape design experience, case studies of 12 existing nature play areas across the country, and the contributions from the members of a national steering committee and a technical advisory committee of representatives from more than 20 national organizations.

Learning Landscapes Design Principal Michelle Mathis had the opportunity to join the national steering committee representing not only Learning Landscapes, but also the Oregon Natural Play Initiative. This amazing new document was thoroughly vetted through by a very involved and educated steering committee. It is truly the national best thinking on nature play and learning areas. Learning Landscapes was particularly involved in how the risk and liability section was developed. We know this document has the power to shape our national approach to outdoor engagement for kids.


“Play outdoors in nature gives children the chance to develop a connection with nature and wildlife, and is good for their health and learning,” said Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education and Training at National Wildlife Federation. “There is an urgent need for new tools to connect kids with nature and these guidelines make it possible to turn every playground, schoolyard, and childcare center into a place for nature play and learning.”

Nature Play & Learning Places is a tool for those working in the field including advocates, policy makers, site managers, park and recreation professionals, educators, design professionals, urban planners, and developers. The guidelines explain how to design a nature play and learning area and provide detailed descriptions of activity setting designs including entrances, pathways, plants, and permanent play structures.  Guidance is also provided for managing soil, plants and other natural elements at nature play areas, and for managing risk at nature play areas, including an eight-step risk management protocol.

Take a look! If you have questions or would like to talk over anything please let me know. I would enjoy hearing feedback and discussing how this might effect your approach and project.


Join the Northwest Children’s Nature Play Week! September 11-15

The Northwest Children’s Nature Play Week is fast approaching. On September 11th – 15th Portland will host a variety of events about getting kids outside to play. Join us for one or all of the events!

PowerPoint Presentation

The events will be organized around a visit to Portland by Nature’s Marketing Director, David Bond, who is founder of the U.K.’s Wild Network and the director of the play-based British documentary Film Project Wild Thing.  The schedule of events for the week can be found here, or as outlined below.



9/11  9:00 – 1:00    Portland Playscape Tour by Learning Landscapes.

Tour registration is limited. Details and registration

9/12  1:00 – 5:00    Portland Play Swarm. Details and Registration 

9/13  Evening        Movies in the Park Screening of ‘Project Wild thing’

9/14  All Day          A WILD Excursion to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

9/15 9:00 – 5:00    Regional Nature, Play and Education Symposium – Hosted by Metro



It should be a great week with lots of wonderful speakers and discussion. Hope to see you there!




Nature Play in the Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce

The Oregon DJC recently published this article about local nature play projects. It is nice to see the concept getting some good press. I like that the author used a lot of quotes!


Sandra Burtzos (gesturing, fifth from left), a Portland Parks & Recreation capital project manager, points out a climbing log feature while leading a tour of a nature play area under construction at Westmoreland Park in Southeast Portland. (You can see me and my pregnant belly on the far right!)


A movement to reconnect children with nature is reshaping playground design throughout the Portland-metro region and Oregon.

More public and private clients are requesting nature-based playgrounds that replace metal or plastic slides, swing sets and play structures with boulders, logs, sand and plants, Portland-area landscape architects say.

“Just about every client is talking about it,” said Mike Zilis, a principal with Portland-based landscape architecture firm Walker Macy. “It’s the new thing.”

“Nature play” or “playscape” playgrounds are gaining momentum as parents, teachers, park officials and landscape architects seek ways to encourage children to unplug from electronic devices, go outside and experience nature, said Ben Johnson, an associate with the Portland-based landscape architecture firm GreenWorks.

“It’s coming from multiple angles,” he said. “The design community, the park-planning community as well as the users are interested in it.”

Portland Parks & Recreation, Metro and Oregon State Parks have pilot nature play areas that are completed or under construction, with plans to build more.

Portland-area landscape architects also have designed natural playgrounds that range from completely natural settings to a hybrid of nature play elements and traditional playground equipment for schools, childcare centers, children’s museums and zoos.

