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.
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!
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. 🙂
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.
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.
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I recently ran across two great grants for nature play areas. They are both specifically for nature play, so hopefully you don’t have to twist your to fit the guidelines. They are both due in a few weeks, (end of May 2014) so it is a pretty tight timeline. But, I wanted to let you all know anyway.
The American Water Charitable Foundation and the National Parks and Recreation Association
These two amazing organizations are teaming together to offer the Building Better Communities Grant.
Building Better Communities grants of $50,000-to-$150,000 will fund projects in public parks that:
1) Build and enhance nature-based playgrounds and natural play spaces for children
2) Educate people on environmental stewardship practices related to water
There are two main elements. Follow the link to find the rest.
1) You must be located in one of their target areas. They are an easy to search list on their website.
2) The site must be publicly owned.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Disney
These two great organizations are offering the Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo/Aquarium Grant.
Helping accredited zoos and aquariums to expand their nature play programming and to create exciting and innovative ways to connect families to nature.
1) You must be an AZA-accredited institution
I bet these funds will go to wonderful projects. Hopefully Yours!
I have always been a fan of natural building. While participating in a few community built benches and kiosks I fell in love with this easy and fun construction process of cob. One of the mast amazing parts is that young people can help build. With very little skill and training even the youngest kids can help. There is always the added bonus of getting muddy!
Cob = A natural building process where water, earth, clay and straw are mixed together to create a building material.
Here are a few photos of a project built with Portland based Clay Play. They can come to a school and plan and design with students then return to build with them too. I can’t wait to collaborate with these folks on something!
Here are a few more natural building examples that I like. the forms are playful and I love the use of different materials like recycle glass bottles for small window and colored light openings.
Meditation house at New Day School : Photo by earthenhand.com
Playhouse at Joyful Noise Childcare: Photo by www.bernhardmasterson.com/
Play Sculpture at City Kids Childcare: Photo by www.bernhardmasterson.com/
Play Houses at Clarendon Child Care Center : Photo by earlyspace.wordpress.com
I would love to hear about any other examples of natural building in kids spaces. I think they mesh together so nicely!
Art with Nature
I can attribute one of my life’s many twists and turns to Andy Goldsworthy. An environmental artist, sculptor and photographer that builds temporal sculptures that make me look at nature in a new light. If you don’t know his work do a quick Google search, it is spectacular.
Kids and Hands on Nature Art
As I look forward to 2014, I am planning some wonderful hands on nature art work with students and other young people. It is a bit of Andy’s work still inspiring me. I think this hands-on link to art, place, and nature is so important, especially for young people. It grounds students in the changes that are happening in their world and makes them stronger stewards of their environment. More on that to come!
My favorite hands-on kids event in 2013 was a nature play design workshop for Westmoreland Park that I organized. While it was all temporary and meant to get kids excited about playing in nature it did get at the desired result of free play, creativity, and nature connection.
Zach Pine’s work
In a recent Linked In discussion I ran across Zach Pine’s work. His artist statement reads, ” My endeavors are in the tradition of social sculpture, in service to nature and to society…. I strive to create models and methods for collective creativity; to connect people of all ages with each other and with the natural world; and to inspire joy, spontaneity, and environmental action.” The work he does is fascinating, making Andy Goldsworthy style art available to everyone, connecting them to place while working their artistic muscles.
Nature art is not hard to do. It can be as simple as organizing some small rocks or pine cones. If it interests you give it a shot! Here is a great Pinterest board with some ideas. I will keep you updated on how my nature art experiments go.
I share a lot about cutting edge educational design on the blog. Today I wanted to talk about cutting edge education programs. In an educational reality full of tests, budget cuts, growing class sizes and increased homework. I am always excited to see schools that really get the connection between play, project learning and student achievement. Below are quick profiles of two schools that I believe are the front runners for creating a new educational paradigm.
Opal School at the Portland Children’s Museum : Portland OR
Opal School of Portland Children’s Museum serves as a resource for teacher-research by supporting and provoking fresh thinking about learning environments that inspire playful inquiry, creativity, imagination and the wonder of learning in children and adults.
