Supplement Feature - April 2010
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A Natural Trend

Natural Environment Enhances Playground Designs

By Dawn Klingensmith

At One With Nature

"My perspective is that there has not so much been a shift in manufactured playground equipment as there is in how the equipment should fit in an outdoor design in an area for children," McLellan said. "When building a traditional playground, people typically go to one of the big equipment manufacturers and pick something from the catalog that fits their site and budget. Often, they'll spend $50,000 on one piece of equipment. There is some wonderful equipment that manufacturers put a lot of research and design into, but when you do that, it becomes the focus of the entire area. Designers are now deliberately looking beyond that one element. You can put a big piece of equipment in one area, and then have a little garden area, maybe with a little goldfish pond, which creates another play opportunity and addresses another aspect of children's development."

McLellan no longer peruses playground catalogs like she did while researching her book. But in fact, manufactured playground equipment is evolving as the back-to-nature movement gains steam. Color palettes that blend in with nature have been available for years. The manufacturer referred to earlier goes a few steps further with products that emulate nature. Along with shipwreck, barn and airport play structures, the company offers a tree fort structure with a fallen-log slide, and prides itself on creating products that look and feel like their natural counterparts, including rough tree bark and smooth or craggy stone. Nature-themed products include rock climbers, a hollow log crawl and a log balance beam.