How to design nature playground environments

Orono Park, Elk River, Minn.Not many of us would disagree that technology is great—it provides convenience, fun and connection to everything. However, all of that technology has also changed the way children play. Kids are spending more time inside, in front of screens and they’re being less active.

Booker T. Washington Elementary School, Tampa, Fla.

So, how do you get them to turn off the screens and go outside to play? By creating fun, challenging and innovative playground environments! If you’re designing a playground or outdoor learning environment, you have an opportunity to create a space that encourages kids (and their families) to be outside and reconnect with nature. Use the following tips to plan for your nature-inspired playground:

  1. Use vegetation as shade rather than cutting down trees or shrubs
  2. Take into account topography and natural features and incorporate them into the play experience
  3. Choose natural looking playground equipment that meets safety standards, fits the needs of your users and easily blends into your community
  4. Create educational signage to teach visitors about the native plants and animals

Sunset Park, Las Vegas, Nev.

We think the great outdoors is the best place for kids to play. They can run around freely, make up their own games, explore nature and so much more. It’s fun for kids of all ages and the benefits to kids’ bodies, minds and spirits are numerous! Browse our nature-themed playgrounds to get inspired, and learn more about creating natural playgrounds.

Connecting kids to nature with natural playground designs

When it comes to themed playground designs, it’s all about natural playgrounds. At least that’s what experts are saying according to the article, “Let your Imagination Run Wild” in the February edition of Parks & Recreation magazine. Our very own Scott Roschi, director of design, says nature-themed playground equipment is so popular because community leaders are looking for ways to reconnect kids to the natural world around them.

Desert Arroyo Park, Mesa, Ariz.

Desert Arroyo Park, Mesa, Ariz.

We’re doing what we can to connect kids to nature with nature-inspired playgrounds. Earlier this year, we introduced the Canyon Collection™. The realistic rock panels integrate with PlayBooster® play structures so that the natural climbing structures are no longer set apart from the rest of the playground. In addition to the climbing rocks, the Canyon Collection offers nets and a deck to create challenging and exciting play experiences for 5- to 12-year-olds.

The Canyon Collection™

We sculpted the Canyon Collection rocks based on molds from the Gneiss (pronounced “nice”) Outcrops in Southwestern Minnesota. The result? Incredibly realistic texture and rock shapes for truly natural looking playground equipment. Kids can climb on both the outside and insides of the rock panels as well as find lifelike frogs, mice, bats and insects sculpted into the rock faces. Best of all, the Canyon Collection is available in a variety of configurations to satisfy a range of budgets and footprints.

Nature-inspired playground collection

Tell us what you’re looking for in natural outdoor play equipment below, then visit playlsi.com to learn more about the Canyon Collection and our collection of other nature-inspired products.

One year of inclusive play in Russia and counting…

This week marks the one year anniversary of the opening of the first inclusive playground in Russia. Together with our partner in inclusive play, Shane’s Inspiration, we designed the fully inclusive and accessible playground to deliver a nature-inspired play experience. The natural playground design in addition to the sensory-stimulating and developmentally appropriate activities will welcome children and families of all abilities.

This is the first inclusive playground to be installed in Russia.

The installation of the accessible playground equipment was in association with the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi. Read more about this playground first here.

Tell a story with your playground colors

Color Bells

You may have seen that we introduced eight new colors to make your playground designs pop, blend in or tell a unique story. But with all the infinite number of colors available, how did we choose peacock, buttercup, sky, grass, berry, lagoon, paprika and carbon?

A team of five playground designers looked at a cross-section of trends—built environments, graphics and fashion design—in addition to nature to find colors that excite, but will also stand the test of time. They each created mood boards to identify what they felt were “gaps” in our current color offerings. And after seeing similarities among the boards, they began to move forward with colors they felt would complement our existing playground colors and offer the most variety in color palettes.

Peacock mood board

The team then ordered paint swatches to study how the sun affected the colors and to see which new hues would be most complimentary to existing color options. According to Nikki Hall, playground designer, “Seeing the swatches in the sunlight dramatically changed how the colors interacted, so this was an important step in the process.” Going even further, the team came up with the idea to carbonize some of the colors to give it a richer finish.

Berry mood board

So what about the names? “We wanted all of the names to be something authentic from nature—nothing artificial or made-up,” explained Allison Schrein, playground designer. “We generated lists, and threw ideas and more images back and forth to each other until we found ones that seemed right.” Most of the names that the team started with early on in the process are ones that stuck.

Do you have a favorite of the 2015 new playground colors? What do you think of the 23 curated palettes? Share your thoughts below, then visit playlsi.com to learn more.

Fun, new playground equipment products for your 2015 designs

See how we’re designing exhilaration, challenge, imagination and community into our new playground products for 2015.

Eight new nature-inspired playground colors will stimulate kids’ senses and perfectly coordinate with the outdoors!