The mission of Opal School is to strengthen public education by provoking fresh ideas concerning environments where creativity, imagination and the wonder of learning thrive. I have had the pleasure of working with the Opal school as they redesign their playscape. You will see more detail on that project on the blog soon!
Hershey Montessori School Farm : Huntsburg, Ohio
The Huntsburg Campus of The Hershey Montessori School has a working farm, residential house, program barns, bio-shelter and classroom buildings on 97 acres of predominantly wooded land. It is the first farm school model of its kind to fully implement Dr. Montessori’s ideas about education for adolescents. The program focuses on three areas of growth and experiences for students; academics, personal growth and real life on a working farm.
Will Beckers, the Dutch artist know as willow man, has absolutely inspired me! I have seen a lot of woven willow art work through my nature and education searches. But his incorporation of education and various materials to tell stories is remarkable. He strives to create an experience where people are swept away from the current time and place and are caught up in art and environment even if just for a moment.
photo from: inhabitat.com
Bikes = Freedom and Challenge to Kids
Even if they are just used to ride to the end of the block or zoom past a friends house. Bikes offer those first few moments of independence. I have been involved with many park redevelopments that had ‘volunteer installed’ dirt bike courses. A summers worth of hard work for a few neighborhood kids. These are probably works that get passed from older kids to the younger ones through time.
In the past these areas may have seemed too dirty or rough around the edges to be considered a real park amenity. But, today forward thinking parks departments are creating these small dirt bike areas or pump tracks for public use. With great risk comes great reward.
The non-profit Northwest Trail Alliance has teamed with Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District to create a major renovation to the bike park in Eichler Park near downtown Beaverton. The new design features three different “jump lines” suitable for all skill levels as well as a small pump track where riders flow through a series of whoops and berms to build momentum. Speaking to the rise in popularity of this style of riding, THPRD project management and support coordinator Jon Campbell said, “This partnership is really just a great way to provide something we don’t have anywhere else in the district.”
Thanks to Bike Portland for the photos
How about on a tricycle?
Friends of Gateway Green was created to help turn an unused swath of land between two freeways in Portland, Oregon into a recreational area for off-road bicycle riding, hiking and more — and to do all this in a sustainable way. The Gateway Green plan includes multiple different types of bike areas including commuter trail, single track trail, jumps and kids learning area. I am excited to keep an eye on this project as they move into detailed design and implementation.
Gateway Green Phase One Development Map by David Evans and Associates
Oregon Live says, “From a distance, the new bicycle pump track at Ventura Park looks like some dope drove into the park, did a few doughnuts, then drove off. However, upon closer inspection, you see the carefully carved banks, rolling bumps and banked corners in this first of its kind feature in a Portland park.” Northwest Trail Alliance, collaborating with the city, built the track and signage kiosk for eight thousand dollars in direct costs, and they put in more than 500 volunteer hours. This was a pilot project for the City of Portland and has remained popluar for a few years now!
I ran into this amazing play fort yesterday at Kiyokawa Family Orchards. It was a great way to let the kids burn off some steam while you wait in line to pay for your apples. Here is what I like about it.
– The rustic wood look and feel.
– The size, it was big and tall, but felt safe.
– The opportunity for imaginative and cooperative play. It is a fort with lots of little hiding places.
– The location was perfect, sunny, open, surrounded by beautiful orchards.
It was a large square fort with turrets on the corners and a running deck around the top. You could also play a great game of hide and seek inside the many cubbies in the fort. Here is a fuzzy aerial of the layout. The orange slide shoots off the top.
A friend I was with said it looked like fort Vancouver and It does! See the historic fort photo below. (Thanks to rootsweb.ancestry.com for the photo)
“Summa Institute unites family development, education and research through an unprecedented child-centered, family supportive learning community where inspiration and wisdom emerge.”
Working with the Summa Institute has been a joy. This new school and educational program is set up to help students flourish.
The site plan for the Summa Institute includes many use zones to offer variety to their students. Concepts for the areas were created, but details were left open and fluid. In the student’s project based learning they will develop details and installation for different sections of the school grounds. While the school has a tight urban site, the plan allows for safe and productive use of the school edges.