Designing natural playgrounds takes a more custom approach than a traditional playground, which typically involves choosing equipment from a catalog, landscape architects say. Because there are no set safety standards for nature play, designers are tasked with translating standards written for traditional play structures to those made from natural materials.

Wood and other natural materials deteriorate faster, so maintenance is a large consideration in the design process. Procuring raw logs, boulders and other natural components for nature play projects can also be trickier. Plants are often chosen for their hardiness against trampling or potential for children to interact with them, such as picking the flowers, leaves or shoots.

A $1 million project under construction to replace the deteriorating and frequently flooded playground at Westmoreland Park in Southeast Portland will pilot the nature play approach, said Sandra Burtzos, a Portland Parks & Recreation capital project manager. The pilot project is a response to community feedback and Portland Parks & Recreation officials are considering similar projects at other city parks, she said.

“We had been getting requests,” Burtzos said. “There are a lot of community members that know about (nature play) and (want) it.”

GreenWorks designed the Westmoreland Park playground to feature large climbing logs, a sandy area and water channel. The aim is to entice children to play with and manipulate the sand, water and other natural elements in the playground, Johnson said.

“This whole nature play movement is trying to step back and create space where kids can interact with their environment in ways that are fun,” he said. “If we can create their play areas more naturally we can all agree that’s a good thing.”

A desire to find new ways to get children outdoors led to the Oregon State Parks system’s first nature playground at Silver Falls State Park near Silverton, said Steve Janiszewski, operations support manager for the Valleys Region of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. Oregon State Parks also has been instrumental in supporting the Oregon Nature Play Initiative, a group of landscape architects and park and recreation officials that supports and promotes natural play projects in the state.

In May, state park officials officially celebrated the opening of the Silver Falls Nature Play Area, also designed by GreenWorks. The increasingly frequented playground uses logs and other natural materials that were procured from the park and has different animal-themed areas, including a bird section with giant bird nests that children can climb into.

“People are seeing it and playing on it and telling their friends,” Janiszewski said. “It’s taking off, and I think we’ll build another one in a year or two.”

Portland landscape architect Michelle Mathis, designed the Silver Falls Nature Play Area while still working for GreenWorks. About a year and half ago, she felt confident enough with a surge nature play projects to start her own firm, Learning Landscapes Design, which specializes in designing nature-based playgrounds.

“All of the (requests for proposals) have nature playgrounds in them. It’s sort of a tipping point,” Mathis said. “I think people are noticing they’re getting more value out of nature play.”

Learning Landscapes Design’s recent projects include a planned nature playground at Metro’s Oxbow Regional Park in Gresham. It will be Metro’s second nature play area after a group of rangers led an effort to replace an aging playground at Blue Lake Regional Park in Fairview with one built from natural materials.

Designing a nature playground involves more careful safety inspections than selecting manufactured playground equipment that comes with a safety rating, but the added room for creativity is worth it, Mathis said.

“I just think it’s more fun. It’s just a broader range of what you can offer kids,” she said. “The fun of nature play is the distinctive piece of it. It does make the place more dynamic.”

Walker Macy is in the early stages of designing a nature play area for the planned Orenco Woods Nature Park in Hillsboro. The playground will engage children in a different way than a traditional play structure, Zilis said.

“I think the kids are really attracted to it because many of them have seen a standard playground,” he said. “This is a more intriguing way to have fun… It’s an opportunity to use imagination. To me, that’s the real crux of it. You’re asking kids to be kids. You’re saying, ‘Here’s an interesting place, make a game,’ and they do.”

Constructing Sand and Water Play Areas

I wanted to highlight the construction of water and sand play features today, using three great examples. One from the Playscape at Opal School in Portland, a project that Learning Landscapes is working on. Another from Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center in Mattapan, as featured on the Playscapes Blog. And finally, one from the Cleveland Zoo’s new Discovery Ridge Exhibit also designed by Learning Landscapes.


