Before You Build a Playground – Play There

By Claude Stephens

The Value of Free Play Days to Explore How a Place PLAYS

We didn’t start designing the Playcosystem site until we played there. For the past four years the Bernheim team set up free play opportunities around the Visitor Center during BugFest and ColorFest in order to gather firsthand knowledge of how children and families use the site. We observed:

  • Where children congregated and where they avoided
  • Where adults gathered in conversation and where they didn’t
  • How children utilized the topography
  • What natural features provided play opportunities
  • Whether the space felt crowded or not

Using the site for play also gave us a sense of the environmental conditions. We observed things like:

  • Wind
  • Sun and shade
  • Where the ground was wet and where it was always dry
  • How light filtered through the trees
  • Where the persimmon tree dropped fruit each fall
  • The sounds that fill the space
  • What happens after an especially heavy rain

While the children played we asked their parents what THEY would like to see in a playground. We got answers like:

  • Shade
  • Comfortable benches with backs
  • A wine bar
  • Hammocks
  • Little free libraries

Some great ideas… we’re on it. Well…most of them.

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