New Colors for 2015!First there was Smart Play: Motion 2-5, and now there’s Smart Play: Cube 2-5! This play structure delivers 14 different activities perfect for 2- to 3-year-olds in a compact footprint.

Smart Play: Cube 2-5We’re rocking community and school playgrounds again with our new Canyon Collection™, which provides a realistic rock climbing experience.

The Canyon Collection™Our HealthBeat® outdoor fitness system has a fresh new design and three new stations—the Elliptical, Parallel Bars and the Hand Cycler.

Fresh, newly designed HealthBeat® outdoor fitness systemSpin to good health! Our TopsyTurny™ Spinner encourages social interaction and collaboration.

TopsyTurny™ Spinner

Learn more about these innovative new commercial playground equipment products on the newly redesigned playlsi.com!

Meet the professional: Michael Hecker

Michael Hecker, CPRP, parks and recreation director for the City of Elk River, Minn.We are honored to work with parks and recreation professionals around the world, and we’re constantly learning about fun and unique projects, obstacles faced and innovative solutions that they create to overcome challenges. This week, meet Michael Hecker, CPRP, parks and recreation director for the City of Elk River, Minn.

Q: How long have you been involved in the parks and recreation industry?
A: I’ve been in a department head/director role in parks and recreation for more than 20 years.
After I finished my master’s degree in recreation administration at Indiana University, I took my first position in the parks and recreation field in Connecticut. From there, I was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska; moved to Mason, Ohio, for 11 years; and now I’ve been in Elk River for nearly two and a half years.

Q: What have been some of your favorite initiatives to tackle since moving into parks and recreation?
A: In cities where I worked in the past, we created destination parks where families could gather for entire afternoons. And that was one of the things that needed to happen here in Elk River. We have many small neighborhood playgrounds, but there really wasn’t a destination playground where families could gather for hours of play and enjoyment. Orono Park was more than 25-years-old, so we were ready to replace it. We started saving money to invest into the park renovation, and the community jumped on board. Orono Park has become our destination playground and has been really successful. Families from all over come to visit Elk River.

Orono Park, Elk River, Minn.

Orono Park, Elk River, Minn.

Another really important initiative that the City of Elk River is working on currently is our parks and recreation master plan. We get a lot of requests from community members—whether it’s for programming, facilities, park amenities—and this master plan will help us determine priorities when it comes to future park improvements.

We’ve surveyed community members and held public forums to hear from our residents so that we understand what’s important to them. From there, we’ll put it into a plan so that we can easily illustrate to tax payers how we’re spending their dollars. The planning process is underway now, and we hope to have it completed by fall 2014.

Q: What has been an exciting change you’ve seen in the industry?
A: One of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in the industry is that organizations have to work together to be successful. We partner with lots of youth organizations to offer different programming options—the city provides the space and they deliver the program. While this has been an ongoing effort for many sports organizations, a new trend we’re seeing is that the youth organizations are offering scholarships to make participation more affordable for citizens.

Another aspect of partnerships in the parks and recreation industry is land acquisition. There is a prized property along the Mississippi River in Elk River that was assessed at more than $3 million. The City didn’t have dollars earmarked for the purchase of that land, but we were able to find funding by collaborating with the Conservation Fund, an American environmental non-profit with a dual charter to pursue environmental preservation and economic development, and other agencies within Minneapolis.

It’s important to create partnerships in this industry, and it’s more difficult to be successful if you don’t have them.

Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: I’ve got a wife and five children, so I really enjoy spending time with them. My wife is from Idaho, so we enjoy driving out west to visit family. During those trips, we like to make stops at local and National Parks—one of our favorites is camping in Yellowstone National Park. We also like rollercoasters. When we lived in Ohio, we went to Kings Island near Cincinnati, which has The Beast, the world’s longest, wooden rollercoaster.ElkRIver_ElkLogo_blog

Another hobby that I’ve gotten into is digital scrapbooking. We take lots of photos on our trips, so I take them and put them into a movie/slide show for us to look back on.

Learn more about Michael and his work at the City of Elk River at www.ElkRiverMN.gov/parksandrec.

First inclusive playground opens in Russia

On Monday, Feb. 10, we celebrated from afar the grand opening of the first inclusive playground in Russia. The inclusive playground was installed in association with the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi.

This is the first inclusive playground to be installed in Russia.

We worked with our partner in inclusive play, Shane’s Inspiration, to design the inclusive play space. In addition to being fully inclusive, the playground offers a nature-inspired play experience with log steppers, climbers that mimic logs and boulders, and a tree house. The nature-inspired features along with the sensory- and accessible-focused playground components help to welcome children of all abilities.

Sensory and accessible playground components will help welcome children and families of all abilities to play.

This is the second Olympics-related inclusive playground in which Shane’s Inspiration and we’ve been involved—the first was installed in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Learn more about the project, and see photos here.