Opal School: Water Area

Learning Landscapes has been working with the Opal school over the last year to plan and implement a school ground overhaul. The goals include moving from significant asphalt and steep lawn to a more engaging and hands-on learning and play space for students. Here is the overall plan with all the features. You will see the water area near the top right. MP_Opal.indd


Before we started the area was steep and rocky. It was really too steep for much playing.



For the big volunteer day, school staff prepped the tools and materials (and doughnuts) and Learning Landscapes staff led a volunteer day to transform the space. Here is what we did.


The Big Volunteer Day

We charted out the path that we wanted the water to follow. It was spray painted on the ground so everyone could get the idea and work around it. We moved boulders to facilitate the water channel and keep water from flowing out of the area completely. Then we dug out dirt in order to make the channel and create a large sand area at the bottom of the feature.



The water tank was added at the top of the channel to supply water to the feature. Teachers fill the tank with the hose and kids can open it and use the water as they like. When the water is gone for the day, it is gone — A little lesson in water conservation. At the end of the feature the water infiltrates into the large sand play area. Once the entire playscape is completed it will flow into a depressed planter and infiltrate over a larger area along with the stormwater on site.


Next we brought in sand by the bucket full to refill the new channel and digging area.



The kids helped plant grasses and other plants to create a more natural setting.

Opal school planting_Learning landsacpe Design

You can see the whole thing here in 30 seconds!


The kids wasted no time and started playing right away!

Opal school sand play_Learning landsacpe Design





Lessons Learned

We had lots of volunteers and no one person got burnt out even though it was a lot of physical labor. We found as a result, that next time we asked people to volunteer they wanted to do it again!

The channel has an earthen bottom, no concrete or additives. This worked fine for most of the channel and allowed kids more freedom. But, erosion happened near the outlet of the water tank because of the pressure and between a few of the tight rocks where we planned water falls. Later concrete channels were added in both of these zones. Below you can see the worst of the erosion. It was not really bad, but we wanted to keep it from getting worse and allowing the big boulders to shift or move.



Boston Nature Center : Dry Streambed

This process and photos were outlined on the Playscape Blog by . You can see the entire post here. 

“The design drawings showed a dry streambed lined with stones, and the builders created an elegant, nature-inspired feature. The builders set rounded stones into the bottom to suggest places for children to build dams. They also made the stream narrower as it turned a corner, to help the water pick up speed.”



“Large, flat stones were set in concrete. The drainpipe was covered with chicken wire to keep out larger objects (sticks). We later put a finer screen on, which soon clogged. We wanted kids to put sand in the stream – that’s why the sand area was placed next to the stream – but weren’t sure how to keep sediment from building up. After the first two years, the dry well likely filled with sediment and stopped draining the stream. When mosquitoes would appear, a staff member would siphon out the water; an easy task since the rest of the site has enough grade to draw water lower. Ideally, we would have planned a trap that could be cleaned out periodically.”




“Having flat stones along the bank was really key in reducing erosion. This section is quite wide and is a favorite spot for kids to test their mettle jumping across. Upstream, it’s not as wide, so younger kids can challenge themselves, too.”



“Here’s the other side of the rain barrel. The final version has a permanent hose fitting on a sturdy post. We bring down a small hose and leave it nearby in the warmer months. It’s a flexible solution; staff can fill the rain barrel, water plants, or spray down the kids as needed.”Boston-Nature-Center-Nature-Nook-Water-Feature-121


Cleveland Zoo Discovery Ridge : Water Play Feature

The Discovery Ridge at the Cleveland Metro Parks Zoo was designed to provide kids with fun ways to see how local animals get food, water, and shelter. This site receives lots of traffic and no staff member is assigned to watch the discovery area. With this in mind, the water play area was created to be tough, safe, and very interactive. Here is the overall site plan. You will see the water play area in the bottom left.



