Feature Article - November 2010
Find a printable version here

Play Date

What's New on the Playground?

By Deborah Vence

Beach's company thrives on developing playground products that enable children to use their imagination, giving them the opportunities for genuine experiences with nature, gardening, music and art.

The company has a new line of products that give designers and landscape architects the opportunity to design and build low-maintenance, durable infrastructures that invite children to spend more of their day outdoors. In fact, one of Beach's favorite quotes on getting children to play outside in nature is from Sweden, where children spend as much as 75 percent of their day outdoors, she said, quoting, "There is no bad weather, only bad clothes."

So, to help entice children to play in nature, Beach's company developed a "green" house that incorporates living "green" roof trays of sedums [a type of plant] into a play house. The "green" house gives children a chance to learn about reducing rain run-off and creating cooler micro-climates under a living roof.

Meanwhile, John McConkey, marketing insights manager for a Delano, Minn.-based commercial playground equipment manufacturer, said that he's seeing nature incorporated into playgrounds in different ways—through water features, land forms, different ways to create dirt mounds or varied pathways.

"There's use of a lot of native plant materials. And then the type of materials that we have been able to introduce [are] what's [called] Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete [GFRC] that allows us to take stamping from real trees, and when we come to our facility we can model the concrete with that impression. So, it's realistic to the original tree. The bark is original to a pine oak or white alder," he said.

"It's very relevant to that native environment, and we use a combination of paints and ways to color that, and [make it as] true to form as possible. That material is a real innovation. It allows for that flexibility, that artistry. The types of people who do this work are artists," McConkey added.

He explained that the material originally was used in zoos to create rock forms in and around animal exhibits.

"It would be the type of thing to create the border or background, a large-scale bear den or lion's den. Then the technology evolved from real rock to make it look like real trees or bark," McConkey said. "So, it's a real combination of manufactured and customized detail and material that create a natural [look]."

One of the company's nature-inspired playground product designs includes a treehouse, which boasts realistic wood grain and bark textures, which are molded directly from nature.

He added, "When we work with landscape architects, what we have found is a growing interest for a sense of place, where there are some features or attributes that create a connection with the geological history or the social history of that play environment and visitors."

In addition to bringing children into nature, you can ensure your playground equipment itself is nature-friendly by working with manufacturers that are taking steps to improve the sustainability of their products.

"As we see it, part of serving the needs of children is helping provide them a green, sustainable world," said Tina Spritka, marketing coordinator for Fond du Lac, Wis.-based play equipment manufacturer.