Every once in a blue moon, someone does something so incredibly well, that you just have to sit down at your computer and write a blog post about it. Here I am.
When I originally saw the plans for a natural playscape at Huron Natural Area in Kitchener, I got pretty excited. Given that my doctoral research revolved around reconnecting children with nature in urban settings, and the fact that I have two children…oh heck, let’s be honest….I just wanted to go and play there myself!
Huron Natural Area (HNA) is probably the loveliest nearby green area we have found. The trails are well-marked, and boast diverse landscapes, including ponds, fields, dense forests and streams. When you’re in the heart of it, you feel completely separated from the city. I love to take the kids hiking there, and the addition of a natural playground makes it all the more appealing for them.
Now, I have mentioned before that I don’t like standard playgrounds. Most lack imagination, have no loose parts, all look the same, and frankly, the kids get bored. I suspect most were built by planners looking in a brochure, pointing to a picture, and saying “that one.” I have seen other attempts at “natural playgrounds” that appear to be built more for adults than children, and offer little to no challenge, loose parts, or creativity. But, let’s not dwell on those.
Not this time. This time, someone got it right.
At the HNA playground, there are places to hide, plenty of loose bits and pieces to play with, a giant sand pit with a water pump and a plethora of shovels, buckets and hollowed out log troughs to move around. There is a giant climbing structure with a net underneath (and…gasp…high places where kids can climb and potentially fall from). There are trails of logs and stones to climb and hop across and a slide in a hillside. There are little touches, like paths of animal footprints to follow in the sidewalk, and hollowed conversation benches. There is even one seemingly unintentional pile of huge logs that looks like it was just dumped there (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t). That was my son’s favourite part (sadly, I didn’t get a picture of it this time). Elementary schools come to visit HNA frequently, and when they do, there is a trailer that gets opened that is chock full of bits and pieces to build and explore with. This is really hard to capture in a photo, and it is even harder to visualize how it will look when all of the planted trees and shrubs fill in, but I know it will be spectacular.
This playground took a great deal of knowledge about how children learn and develop, how they like to play, and how to help them reconnect with nature. It is also beautifully designed to integrate with the landscape.
I do not know the people who built this playground, but I am delighted that they did.
If one of the people involved in the project happens to come upon this post, THANK YOU! This is something we desperately needed here, and serves as a beautiful example and inspiration for future projects.
You can see the plans and more pictures (which were taken earlier than mine) here: