Tag Archive: natural play


Two pictures to illustrate how I try to take inspiration from the natural world in creating ‘playful landscape’ features. The playful landscape was created in Fakenham, Norfolk. The ‘Giant’s Causeway’ here uses different lengths and thicknesses of smooth-planed, pressure-treated timber, inserted into a concrete foundation within a formed, grass covered mound, and with gravel to fill in around each ‘step’.

The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, by Joe Cornish
The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, by Joe Cornish

A 'Giant's Causeway' at Fakenham

A ‘Giant’s Causeway’ at Fakenham, Norfolk

Old School Gardener

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Ideas for Nature Play

Wate rplay- Wells next the Sea, Norfolklk

Some great downloadable resources here on nature play – from active recipes to messy recipes!

Old School Gardener

PiocPost: Look out

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PicPost: Stare Carpet

via Woodland Trust

WP_20130805_021It’s ‘Play Day’ in England today, so I thought it would be appropriate to report on my recent visit to the new Olympic Park Play Area in Stratford, London.

The ‘Tumbling Bay’ play space has just opened in the north of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Designed by LUC and Erect Architecture, the space is the core social area for this part of the Park, which opens fully next April. It aims to provide a facility of use to both visitors to the area as well as the growing new residential community in the area and local workers.

The naturalistic play space is based on ecological concepts of succession and life cycles and is laid out along a newly created valley, with a new ‘Timber Lodge’ café and community hub at one end. I must say that I was impressed with what I saw.

Given the heavy use this area is likely to see and that it is unsupervised, the designers and builders have done a great job at maximising natural play opportunities in an urban setting. I think children of all ages will be able to get something from it. At one end a climbing structure consisting of natural, rough finish timber bridges, ascents ,plus net walkways and other nooks and crannies is an exciting physical circuit for mainly physical play. The structures here are not so much designed on the drawing board as created on the spot – at least that’s how they look, with rough-hewn timber providing a wonderful variety of opportunities for climbing, clambering, crawling, walking and just sitting around.

This wood- strewn area gives way to an area dominated by a river delta – ilke landscape of gullies, pools and waterways. These are fed by a number of hand pumps and can be dammed at various points. And there are also spots offering a mix of sand and water play. The use of what seems to be blocks of natural (sand?) stone and sculpted landforms (made of composite materials?) conveys a natural look that could have been here for decades. Apparently the sand and water play area was inspired by the history of the River Lea and its industrial past. The arrangement of pumps and dams encourages children to experiment with water flows, work in groups and pump sufficient water to dam and divert water through the natural rock pools, rivulets and channels, filling a series of shallow pools and sand boxes along the way.

Finally, and running up to the cafe, is an area where water gives way to sand – dominated play, featuring a hanging conveyor system using sections of tyre and allowing children to move quantities of sand around the area. There are also a number of chunky wooden and gabion structures that are at different times seats, walkways or climbing features. I particularly liked the use of simple planed timber planking set around in odd places in the floorscape with grooves cut at right angles. I guess these are to provide a varied, grippy surface, but can also be a great little place for the very young to experiment with sand and water and other loose materials.

There are also some young hazel woodland copses where, in due course, children will be able to explore and build dens, hunt for bugs and get their hands dirty. The copses adjoin some ‘pine forest’ areas which run up against the timber play area. The curving form of the play area and its use of planting makes it blend in beautifully with the adjoining parkland landscape, avoiding the problem of all too many play spaces that stand out as colourful, metal-dominated, jarring places amidst surrounding greenery. The lack of fencing, but use of planting, land form and a variety of different log slice/trunk footways to provide barriers and create entrance and exit channels should also encourage children to play in the surrounding grassy and planted areas.

It is free to visit the parklands, cafe and playground. We enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee served by smiling staff at the new social enterprise – run cafe and events centre, which seemed to be doing a steady trade in these early days. I was interested to see that local primary schools have already contributed to displays in the Centre and this sign of community involvement is an early indicator of it becoming a successful community hub.  As you can see from the photographs, we were there early in the day, so only a few children were around. On our way home we passed lots of families with children who looked as though they were on their way to the park and play area.

If you get the chance it’s well worth a visit!

Old School Gardener

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Picpost: Home, sweet home

PicPost: Face lift

The Emneth Playing Field Committee engaged me to advise on community involvement and assist with procurement and project management as well as design their new play area. This was to be a refresh and expansion of their existing play area on the edge of this lovely west Norfolk village, famous as the home of the author of the Railway Series of children’s stories featuring ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’, the Rev. W. Awdry and his son.

The existing play area was flat and featureless with some run down play equipment and old, broken down boundary fencing, adjacent to the sports pavilion. There is a steep, seasonal ditch (or ‘dyke’), and road to one boundary and playing fields to the rest. A budget of around £60,000 funded by a combination of the Big Lottery, Parish Council, local fundraising and ‘in kind’ contributions by local firms and the community made this a truly community-led project.

The Chair of the Playing Field committee was the main driving force behind the project and he made sure local people, including children, were fully consulted about the play area and the sorts of features that they would ideally like. This work included surveys and model making as well as community meetings. The results of this consultation were reflected in the sketch and final designs. The existing play area was expanded and another, adjoining area on another side of the Pavilion was brought into use as the focus for a toddler play area, leaving the expanded, existing play area as a site catering for older children.

Key features of the new ‘playful landscape’ include refurbished and relocated play equipment, some second hand play equipment purchased from a nearby village and several new equipment items all set within a landscaped, park – like space where the local community have helped to plant up new hedges, shrubs, other perennials and trees.

A large curved mound and ditch forms the centre piece of the older children’s’ play area, with a wooden stockade (complete with climbing holds on the outside wall) and a wobbly bridge access across the surrounding ditch. Weather (an unexpectedly dry spell) meant that the grass seeding used on this did not take hold initially and in some areas (especially those expected to get the most wear) turf was used instead. New, challenging equipment includes a cableway, mound slide, climbing unit,  basket swing as well as a refurbished slide and a group of large logs to serve as a social/ performance area. New fencing and natural hedging provides the boundaries, including to the dyke.

The toddler area features some refurbished and relocated swings and slide, plus a log train, mounding, play house within a sand pit (with ‘fossil’ slabs to discover beneath the sand), picnic tables and various other informal features using logs for balancing or as stepping-stones. The project was completed in 2011 and officially opened in 2012. It has proved to be very popular with local children and is also used by the local school.

Old School Gardener

Tree stumps – simple play ideas

‘We can create engaging play spaces for young children using easily sourced and low cost (often free!) materials.

It’s easier than you think!  Over the next few weeks I’ll show you how, using examples from early childhood settings around the globe.  First cab off the rank is the humble tree stump.’

let the children play

From the National Trust- An introductory video with link to 50 outdoor activities for the under twelves!

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