It helps to have a great contractor that is on board with the vision and that understands the concepts behind the design. On this project Hummel Construction and KGK Gardening and Landscape  filled that role well. Here is the detail for the construction of the water play area. The channel is a combination of concrete with stone to make it look as natural as possible. A liner was added to capture any water that seeped through the cracks.

CMZ Discovery Area_water play detail


Since construction started in the middle of winter some of the features were constructed in the shop before site work started. Below is one of the stone animal sculptures and one of the stone sinks that can be filled with water.



The water pump was installed to pump water into the area. It helps limit the amount of water that is used and gives kids an extra physical workout. See my post here on pumps and water play for more on the pump. This water is reused in a site wide rainwater harvesting system. Water is collected at the end of the water channel, treated and used for irrigation in the Zoo’s many landscape areas.




The final feature is a hit! The kids love using the bamboo channels to move water around and everyone needs a turn on the water pump!

Cleveland zoo_Learning Landscapes Design_water play



Sand and water play can be done lots of different ways and have lots of different results. The three examples are all different scales of development and had unique approaches. The most important factors to consider when deciding how to construct your sand and water feature are:

– How much use will the site have?

– Is it open to the public or on a more restricted site like a school with a fence?

– Will there be a full time attendant watching the area? What type of supervision will be provided?

– How much time or energy can be spent on maintaining the area?


Smaller, mostly private sites like Opal school can use a lighter touch in construction. Giving kids more freedom to shape the channel and reducing the cost. Kids at the school will also play here repeatedly and have an ownership of the site that brings more care during play. More public sites like the Cleveland Zoo may see a thousand kids on a heavy use day. These kids may only play here once and are likely to be rougher and move faster, the design needs to account for that.

Whichever approach you take, sand and water play will provide many opportunities for kids to flex their physical and mental muscles as they play. Creative problem solving, cooperation, and extended focus in play will surely follow. If you are considering a sand and water play feature and need some help, let us know. We are happy to have you benefit from the many lessons we have learned along the way!


michelle at learning landscapes design dot com


Playgrounds Go Wild at Metro!

The Tipping Point?

Natural Play Areas are spreading! The popularity is increasing in all sectors of our work; schools, childhood centers, recreation spaces and parks. Metro’s new issue of Our Big Backyard was just released. It includes a great article about Metro supported nature play projects including existing projects and ones planned for the future. The nature play article includes quotes from Learning Landscapes own Michelle Mathis!


Who is Metro?

Metro works with communities, businesses and residents in the Portland metropolitan area to chart a wise course for the future while protecting the things we love about this place. They are the ones that help create our urban growth boundary and provide a lot of the services that make Portland the gem that it is.

Learning Landscapes_OXBOW PARK_buried forest nature play area concept

What is happening at Oxbow Regional Park?

Learning Landscapes has been working closely with Metro staff to design engaging areas at Oxbow regional park for kids to engage with nature. The site is rich with interesting plants and animals as well as an active history. But, often these stories are lost on park visitors. The Oxbow Adventure concept that Learning Landscapes developed provides base camps where kids can choose an adventure to go on.

ox bow_base camp


Kids find the base camp and choose an adventure that excites them, putting them in charge of their experience. Their adventure includes a map to a location on site, investigation suggestions and further information. The tacking adventure beings young ones to the waters edge to look for evidence of animal life on the sandy shore, it provides example tracks and tells a bit about the animals that they may find. They can hunt for tracks as they enjoy the Sandy River and explore the park.

ox bow


Here are the concepts behind the first six adventures. The adventures offered at any time could change depending on the season, site changes or new stories that arise. For example there were nesting eagles in the park last year!

adventure map


Visitors can also enjoy nature in a more controlled environment in one of the nature themed play areas; a sand and water flood play zone and an animal hide and seek area. Both of these play areas introduce kids to themes and ideas they might find throughout the rest of the site. Keep an eye out in the next few years for this project to come alive on site.

ox bow_buried forest



Oxbow park nature play area concepts by Learning Landscape Design