Benefits of Sensory Play through Sand & Water

Summer’s here and as the temperature rises you’ve probably found your mind wandering to visions of hot sand and cool water. Imagine lying out in the sun and digging your feet into the coarse sand, and feeling the force of a wave coming from, and receding back into the ocean. It’s enough to bring you back to your childhood, when sandcastles and splashing around at the beach was an exhilarating day. Playing with sand and water may be one of the first ways we develop our cognitive understanding of the world. It helps a child understand the basic scientific laws of nature, and cause and effect. With all of the benefits, it’s easy to see why sand and water play should be integrated into the local playground.Cambridge Commons water play
The Alexander Kemp playground at Cambridge Commons in Cambridge Massachusetts is a perfect example of water and sand play integration. With an array of inter connected water tables troughs and a hand cranked pump, children are able to manipulate the flow of water from one table to the next, observing the changes as they happen. What happens when you block the water flow with sand, or use a shovel as an impromptu levee? Will the water simply stop, or will it flow over the edges of the shovel? What happens when you use sand and mud instead of a shovel? It’s through this exploration and experimentation that children experience how organic and predictable physics in nature can be. Children begin to make mental connections through this experimentation, helping them further understand the world around them. The meanings of the words moist and muddy are completely abstract to a child until they can feel and sense it for themselves.cambridge common water play cooperation
In addition to the sensory benefits of sand and water play, they also have the added benefit of being able to be manipulated and changed. Unlike your average playground structure that is solid, static, and unmovable, sand and water have the ability to be used in an almost infinite amount of ways. This leads to both a focused solo type of play, as well as opening the door for other social interactions and collaborations. The water table acts as a focal point for children and adults to gather in close proximity, giving them the option to work together or pursue more individual play.Cambridge Common  Water play
With its ability to help aid in early childhood cognitive development, and early collaboration, it’s clear why sand and water play should be added to most public play spaces. Besides, when the sun is out and you’re burning up, who doesn’t love going to the park to cool down?




Adult Playgrounds

We play enthusiasts spend a lot of time discussing the importance of play in the role of early childhood development. It’s a fun and easy way for a child to learn problem solving, cognitive development, as well as strength and dexterity training. It was during one of these conversations that the idea of the age inclusive adult playground was brought up. Initially we all chuckled at the idea of a business man going down a slide with a suit and briefcase, but soon began to discuss the idea further. If a playground is one of the main sources of a child’s physical exercise, why can’t it be the same for adults?
A somewhat recent innovation for the adult play space, that I’m sure many of you have seen, is the outdoor public gym. While not a playground in the traditional sense, the ideas and feeling they evoke are nearly the same. Having pull-up bars instead of monkey bars, and sit-up boards instead of see-saws, visitors are encouraged to use the free equipment during their daily routine. Though the equipment might be aimed at adults, they’re often built in conjunction with, or next to existing playgrounds, creating a fun and fit environment for the whole family. Often as I ride my bicycle through my neighborhood playground here in Boston, I’ll see parents with the same excitement and glee in the fitness section, as the children playing on the playground across the way.

adult outdoor fitness recreation area

adult outdoor fitness recreation area

While it’s rather simple task to urge adults to go out and “play” on free workout equipment, it’s a much harder task to place them in the same mind set of a child on a playground. For that challenge we have to turn our focus to the art and design community, specifically the Chapuisat brothers. The work I’m referring to specifically are two hidden pathway installations titled “Hyperspace” and “Intra-Muros-1”. Both of the works are presented in a modern gallery setting, but with secret doorways in the walls, that lead to hidden tunnels ripe for exploration. Hyperspace specifically recreates the feeling of discovery in playground tunnels, as well as the sense of a safe fear and danger that goes along with them. It’s this probing into the unknown that brings us back to our childhood feeling of adventure and inquiry that we sometimes lack in adulthood.

Entrance to the Chapuisat brother's hidden crawl way sculpture

Entrance to the Chapuisat brother’s hidden crawl way sculpture

Side cut away view of the interior of Chapuisat brother's sculpture.

