50 Years at Play

Many people remember the days of freestanding slides, swings and monkey bars. But in 1967, that idea of playground design advanced to interconnected play components. The revolutionary idea of combining playground activities is known as the continuous play concept, which was created by our Cofounder Steve King. As his final thesis project at Iowa State University, Steve developed a system that linked play activities together to provide a continuous challenge for children. His premise was that if kids are together on one structure, they’ll learn things that they will use in real life like social and conflict-resolution skills.

While his thesis only scored him a C+ grade, Steve took his continuous play concept to his first job as a landscape architect specializing in park planning. In 1969, he was assigned a playground design project for the City of Minneapolis where he was able to put his approach in action. His first playground was a success, which lead to more interest. And in April 1971, Steve and Barb obtained a $1,000 loan and incorporated Landscape Structures to design and build playstructures. See our company timeline here.

In an effort to provide great play experiences for kids, Landscape Structures has always been committed to innovation. Hedra®, one of our more recent inventions, allows kids to safely navigate via their own intuition and curiosity, and invent routes, games and imaginary environments. Our long-standing commitment to inclusive play is breaking barriers with the new We-Go-Swing™, the first no-transfer inclusive swing that can be integrated directly into the playground setting. Even more, the use of innovative materials and the development of colors that are truly inspired by nature is changing the world of playgrounds.

As Landscape Structures moves into its 50th year of business, we’re taking time to reflect on the power of play. We know that play and recreation has far more value than just being fun; it is essential for the health and wellbeing of communities. And that’s why our team—nearly 500 employees and the network of more than 200 playground consultants worldwide—is proud to provide unique play opportunities for all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Because no matter what’s happening in the world, we will always come back to play.

We come back to play

Remember the moments that defined your childhood. The best of those often began in play. That’s why we design playgrounds that encourage kids to try new adventures, let their hearts and minds swing open, and simply have fun. That’s why… we come back to play.

We are proud to lead the conversation about the power of play with our Shaped by Play video series. Go here to watch all three videos.

Each of us have stories about how play has shaped us. Encourage your colleagues, friends and family to remember the moments… that got your heart racing, imagination swirling and body moving. Use our social media toolkit to share the message of why we come back to play.

Most importantly, help create the memories for the kids in your community to look back on. Contact your local Landscape Structures playground consultant to get started on a playground design today.

Expand your campus learning environment

We all know the numerous benefits of being outdoors—it helps lower blood pressure, improves the immune system, reduces anxiety and improves mood. And with all we’ve experienced in 2020 so far, we could use an extra dose of nature. Why not embrace the benefits of nature while also maximizing your campus’ available space? Take learning outdoors!

Not only are outdoor classrooms a good option to explore during the global pandemic, but it’s a great way to expand school learning spaces for use well into the future. We can help you design an outdoor classroom whether you’re looking to transform your existing atrium or courtyard or create an entirely new space. Go here to see samples of our outdoor classroom concepts using our conceptual design for a Permalene® desk and other playground elements.

When designing your outdoor learning environment, be sure to include opportunities for your students to engage in fun, hands-on activities. Rhapsody® Outdoor Musical Instruments, stage and performance areas, HealthBeat® or FitCore™ Extreme fitness equipment all deliver the chance for students to take what they’re learning inside the classroom to the great outdoors.

And don’t forget about safety. Our SkyWays® shade structures are available in a variety of heights, lengths, and coverage areas to fit any space or budget requirements. These commercial shade sails will help create a comfortable and safe learning environment. Plus, we have the Play Healthy™ Hand Sanitizer Station to provide students easy access to hand sanitizer upon entering or exiting the outdoor classroom.

We welcome the opportunity to assist you in creating an extension to your campus’ learning environment that encourages learning while keeping kids healthy. Learn more by contacting your local Landscape Structures playground consultant.

Celebrating Sensory Awareness Month 2020

The disruption of the coronavirus pandemic has been tough on everyone including kids. As children safely resume outdoor play, each child will experience the playground differently. For kids with sensory processing challenges—5 to 16% of school-aged children—regulating their bodies and emotions through play is especially critical.

For Sensory Awareness Month, which is in October, we’re sharing the importance of creating inclusive playground environments.

According to Virginia Spielmann, executive director at the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder, for many kids with sensory processing difficulties, a traditional playground doesn’t offer the same opportunities to master physical challenges, gain social confidence or hone fine motor skills.

