Category Archives: Germany

Playground Postcards

It’s a real pleasure to welcome a new contributor to PlayGroundology and a new voice to the international conversation on play and playgrounds – Rachel Hawkes Cameron. I met Rachel earlier this year at a downtown coffee shop – not a playground in sight. My ears were wide open as she told me about her studies and the thesis that she was preparing at the time. She wanted to speak with me about what I had picked up during my playground blogging over the past few years. For my part, it was the first time I had met a flesh and blood person who was studying playground design – what a treasure. I encourage you to check out Rachel’s thesis – see the link at the end of this post.

Rachel will be participating on a panel discussion as part of Where has all the playing gone? two evenings of presentations based on the PlayGroundology and Halifax Plays blogs. For Halifax readers details on the presentations at the Alderney Library here. I’m looking forward to further posts from Rachel in the weeks and months to come.

Image AA make shift bicycle sits in Kolle 37 – a modern day adventure playground in Berlin, with treehouses built and maintained by kids with adult supervision.

As a child, our interpretations of the spaces in which we play aren’t necessarily analytical – a child who grows up scaling beams in a barn is not aware of his or her experience as being vastly different than the urban child’s daily interaction with monkey bars and metal slides. However, it is undeniable that these early experiences with recreational play can influence us as adults. Through play, we learn to problem solve, to share, to act independently.

As for myself, I grew up in downtown Toronto, attending elementary school in the eighties when it was okay to have a two-story wooden fortress in your playground. My family didn’t own a cottage and I was pretty highly scheduled what with ballet classes, swim team and piano, so my experiences with outdoor play were mainly urban. Yet I recall my experiences in the playground distinctly – the defeat of falling off the highest rung of the ladder, the accomplishment of getting up the nerve to jump off the swings when they are going their highest and – for me – the devastation when my soaring playground was levelled to make way for a pre-fabricated, innocuous and plastic “play structure”, as enforced by the city so as to prevent injury.

I reflected upon these experiences when I began my Master of Design thesis, which I completed in May at the Nova Scotia Academy of Art and Design in Halifax. Entitled “From the Playground UP: Can the design of playspaces influence childhood development?”, it is an examination of the importance of providing challenging, evocative playspaces to kids living in urban parts of North America.

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Because I was executing my research from a design standpoint (my undergrad was in Architecture), it seemed clear to me that visiting playgrounds internationally – specifically in Europe – was essential in gathering the immense possibilities for playspaces in North America, and possibly a way to understand what we’re missing.

Throughout the course of my thesis research, I visited playgrounds in Berlin, Amsterdam, Toronto, Montreal, St John’s, London and Barcelona. I designed a playground “recording template” for the purpose of documenting and comparing these playgrounds from a design perspective – what are they made of? how are they used? what challenges do they provide? what age group do they accommodate? I’ll begin by introducing my trip to Berlin and am excited to share more of my “playground tourism” photos and thoughts with you on this blog!

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This “Jungle Playground” in Berlin was located in a big park within an upscale residential neighbourhood. The designers, a company called SIK-Holz, uses primarily Robinia wood in its playgrounds, giving them an organic appearance, often leaving the material true to its original form. This playground was directed, but not prescriptive. The theme of “jungle” was supported by abstract animal sculptures and tall (like 30 foot) “palm trees”, not to mention a super long zip line, yet the story seemed open to navigation.

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The Rubber Playground was located in Berlin next to an elementary school. Tall, arched steel frames act as support to an intricate series of thick rubber sheets, which take form as swaying platforms, slides and ladders. The structure is truly a 3D labyrinth, one that requires both hands and feet to manoeuvre. Kids of all ages were climbing around, some bouncing on the sheets close to the ground, others venturing up to the top of the apparatus, negotiating the maze of rope and platforms.

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This structure, observed in Tiergarten Park in Berlin, welcomed kids of all ages. There was a sense of progression as a child would climb as high as they felt comfortable. It is essential to provide growing kids with play equipment that encourages them to negotiate their own domain – physically and psychologically. To use this pyramid at Tiergarten as an example, a child develops a sense of pride through their autonomy, their ability to conquer and overcome their fears. It is imperative that this child feel supported, as often the fear projected by a supervising adult can result in self-doubt. One thing I noticed in the playground in Berlin was the attitude of parents and guardians towards their kids’ play experience. It was either a casual observance or being actively involved. Rarely did I see “helicopter parents” hovering over a child, rather reassuring guidance seemed the norm.