Side cut away view of the interior of Chapuisat brother’s sculpture.

What’s your opinion on adult playgrounds? Should they be something as practical as a public outdoor gym, or should they be less practical and more entertaining? Write your opinions in the comment sections below!


Scale, imagination, and innovation in modern playgrounds

When recalling our early playground memories, we remember how awe inspiring the equipment actually was, when seen from a child’s perspective. Often we look back at “the slide that was higher than a two story building” or “the bottomless sandbox” and how we begged our parents to bring us back. This obviously comes from the physically smaller size we have as children, but the impact of such a structure still stays in our mind well into adulthood. While the mythical endless slide is harder to come by these days, some modern architects are eliciting our youthful imagination in other creative ways. Whether it’s in size, scale, or creativity, these are some play structures you’ll definitely want to see.

Firstly, check out the scale that’s implied in the “Monster’s Footprints” structure by MAD architects in Shenzhen, China. When viewed from a higher level, it forces you to imagine that a 25 story monster had recently strolled by.  The undulating ground in the “foot print” re creates the contours of the mythical beast, almost creating an alien like landscape.


A very similar whimsical landscape that you might remember from our previous blog posts is that at the Playa Vista central park playground. With its larger scale and sleek play structures dotted around, the space almost feels like a real life cartoon playscape.


Tom Otterness is another artist/designer that’s combing both the ideas of childhood whimsy and large scale character playgrounds. His large scale brass playground structures are shaped like seated thirty foot characters, that children are encouraged to climb all over. With ladders on the arms and slides on his legs, it’s hard not to think of a real life version of Gulliver’s Travels.


While innovative and creative design clearly knows no limits, there are still awe inspiring slides being made. We recently installed this 25 foot tube slide in an office building in Richmond, VA. Creating a fun way to quickly get to the bottom floor of the office, it brings back that childhood joy to the working adult.


This not only shows that the sense of whimsy and amusement a playground can provide stays with us well into adulthood, but that it can be incorporate into contemporary design as well!


Note: We play enthusiasts enjoy seeing and sharing different playground designs from around the world, but are by no means commenting on whether or not they meet the American playground safety standards.

Monster footprints:

Tom Otterness:


Jackson Square Lorber Family Playground now open!

Jackson Square Lorber Family Playground now open!

Featuring the Wallholla designed by Carve, Integration Carousel, swaying “Grass”, swings and a zip line.

Jackson Square Playground: Wallholla, designed by Carve and distributed by Goric

Jackson Square Playground: Wallholla, designed by Carve and distributed by Goric

The first Wallholla in North America installed in Boston last week

The first Wallholla in North America installed in Boston last week

Jackson Square Playground: Wallholla, designed by Carve and distributed by Goric

The First Wallholla in the USA, designed by Carve, manufactured & distributed by Goric in the USA & Canada


The Southwest Corridor playground is a joint project between the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), a state agency, and The Boston Children’s Hospital, who raised the funds for the project.


When the project started there was a well-used basketball court, a small greenery beside it and a double bike and walking path running through the space. The group wanted as much play value as possible in the small area while keeping the basketball court and bike/walking path.


The Wallholla climbing structure answered all of their needs for space saving, lots of play and a perfect divider between the basketball court and playground. The eye-catching aesthetic and ultimate transparency was the icing on the cake.


With the space that they saved by using the Wallholla they chose other play items that would give children a variety of movement opportunities: the spinning of the Integration Carousel, the swaying of the Grass, the inertia of the Zip Line and the to-and-fro of the swings.


The Jackson Square “T” (subway) station is steps away from the play area and the playground will be installed directly over the subway tunnel. Special footing changes were made for the shallow depths overtop the tunnel.  Goric worked with a team of people from the Boston Children’s Hospital, the DCR and the landscape architects from Stantec to design the area in a way that would meet the needs of the local community.


The playground will open in 2013.