To highly sensitive children, the intense experiences of a playground like the spin of a merry-go-round or the tussle of kids on the monkey bars can feel like an assault on their senses. In other cases, children may seek out external stimulation.

“Kids may react strongly and with enthusiasm to this external simuli, or they may retreat,” explained Spielmann. “And often, they can’t match the motor skills of other children, which makes them feel even more different and isolated—especially on a traditional playground.”

The right play equipment can make all the difference. And today’s thoughtfully designed playgrounds have evolved into places that foster all-sensory experiences for every child.

At Landscape Structures, our product and playground designers are educated and interested in how kids with special needs experience the world, which informs their approach and designs—and makes an enormous difference in the final product.

That insight translates to subtle equipment details in materials, shapes, movement or orientation. For example, a playstructure with built-in tactile elements invites children to explore a variety of textures and shapes and helps them to integrate multiple tactile experiences.

We can also design playstructures to offer a variety of interactive panels in a variety of positions—including musical or auditory components. Our inclusive playgrounds also incorporate quiet, cozy spaces where overstimulated kids can go for a calming escape to regain their equilibrium and recharge.

There are many other ways that playground design can invite children of all abilities to play, explore and learn with confidence. Learn more about designing inclusive playgrounds to meet the needs of your community at playlsi.com. And learn more about sensory processing and how to help spread awareness for it at spdstar.org.

Return to play

During the global pandemic, children and families have been eagerly waiting to get outside and back to the playground. And as many communities reopen their parks and playgrounds, we’re here to support you in your efforts to Play Healthy™. That’s why we’ve pulled together resources from our partners, which provide guidance to ensure the reopening of play spaces is done safely and swiftly. Additionally, city leaders will find product offerings to support their efforts of keeping the community healthy.

There’s a lot of information out there about reopening playgrounds, so we’ve curated some of the key resources released by our partners including KABOOM!, NRPA and NAESP. Here you’ll find actionable guidelines for returning to play equitably, a webinar on safely reopening play spaces, as well as tips, best practices and professional resources for park and school professionals. And if you’re at home for distance learning or other reasons, we’ve pulled together innovative ideas for kids and families to stay active and playing.

In addition to the above resources for reopening playgrounds, we have product offerings to support your community’s health:

  • Return to play safely with the new Play Healthy Hand Sanitizer Station! With this ADA-compliant Sanitizer Station, all park and playground visitors will have access to hand sanitizer before and after play. In addition to holding up to one gallon of sanitizer to require less frequent reorders from your sanitizer supplier, the graphics on the container can be customized with your logo, tagline or your own pictorial instructions.
  • Remind users how to play safely with our Play Healthy Labels. These tamper-proof labels can be affixed directly to your Landscape Structures playground. Contact your local Landscape Structures playground consultant to request the labels, and add them to your playground to keep visitors healthy.

Meet the 2020 recipient of the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship

Earlier this year, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) awarded more than $100,000 to 17 outstanding students for its 2020 scholarship season. The scholarships and fellowships support the next generation of designers by rewarding superior student performance, encouraging diversity, supporting original research and assisting students with unmet financial need.

One of those awards is the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship, which was created by Cofounder and Chairman of Landscape Structures, Steve King, FASLA, and the inventor of the continuous play concept.

The purpose of the scholarship is to recognize a student who has high potential in the design of play environments. This student must show an interest in the value of integrating playgrounds into parks, schools and other play environments and understand the significant social and educational value of play. Key qualities in the student receiving the Scholarship are creativity, openness to innovation, and a demonstrated interest in park and playground planning.

This year’s recipient of the Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship is Allyson Fairweather. This past May, Allyson received a Master’s of Landscape Architecture from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and is working part-time at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects. We were happy to sit down with Allyson earlier this summer to hear more about her interest in landscape architecture, and the project she submitted as part of her scholarship application.

Last spring, Allyson took a research class and was interested in studying if there was a relationship between an adult affinity for nature and how much time that adult spent playing in nature as a child.

“I was excited to discover that there is evidence to suggest that children that play outdoors in nature exhibit more environmentally responsible behaviors, greater nature inquiry, great awareness of ecological process and greater environmental stewardship,” Allyson explained.

