encouraging diverse play

by  Annie Potter , Associate Designer at Falling Waters Landscape

by Annie Potter, Associate Designer at Falling Waters Landscape

At Falling Waters, we praise all things to do with the landscape. This extends into our belief that the outdoor experiences of a child's day are vital to their mental, physical, and social growth. Children learn best when all of their senses are activated. Unlike adults, they cannot sit in a two hour lecture given solely by word of mouth. In order to imprint a lesson into a child's mind, it has to be presented to them as something worth remembering. By allowing them to physically engage in the subject matter and personally see and feel it in real life, children will get excited for the lesson and their brain will absorb it more fully. For instance, showing a picture of the photosynthesis process is nothing compared to actually seeing it happen. In order to keep children engaged and constantly growing their breadth of knowledge, their interaction with their natural environment should be a key priority during the day.

If school is the only interaction that students have with their peers, then the playground is the major way children will learn vital social skills. All on their own free will (the only aspect of school they can control), kids will exercise their skills of leading, conflict resolution, teamwork, and sharing. This should be cultivated in the recess programs and in the playground experience. The design of the playground can cultivate this character development even more with the right techniques implemented. 

Photos courtesy of Ryan Prange, Principal at Falling Waters Landscape.

We want to break the norm of a single-purpose standardized playground structure and incorporate and diverse play experience, where no two plays are the same. This will be done with play elements that do not have instructions; rather, each kid can approach these elements and find a new and fascinating way to use them. This constructive play can allow kids to create their own adventure molding their natural elements to entertain them. This ignites cognitive thinking, forcing kids to problem solve—a productive element that is lacking in metal and plastic play structures. Basic playground elements, like swings and slides, were designed to limit children to using the same physical motion over and over. By taking away these restrictive elements kids are able to stretch, fold, and bend their bodies more, releasing their jitters and preparing them to focus more when back in a classroom. 

These techniques can also be used in a household. By designing natural elements to play, jump and run around, like stumps, logs, and rocks, this will create a timeless piece in your backyard. When your kids grow up your playground can become a hang out in the backyard, just throw a portable fire pit in with the stumps and you have yourself a campfire. Another easy play element to implement is a sandbox. By blurring the edges by grasses, it does not become an eyesore in the backyard. Instead, it is attractive for adults and an immersive and interpretive experience for the children. 

Whatever you choose, no child wants to be out of sight or out of mind. So if capable, place the play area (a sandbox, trampoline, or “jungle gym”) close to the house or close to the parents’ view. Kids will be more motivated to play when they know they are safe under their parents’ watchful eye.

Even though we think the art of playing is innate in all children, like any skill, it can be lost over time if not routinely practiced. By showing the expanse of outdoor activities that a kid can engage in, less children will get bored and yearn for the screen. Encourage diverse play and allow their imagination to run wild. A square lawn will limit a kid’s fascination, instead we challenge you to build an outdoor experience that will allow pirates to sail the ocean blue, astronauts to explore Mars, paleontologists to dig for dinosaurs, or damsels to be saved by their trusted siblings from the fiery fumes of Pancho the chihuahua (don’t let his size misguide you, Pancho is deadly).