Playscapes & Playgrounds

Jumping and Creating

Kids playing in the’Nature Zone’ Playspace.

The tree stump circle is either used for jumping

or for building on…

These are rolly poly houses.




Final houses:


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Progressive School Natural Playscape – Stage One

This is a great project off to a great start. Stage One has been completed with much community help and the kids have been having a blast exploring it.

This is an under used area at a progressive private school (grades K-8). K and 1st grade teachers have requested this area be transformed in to Create with Nature and natural playscape area.

After meetings with the teachers and Landscape Committee I came up with a fun plan that can be completed in various stages as budget become available


Teacher Requests
– Largish circle of stumps (in combo w/ plants) to enclose the Create With Nature Zone
– Create ‘Storage Library’ for loose parts and tools – organized baskets of materials
– Ability to take over that whole space – involves moving nursery area
– Moving the mulch pile over
– Barriers to keep kids out of parking area and out from under delicate oaks
– Incorporation of other play elements –
– Water, Playhouse, Interesting plants, Pathways

Create with Nature Zone – Enclosed by plants and stumps, inside are some movable stumps and some larger immovable stumps to build on
Loose Parts Library – Includes wicker baskets, wine crates or other containers with well organized loose parts
Mulch Mountain – Large persistent pile of mulch to be replaced as it breaks down or is used elsewhere
River Bed – Includes child friendly hand pump to access water, water flows into basins or sluice and down into dry river bed w/ bridge for crossing
Pathways – Mulch pathways, include two clear entrances, pavers under oaks through plantings, pavers for a curvy path leading to living willow tunnel
Barriers – Natural fencing (willow or branches) along parking area, low mosaic seating wall at south edge, under oak plantings
Playhouse – Small 3 sided playhouse made from natural materials – willow or branches

Stage 1 – Oct 6th – Main goal is to build Create with Nature Zone and Library of loose parts.
Stump circle – Arrange and dig stumps as we have into largish area surrounding tree
Library – Low, kid accessible shelves for storing baskets of loose parts
Loose parts – Tree cookies, tree blocks, smooth river stones, twigs, pinecones, bamboo pieces, interesting seed pods, any interesting plant material
Tools – Small brooms, rakes, trowels

[metaslider id=746]

Next Stages:
Stage 2: move mulch pile, create fencing along parking area, build willow/branch playhouse
Stage 3: plantings and pathways
Stage 4: incorporate water, boulders, watercourse and bridge
Stage 5: K and 1st students create mosaic tiles, organize community mosaic build

Also viewable on my Projects page!

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Accessible playgrounds in the Bay Area

I want all children to have access to playgrounds and nature. One of the main problems I see with accessible playgrounds is that the designers lose site of the whole nature part.

How do we make sure playgrounds are inclusive of children of all abilities but still include all the the things kids need to play and learn?

How can it REALLY be done? Not just following the letter of ADA compliance that result in playgrounds with no nature and too much hot plastic surfacing?

I’m reading and thinking on this. Playgrounds can be crazy expensive. Natural elements might seem to imply too much risk, uncertainty and unrealistic upkeep needs. Why? And what to do?

Is no playground better than a playground some kids can’t access? Both scenarios are disheartening.

Some interesting resources:
Bay Area Accessible Playground Finder

Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto, CA

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More Labyrinth pictures from around town

Sibley volcanic preserve
labyrinth - sibley volcanic preserve

There’s a tiny old one over by Lake Merritt. I can’t find a picture of it right now.

I know there is another labyrinth in Tilden somewhere but I haven’t made it out there.

Okay, this one is on Maui. I can dream it is about town.
labyrinth @ Nakalele Blowhole

This is the labyrinth I talk about here and here.

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At the Ranch

marshmallow shooters and climbing

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Gardens at NIMBY – A Playground for Adults

About 5 years after NIMBY moved to a new location in East Oakland I finally made it over there for a fundraiser and got to check out the space. The first thing I noticed that there there were plants everywhere and I was really surprised. Thinking about it now I’m not surprised at all. who better to create gardens from cast off junk than the founder of the largest do-it-yourself industrial art space in the Bay Area? The second thing i noticed was that they have an old metals twisty slide from a Mcdonalds and I WANT IT! Like, really want it. It could totally fit in our side yard and would be awesome.


But, back to the gardens at NIMBY… one of the first containers of unexpected food were these old ducts filled with kale and then this pink bath tube with more food plants:
food in unexpected places pink bathtub with food plants

gardens @ nimby

Apparently it is very east to get cheap discarded hydroponic/pot grow house equipment like these huge trays:
gardens @ nimby
Love the tree house going up in the background. I saw that out on the playa about a month later. :)

I counted about 5 big trays of food plants and many smaller pots scattered about. That’s a lot of fresh veggies to share!

And here are the beginnings of some aquaponics tanks. I think they could build a decent chicken coop on top of this that dogs would not be able to get in to. A sort of chicken condo, if you will.
gardens @ nimbycan you find the Buddha peeing and the hamburglar? Then there was this huge tank filled with beautiful glass sculptures, fish and plants used to a be a huge gas tank. I think? I could be remembering wrong, but either way, it was very pretty and soothing!