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My exploration into the “emerging social science” that is playground design has only just begun but I am inspired everyday. Resources such as this blog are invaluable tools in expanding perceptions about what a playspace can be. I am truly excited to contribute my research to PlayGroundology and to be a part of the conversation!

An online version of my thesis can be found here and I can be reached by email: rachelcameron@gmail.com

Kinderspielkunst – Kids Play Art

Did you hear the one about the Europeans who traveled to Maui to build a playscape at a Waldorf school? No joke, it’s all true. Wilfried Bremer and Walter Peter are the talent behind Kinderspilekunst and apparently they don’t mind doing road trips to design and install their custom work.

Source: Kinderspielkunst brochure (amazing photos)

As reported in The Maui News, a Kinderspielkunst (Kids Play Art) sculpture is now being enjoyed by the kids at the Haleakala Waldorf School. This is the first Bremer and Peter playground in the USA.

This particular sculpture is brought alive with local kiawe wood. Cristina Pineda, one of the school’s teachers posted a couple of blog entries about the new play facility with photos and some video.

Photo credit – Cristina Pineda

The kids at the Waldorf School in Maui have a crackerjack playground now and Kinderspielkunst have their first foray into the US market. As the crow flies, this playground house call was in the vicinity of 11,700 kilometres. Looks like Bremer and Peter will consider working anywhere if the conditions are right.

Let’s leave the last words to kids. If you know German it will be a big help watching this video. If you don’t, the visuals are still interesting.

Bravo to Kinderspielkunst – Kids Art Play for their captivating designs and their sense of adventure.

Kids at Play II

If you haven’t already noticed, I’m infatuated with flickr. There are just so many great photographers posting striking photos for the world to see. I visit on a regular basis to see how people are capturing and documenting play.

Kids at Play II is the second installment of an occasional feature of images from around the world presented in PlayGroundology’s flickr photo galleries. Flickr galleries allow the curator to include any photo from amongst the 5 billion strong digital collection with two exceptions – the curator cannot include his or her own images and a contributor can choose to opt out of the ‘gallery’ functionality.

Photo credit – Jose Maria Cuellar, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Worth a 1,000 words and more, these images tell the story of children at play in countries around the world. Despite differences in culture, environment and economic circumstances, these photos attest to a common language. Children everywhere have an innate desire to play – to have fun, to learn, to dream. As global citizens we have an obligation to ensure that kids who are in more difficult situations are able to more fully express their ability to play.

Kids at Play II (lightbox)

Kids at Play II (default)

Parkour Playgrounds

Parkour and playgrounds go together like peanut butter and jelly. This first video arrived in my inbox, one of a series in a google alert. This is a low intensity parkour excursion. It’s quite possible that the young lads putting it together were sending up a spoof.

I think of this one as polka-dot parkour, very baby steps into the world of free running. It’s a bonus here to get a small glimpse of a German playground. Note the giant platter. I’m imagining the fun of taking a round spinny spin on that, no handholds – sliding to the outside. Thanks to these young videographers for sparking my curiosity and getting me to poke about looking for parkour playground videos.

It’s all upswing tempo, acrobatics and gyrations in this New York City Chinatown demonstration. By definition, parkour doesn’t take place within contained spaces but playgrounds seem to be a natural environment to launch into a practice, or a show. The result is a positive multi-user playscape.

Fine street theatre that I would gladly take in live. You can read more on parkour here.

A solo show in Corpus Christi, Texas has a more laid back rhythm though the movement is no less fluid as the runner eloquently makes his way over, around and through the obstacles of a Leathers playground. With all the wood, I’m wondering about slivers.

Six-year-old Noah and I spent some quality viewing time early this morning checking the parkour fare online. He likes what he sees and is already putting it into practice inside the house using furniture as props. I may have some parkour legs ready to spring right under my nose. It could be enough to inspire me. Here’s a preview of the aptly named documentary, My Playground , that set his eyes (and mine) popping.

Here is the final scene in our progression – a playground designed specifically for parkour. Plug ‘n Play is a first for Copenhagen and possibly the world.


Team JiYo were asked to help make it all happen

Will the parkour-playground love story become more intertwined? As parkour’s popularity grows we can anticipate that playgrounds will continue to attract the gravity defying, urban, acrobat class. I hope you’ll see them at a playground near you soon.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Let the signs do the talking – playground signage from various countries via flickr photo gallery.

Halifax, Canada – proudly no smoking in playgrounds. Click photo for flickr gallery.

And just for fun to wrap things up, this sign from Ottawa. The sign is situated along a green belt that borders a river. It is not specific to a playground though there is a playground located within the green space.