Guest Blog: Inspiring creative play among kids

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In 2016, we introduced Smart Play®: Venti™, a smartly designed playstructure that packs 20 exciting activities into its compact size. Today, we’re happy to have Tory Roff, concept designer at Landscape Structures, as our guest blogger discussing how he and the product development team created the newest addition to our Smart Play line of playstructures.

The idea for the Smart Play line of playstructures was more an ethos about playgrounds as a whole… about creating a cohesive play environment. The criteria for this playground solution was a small footprint and budget, but a desire to serve a large population. So, we started with a blank slate without any rules, and asked ourselves how to design an environment that invites a dynamic play experience.

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The design started with the Cargo Net and strategically set the height of it so there is room for play underneath, allowing it to work as a trampoline above and it also acts as a hub for the rest of the play space. We built out from there in respect to circuits and routes so there are different ways to engage the whole of the system. Graduated challenge is built into Smart Play: Venti so that kids with a higher skill level can find challenges and still have a way to invent from it.

We spent a lot of time in the model space—virtual and scale models—working out the dimensions of the structure to really understand how every piece could be doing more. In modular playgrounds, a fire pole is always a fire pole. But good design considers what programming is happening around the fire pole so that kids can create another route and link two events as a cohesive experience rather than a series of segmented happenings. And that’s what’s happening with Smart Play: Venti. The Cabin Climber is an interior club house and an exterior ladder. The pods on the Cargo Net are a way-finding option through the structure, but also a place to stop and hang out. The Belt Hammock is a space for lounging, but also an escape route—it’s not big, it’s not obvious, but it is there.

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I was able to talk with students at Birchview Elementary School while they played, and they talked about their friend, Michael, who uses a mobility device. They were excited that he can actually use this equipment, and how it’s his favorite on the playground. Because the design is less scripted, there’s less expectation of how a user actually engages it. Smart Play: Venti allows for more natural inclusion through the addition of many access points and a centralized hangout location, which was one of our primary goals during the design process.

There is enough variety of activities in the playstructure so that kids feel like they can fill in the blank however they want. As designers, we had ideas and hopes of how everything would play out. But you have to engage it from a place of humility and know that there isn’t such a thing as intended use. Kids are infinitely more creative than we are, so it’s important that we give them a platform to express that.

Case Study: Smart playground design

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Client: Birchview Elementary School, Plymouth, Minn.

Designers: Tory Roff and Tom Keller, concept designers at Landscape Structures

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Goal: Create a modern design aesthetic on the playground to match the recently updated school building

Solution: Birchview Elementary School’s Principal Sam Fredrickson chose to install the Smart Play®: Venti® playstructure because of its modern aesthetic and the fact that it would accommodate an entire classroom. Smart Play: Venti packs 20 activities—from nets and slides to belts and climbers—into its design, and its compact size requires less space and surfacing material than typical playgrounds. Even more, the playground is designed using a smart use of materials, and provides challenges that promote physical development and strategic thinking among students.

Read more about how Birchview Elementary School brought play and design into the 21st Century with the installation of their new school playground equipment.

Guest Blog: Project-based learning leads to new playground design

In 2015, we collaborated with Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., to design a world-themed playground. Today, we’re happy to have Kara Barbour, head of lower school, as our guest blogger discussing how the school brought students into the playground planning process through their project-based curriculum.

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At Lausanne Collegiate School, the Lower School (PK-4) engages in a daily block of project work. Each Lower School classroom is in charge of three projects throughout the year, dedicating six to eight weeks to each project. Our goal with this project-based learning was to get students asking questions and researching a particular topic.

The third grade classrooms are focused on inventions projects, during which they start to investigate how things are made, hear from entrepreneurs, etc. The students work in groups of three to four to come up with an invention, and then they go to the idea labs to start sketching things out and building prototypes to determine if their idea will work.

When we decided that we were going to install a new playground, we really wanted to get the students involved and decided the third graders and their inventions unit would be a perfect fit. Each of the small groups put together a proposal, and so many of their ideas were actually things that Landscape Structures had already started working on.

We first revealed the playground drawings to the third graders. They squealed with delight to see their ideas turned into reality. We then gave them the opportunity to share the drawings with the rest of the school during a student assembly, and even had a few students share the plans with the parent group. The third graders feel that the playground came to be because of the work that they did.

The playground opened in August 2015, just before school began, and the third graders took part in the official ribbon cutting. All of the students at Lausanne love the new playground—even fifth graders are attracted by it. It’s been quite the magnet for the entire community.

A tour of the world without leaving the playground

How do you #MakeYourMark on the playground? As an internationally diverse school, Lausanne Collegiate School aimed to demonstrate its global brand on the playground. See below for a few of the featured landmarks that represent the world, then visit playlsi.com to learn more about their world-themed playground design.

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Designed to reflect their culture

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We helped Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn., create a playground design to reflect their culture as an internationally diverse school. Hear from our custom playground designer, Jonah Scholen, about how he collaborated with the school to create the playground of their dreams. The end result? Students at Lausanne can run all over the world without ever touching the ground.

Sharing the history of Landscape Structures

Steve King, our cofounder and chairman, released a book titled, A Legacy of Play, in January. In A Legacy of Play, readers take a journey through the unusual history of Landscape Structures, and learn how the company helped the playground industry evolve while keeping in mind the most important aspect of play—child development across all ages and abilities.

A Legacy of Play by Steve King

When Steve was a landscape architectural student at Iowa State University in the mid-1960s, he was eager to learn more about play and went to the Child Development Department to observe kids. Their behaviors—kids didn’t like standing in line to use the swings or slides; they wanted group activities—got him thinking. For Steve’s final project he designed a playstructure using the continuous play concept, which combines traditional playground equipment into an endless stream of activities.

Landscape Structures' first sold playstructure.

Landscape Structures’ first sold playstructure.

In 1971, Steve and his late wife, Barb, cofounded Landscape Structures. We are headquartered in Delano, Minn., and proud to be a 100-percent employee-owned company. Since opening, Steve and Barb were committed to enhancing children’s lives by creating inspiring play experiences, a mission that all of us employees connect with and work towards.

Landscape Structures corporate headquarters in Delano, Minn.

Landscape Structures corporate headquarters in Delano, Minn.

Steve continues to serve as chairman of Landscape Structures and is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (FASLA). He served as chairman for the task group of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) that worked to develop accessibility standards to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is a Certified Playground Safety Inspector, and a founding member and past president of IPEMA (International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association).

Steve King, cofounder and chairman of Landscape Structures Inc.

A Legacy of Play is available for order on amazon.com. The cost of the book is $14.95, and proceeds will go to the SEBA Foundation, the King family charitable foundation dedicated to environmental and children’s causes.