There were some great succulent gardens as well. I wish I had written down the name of the person who made this lovely wall sculpture with succulents:

And outside, there were these great plastic pipes filled with succulents. I can see this working really well on a back porch or even front yard.

Industrial junk being turned to good use, whether for art or to grow food or to make a playground is always beautiful and inspiring!

morning glories and razor wire @ NIMBY

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SF airport – New Terminal 2

Anyone else been to the new(ish) SFO Terminal 2? Kudos to all who made it happen, srsly. It was like traveling on a fluffy cloud filled with unicorns, sushi and coffee.

Right after going through security the first thing that hit my eye was the ‘Yoga Room’. Say what?
Then, tons of art. filtered water stations. sushi.
You can read all about the art here.


An indoor play area for kids. SQUEEE!

Just that fact that an airport would admit that kids might be actual humans who deserve having their needs met in public was kind of shocking and, obviously, refreshing.


It was a tad spartan but such a great idea. One of the coolest features was the Butterfly Wall built and designed by Charles Sowers.


It had some fun climbing elements with an airiness that I assume was designed it to it so that parent’s wouldn’t freak out when they couldn’t see their child.


Please pardon the terrible blurry pics. I was juggling like twelve carry-ons and a coffee.

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Berkeley Adventure Playground

What is an adventure playground?
I think of them as a free form playground built by kids and the grownups with them. It’s a space where the way kids play hasn’t been decided for them already, they get to see a bunch of raw materials and see the possibilities and create their own spaces.

They get wood and nails and discarded playground equipment and rope and old boats and whatever other cool stuff the staff can find or is donated. And the kids can use it however they want.

adventure playground

I feel lucky to live in an area with an Adventure Playground, you can read about it’s hostly here. It’s such a cool idea and we have been taking my son since before he could walk. There is something for everyone!

adventure playground

You have to earn tools and paint by helping clean up or gathering up old nails. Once J. could walk he loved to collect nails with a magnet fishing pole in order to trade the nails for paint.

berkeley adventure playground

Here’s J as an almost or maybe just 1 year old sitting in a boat filled with sand. Neat!
adventure playground

This is an ever evolving instrument. It’s got drums and harps and tons of other things that make great noises.

I wish I could figure out how to embed this video of my son getting bonked by a hanging float.He is at about 2 years freaking out with excitement at some junk hanging around. At about 28 seconds he gets bonked with the hanging rescue float.


The last time we went T. helped him build an airplane out of scrap wood.
adventure playground

More awesomeness. In this picture you can see not only a a cool boat in the foreground but several boats filled with plants in the middle and then the oh so cool zipline in the background. Kids line up for this over and over and it’s so fun to watch them. You must be 6 in order to ride it. I’m not sure if J. will want to!

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Indian Rock

indian rock
We went off to explore Indian Rock in Berkeley this week. It did not disappoint.

J is just now 5 and somehow, once we climbed to the top of the rock (using the awesome stairs cut into the side), I was REALLY nervous having him up there. I like to pride myself on not being a helicopter mom but in this case I just kept picturing him sliding down to his doom and I couldn’t hack it. I made us go back down. There was plenty of scope for imagination around the lower parts of the rock.

We established our forts…
we declared our forts

And attacked!
and attack!

Foolishly I did not look up the rock before hand and so could not spout knowledgeably about the geology. Check the wikipedia article or this post from the awesome Oakland blog Oakland Geology. Rhyolite! Neat!

We had to leave because I was getting grumpy (I’ve been grumpy a lot lately) and I had to pee (this park lacks a bathroom making it totally unpractical for me) and we had to go to the store. We’ll be back to explore the more north side of the park later though definitely! Also, need to bring more kids so they can like play capture the flag or something!

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Schoolhouse Creek Common Berkeley, CA

I came across the awesome Schoolhouse Creek Common Garden playscape in Berkeley during a Bring Back the Natives Tour in 2008. Here is the write up on the Bring Back the Native site. I think this was my very first experience with an actual natural playscape and I was really excited by it.

mesh tunnel and swing

This playscape has so many great features, including boulders, a tire swing, a mesh tunnel, tree stumps (movable and not), CA native plants, a nice BIG sand pit, a small hill with boulders and plantings, and secret paths.

sandy area

I have brought my son here a few times over the years although we were never regulars since it is a bit far from my house. The last time we went my son was about 4.5 and we had a really good time. the first thing I did was get out my sketchbook and some pens and I started to make a map of the garden. this was a great opportunity to talk about maps and to have my son help me. He got really into it and really got the concept of translating what we were seeing to the paper. I sent him off to explore and to report back with what he found.

Note to self: find that sketchbook, scan and upload it.

We have actually have never encountered any other kids at this site and I would really love to see a group or even just two kids playing here to see what they do! J and I made maps, and we played Hide and SNEAK(TM), and dug in the sand pit looking for dinosaur bones.

You can read more about the process of building Schoolhouse Creek Commons here.

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