Let’s collaborate!

Browse or request your copy of the 2014 PLAY Book.

Get inspiration for your next playground project with our 2014 PLAY Book! In the 40-page book, you’ll see real-life projects from around the nation. From musical-themed play spaces to nature-inspired playstructures and uniquely designed playgrounds set in one-of-a-kind environments, you’ll be inspired to create a playground design that fits your community.

Harrison Recreation Center, Washington, DC

Harrison Recreation Center, Washington, DC

When you pair up with our designers, artists and sculptors, you’ll find an amazing toolbox of creative possibilities at your disposal. Plus, our extensive manufacturing capabilities let you artfully incorporate a variety of materials into your playground designs to create a play experience teeming with design innovation.

Triangle Park, Aurora, Colo.

Triangle Park, Aurora, Colo.

We’ll help you personalize your traditional design to make it out-of-this-world unique! Browse the 2014 PLAY Book or request a copy to learn how we’ll collaborate with you to create signature gathering spaces that your entire community will enjoy.

Hunter's Point South Waterfront Park, Long Island City, N.Y.

Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park, Long Island City, N.Y.

Reconnecting kids with nature

In the past few years, we’ve noticed an increase in childcare facilities focused on nature-inspired activities and nature-themed playground equipment. And the Early Childhood Family Center (ECFC) in Stillwater, Minn., is just one example of a childcare facility providing opportunities for kids to reconnect with nature.

Early Childhood Family Center in Stillwater, Minn.

“Our ECFC chose a nature-inspired playground, which accents the surrounding landscape,” explained Betty Soine, early childhood supervisor. “Also, research supports the value of using natural environments to encourage children’s overall growth and development. Our parent education program encourages parents to get outside with children during all seasons to experience the variety of outdoor environments, breathe the fresh air and explore the wonders of nature through the eyes of their child. An outdoor play environment that mimics nature supports a health and wellness focus for all our families and staff.”

Help kids develop their balance with the Infant Balance Beam.

The Early Childhood Family Center added a nature-inspired playground designed for kids ages 6 to 23 months. The Infant Single Poly Slide, Infant Balance Bar and Chimes Panel provide the right amount of sensory stimulation, balance, coordination and strength challenges. Even more, a play space for kids ages 2 to 5 has realistic bark, wood and rock textures, natural colors and discovery items like chipmunks, worms and insects built into the Log Stack Climber, Log Steppers and Recycled Tree House Roofs.

Provide age-appropriate climbing challenge with the Log Stack Climber.

“Equipment was chosen with children of all abilities in mind,” said Betty. “Our team of staff professionals studied and selected types of equipment that could support building strength, mobility and cognitive skills through interactive outdoor play. The children are engaged in all types of movement and activities everyday that encourage and support physical, social and emotional, language and cognitive development. Our nature-inspired playground does exactly what we envisioned and more!”

Collaborating to improve playgrounds citywide

Work is underway at playgrounds all around Washington, D.C. The more than 30 playground renovations are part of an initiative of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) known as Play DC. Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has allocated $35 million to the playground improvement project.

Rosedale Recreation Center (1701 Gales Street NE)

Rosedale Recreation Center (1701 Gales Street NE)

The first of the completed playgrounds, located at Rosedale Recreation Center, celebrated its grand opening in late May. The playground offers a fully inclusive play experience for children and families, and it was designed to mimic many of the monuments located near the National Mall. Façades of the White House, U.S. Capitol, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument give the playground a truly signature look.

Palisades Recreation Center (5200 Sherrier Place NW)

Palisades Recreation Center (5200 Sherrier Place NW)

Another amazing project that’s part of Play DC is at the Palisades Recreation Center. The playground offers a Native American-themed play structure that pays tribute to the Potomac River settlement. And keeping in mind the whole community, planners included the HealthBeat® Outdoor Fitness System for ages 13+. “We opened that playground on July 4,” said Bridget Stesney, chief operating officer at DPR, “and it has been packed every day since!”

Noyes Recreation Center (Franklin Street NE & 10th Street NE)

Noyes Recreation Center (Franklin Street NE & 10th Street NE)

In July, DPR celebrated playground grand openings at Noyes Recreation Center and Fort Stanton Recreation Center on July 19 and 20, respectively. The Noyes playground was inspired by nature and includes lots of climbing rocks, while two play structures at Fort Stanton offer a fort theme for lots of imaginative play.

Fort Stanton Recreation Center (1812 Erie Street SE)

Fort Stanton Recreation Center (1812 Erie Street SE)

DPR is hosting grand openings regularly—the next one is happening Monday, Aug. 12, at the Raymond Recreation Center. And when they’re not celebrating grand openings, they’re celebrating ground breakings. The entire DPR team is excited to be able to renovate the playgrounds citywide, and hope that they will become spaces where all generations can come together to be active, have fun and play.