In her research, the term “nature playscape” popped up a lot. She learned that a nature playscape is an outdoor play space that is specifically designed to connect children to the natural environment and included elements such as water, plants, soil and incorporated wild life.

“As a child, I played outside all the time,” Allyson shared. “I was always on my hands and knees in the dirt playing with bugs, collecting flowers and leaves, and running around in my parents’ garden. I have more memories of that than I do hanging out on a swing set. And now as an adult, I love the outdoors. So that’s what sparked my interest in this subject.”

Through her connection to adjunct professor and Principal at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects, Emily Wright, Allyson was made aware of a playground redesign project at The Bement School, a small, co-ed day and boarding school for kindergarten through grade 9 in historic Deerfield, Mass. The school, nestled below the Pocumtuck Range and flanked by the Deerfield River, has a beautiful, rural environment. Their existing playground was outdated and disconnected—scattered throughout campus. And upon further conversations, Allyson learned that the playground equipment wasn’t challenging enough for the range of students using it.

Allyson met with the playground committee—two school administrators and a teacher—a few different times. Initially, she visited the site to understand the space. Then she held two workshops—one for the playground committee and a second one for a small group of students in grades 3, 4, 5 and 7.

“The ultimate goal of these workshops was to understand how the play space was used, what the school community liked or didn’t like, and their vision of how it could be improved,” explained Allyson. “We prompted the adults with questions for discussion, but for the students we planned a more interactive exercise using a printed map of campus and inspirational photos. The students used stickers to vote for favorite pictures of nature play spaces.”

Allyson explained that the kids’ favorite photo was a playstructure embedded into a hillside because it appeared challenging and the students could imagine many creative ways to play there.

“A large part of this project was engaging with The Bement School community,” Allyson said. “They loved being a part of this project and kept asking when we were going to come back.”

After compiling all of the feedback into a report, Allyson started laying out the design of the nature playscape.

“One of the first things I did with this design was start with a continuous accessible path that circulated through the entire play space to create a boundary that unifies the play area. I tried to accommodate a range of ages and abilities in the play equipment. We imagined the playground would be created out of locally sourced black locusts because it’s really strong, sturdy wood that doesn’t splinter.”

Of course, they were tasked with blending the nature-inspired elements with more traditional playground features like foursquare and basketball courts, and swings. They included those elements but oriented them at angles that give different views of the soccer fields, the play area and the surrounding landscape.

“The committee wanted to include a tire swing as it helped demonstrate one of The Bement School’s core values, collaboration,” Allyson explained. “Older kids help younger kids up onto the tire swing so it presents an opportunity for different age groups to interact and build friendships. We really appreciated their observation and positioned the tire swing in the space between two different play zones so both age groups can meet in the middle.”

In addition, it was important to include quiet areas for older kids. Picnic tables and boulders were positioned throughout the play space to offer hangout spaces. Integrated plantings, boulders and rain gardens were woven throughout the play space to extend learning to the playground.

“We presented the nature playscape to The Bement School in January 2020, and they loved it,” said Allyson. “They hope to invest in the project in the future.”

We hope to see this project come to fruition, and to see what types of playscapes Allyson completes in her future career. Congratulations, Allyson, on your scholarship!

Read more about all of the 2020 LAF Scholarship winners.

Principals give back to the local community

On Monday, more than 100 principals representing the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) came together to build a playground at Adams Elementary School in Spokane, Wash. The community service day was part of the 2019 NAESP Pre-K-8 Principals Conference held in Spokane.

The school playground was designed for students ages 5 to 12, and features playground slides, climbers, and activity panels in addition to overhead events and bridges. The playground is ADA compliant and designed to welcome children of all abilities. In addition to building the playground, principal volunteers participated in landscaping, painting and other beautification projects at the school.

As you can see from the tweets, principals had a blast during the build. This community service day marks the 11th anniversary of our partnership with NAESP to build a playground at a deserving elementary school.

See more about the playground build from KXLY.com and The Spokesman-Review.

Introducing: The Curva® and Chill™ Spinners

Introducing: The Curva® and Chill™ Spinners! These new play pieces from Landscape Structures Inc. are bound to add a twist of vestibular fun to any play project.

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The Curva® Spinner allows for one or multiple riders on each spinner. The spinning motion allows children to experiment with centrifugal force and learn about cause and effect in the way they use their bodies to engage in movement. The unique design adds a custom, designer look to any space and is available in any of the ProShield® colors or stainless steel.