My first job in life is landscape architecture (or is that third after wife and mother?). Either way, web designer is now on the list somewhere. If all has gone well you have automatically followed me from my last blog to this new website and blog combo. Welcome! If you got this email you have been switched over and you don’t have to do anything further except continue to read and enjoy.
I will continue to blog on learning landscapes, nature play and related topics. This site also includes information on my landscape architecture shop ‘Learning Landscapes Design’ that focuses on designing inspiring outdoor spaces for children. Take a look around! I am working on getting new projects listed every week.
Thanks for reading,
Major League Soccer conducted a “How Green Are Your Goals?” fan contest to see which MLS city was the most environmentally involved. By no surprise, the Timbers Fans supported their green team and won a school beautification and solar panel installation for Hosford School in SE Portland. On Earth Day, Timbers Players and students worked side by side to finalize the project installation and celebrate.
Hosford School had been focusing on bike safety and encouraging students to bike to school. This project supported their drive to create healthy kids for healthy communities. The following items were installed as part of the project.
- BEF solar panel installation and subsequent Solar4Schools learning materials
- Student-designed, green-themed mural
- Custom bike racks, including an art bike rack created by Oregon-based designer Matt Cartwright
- Helmet and bike lock giveaways to Hosford students and faculty who ride a bike to work
- Reusable water bottles for every student at Hosford
- New Elkay drinking fountain, which will reduce the amount of plastic water bottles used at the school and track the number of plastic bottles saved from landfills
- Tree-planting and beautification of the entrance to the school
- Permanent directional signage to display the environmental benefits of the project to the Portland community
- Creation of communal gathering places on the school campus
- This coupled nicely with the recently completed stormwater swale at the school (Installed by the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership)
It is rain season in Oregon. Occasionally we get sun and bitter cold. But, most days are grey and wet. I know this makes many parents nervous. I have even found myself making a list of indoor places that we can go and run around. But, outdoor exploration is still available to us. Suit up with boots, rain pants, coat and hat and go find the puddles. There are many wonderful reasons to play in mud throughout the year.
Soil Contact Acts an an Antidepressant
Anyone who has tried to build a natural play area from the ground up, with a low budget, but a lot of heart can count another win for their team this spring. I originally posted about the Pathfinder Academy last spring as I helped them develop a concept plan for their play area. This spring the play area is done and getting lots of use!
Their courtyard play areas is fantastic. Surrounded on three sides by walls with large windows this play courtyard will be a central piece in the Pathfinder Academy setting and the surrounding community. The change in topography offered opportunities for climbing and sliding between a top terrace and bottom area.
The water feature is beautiful and a great idea for such a small play area. Kids can touch the water but are limited in how wet and muddy they can get. Rain barrels demonstrate how water can be taken from the large surrounding roofs and reused for the water feature and gardens.
Most projects have a few dedicated people that put in the time and effort to make them happen. Beyond school staff this project had Daryl Newmark a community volunteer who kept everyone moving forward and excited about the project and Scott Calvin of Able Irrigation who offered the installation expertice needed to get the project built.
The Pathfinder Academy successfully helps teen and young parents (up to age 21) who have dropped out of high school to re-enter school and earn their GED. The classrooms is often filled with young adult students and their young children. This play area gives both generations a chance to interact, engage in creative play and grow together. The students helped pick elements and decide on areas where their children would play. Overall, it is a very successful project.
Playable Design has posted their winners from the playable 10 international design competition. This is the annual global search for inspiring play design. Here are some of my favorite submimssions.
Woodruff Park in the heart of downtown Atlanta will be the home to the winning design in the Playable Art group. The winning designer was Jeff Santos, a gaming and app designer from Canada. This was the first time he had ever created a play piece. The ATL play structure, one-of-a-kind design makes it perfect for such a unique site where kids, young tourists, college students and even office workers are expected to enjoy its many playful components.
The Atlanta Beltline is a 22-mile linear park following an old rail line encircling Atlanta. This project will transform the city over the next 20 years. Design a conceptual master plan for play that could have huge impact on Atlantans for decades. The images above is from the playable site catergory submitted by Max Askew. The option below plays off of the rail history of the site.
See the competition website for DIY printable instructions for play elements in the DIY catergory.