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The Chill™ Spinner has all the spinning fun of the Curva® Spinner, with a more relaxed design feature. The comfortable seat accommodates players who require or desire a little more support and comfort when taking part in the spinning fun. Textured rubber belting adds to the secure and relaxed feel. Users can control the movement themselves or have another player spin for them.  The Chill™ Spinner is also available in any of the ProShield® colors or stainless steel.

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Both products are ideal for players age 5 to 12 years old and promote freestanding play and developmental benefits such as balance, problem solving, proprioception and vestibular experiences.

Creating a Community Splash Pad: Benefits and Pre-Planning

Planning a community splash pad can be an intimidating process. There are many aspects to consider in order to make the investment a success. In this series, we will be offering guidance on what to expect, steps to take, and elements to consider during the planning process!

There are many benefits to investing in a community splash pad. One of the long-term benefits is the revenue that residents and non-residents bring into the community along with the added appeal of living in that area. Attracting people means attracting money and patronage to the community. Patrons eat at restaurants, go to movies, buy gas, and go shopping whether they are living there or visiting. Adding to inclusive play opportunities for children is another important benefit. People who are looking for inclusive areas that are built with their children in mind can appreciate design intended for their kids’ physical and mental needs. Inclusive water play may be one of the only public areas that caters to all ages and abilities. Overall, splash pads can benefit a community both socially and economically.

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Pre-Planning Steps

Progressive cities should develop a coordinated system of parks and open space to meet the recreation aspects of urban life. This system, when properly planned, will maintain a consistent ratio between the park system and the developing population. The system will also develop a program consistent with the specific needs of the population. Finally, the system will develop a plan for future development to meet the demands of a growing population.

During the planning and development phase public officials should have an in depth knowledge of the communities needs based on resources, age demographics, future community growth, maintenance capabilities, expansion, location and funding. This should be accomplished based on past history and future expectations.

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History of the Park & Recreation Department: The first section of a plan gives the community a historical context in which to view the department and provides details as to how and why city leaders determined the need and created the department. This section is relevant to the plan because it allows the plan user and community to discover the progress which has already been made in parks and recreation in the city.

Introduction to a Master Plan: This section briefly describes that many progressive cities adopt coordinated parks system plans and explains the purposes of the plan. The section provides a preview of the contents of the overall master plan. Plus, it will define the overall park system by type and size facility. It will then project future needs both in terms of land and physical fixtures. Finally, it will provide a basis for a long-range capital improvements program, and provide for flexibility in the design and construction of individual parks.

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Analysis of the City: A section detailing information on demographics, projected population, and observed needs of the city’s existing and future population. This is an important section of the plan because it details who will be utilizing the splash pad in the future and what their recreational needs may be.

Profile of the Existing Parks and Recreation System: This section details the size, location, and facilities of each park, and all programs currently sponsored by local sports associations as well as the parks department. This section is important to the plan in that it provides information in which a sort of “state of the system” or status of the parks system may be ascertained.

These sections provide a complete overview of the scope of a recreation facility project such as a splash pad and can be referenced by all those involved for a more cohesive understanding of the details of the project.

Stay tuned for the next installment of in our series about creating a community splash pad!

Barb’s Day of Honor 2019

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Barb’s Day of Honor is celebrated at Landscape Structures Inc. every year on March 4th since losing the day’s namesake and Landscape Structures co founder, Barb King in 2008. Her legacy lives on through her many lifetime accomplishments and the way she impacted those around her. This positive influence is evident in the many stories and anecdotes shared by friends, family, and coworkers on this day.

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“Our highest purpose is to make a difference in the world – create a better place for children and families.”

Barb King
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One of Barb’s personal passions was advocating for healthier lifestyles for children and sparking an appreciation of nature in them. Barb founded the non profit Säjai® Foundation in honor of this commitment. Their mission is focused on teaching children the value of healthy living and encouraging an exploration  of the outdoors. This legacy continues through the merging of the Säjai® Foundation with Camp Fire in May 2013. Camp Fire serves more than 250,000 youths and families through outdoor activities with an emphasis on camping.
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Search our hashtag #HonoringBarbKing on Instagram or Twitter to read more about Barb King’s personal impact on others (or to add your own story!) or check out our Barb King Day post on Facebook.
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Barb’s Inspiration Park (Delano, MN)