Category Archives: Playground construction

Up Periscope

Canada’s Nova Scotia shipbuilders have been renowned for centuries for their fine quality vessels. The iconic Bluenose that sailed to victory so frequently in the annual International Fisherman’s Race was built in Lunenburg. But long before the Bluenose ever set sail, there was a strong tradition of building ships destined for work in the North Atlantic and oceans throughout the world.

This summer something new is taking shape on the province’s south shore. A small boatbuilder at Gold River in the Chester Basin is building a land-based submarine. Tern Boatworks will soon complete its first wood and fibreglass sub. The project has been commissioned as a playground for Halifax, Nova Scotia’s downtown waterfront.

Here’s what it looked like one recent afternoon when Bruce and Lucas took us on a tour of the site (click photos for larger image).

The christening date for the new sub, as yet unnamed, is set for sometime this August. We may try and take one more trip down to Tern Boatworks while the build is still underway.

Here is a rendition of the completed play structure by Laurie McGowan of McGowan Marine Design.

Spaceships of various sorts and boats of all kinds are relatively common fare in playgrounds. I’ve only come across one other submarine. This one is located at an abandoned playground at the North Shore Yacht Club, Salton Sea, California.

Photo credit – slworking2 – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Please drop us a line if you’re aware of any other submarine playgrounds.

Playground Access for All Abilities

The following guest post was written by Mara Kaplan of Let Kids Play. Mara has 15 years experience designing and operating inclusive playspaces. Let Kids Play provides accessibility services to organizations that operate playgrounds or other playspaces. In addition, Let Kids Play helps parents and grandparents select perfect toys for children with disabilities.

Mara is the editor of which includes a directory of accessible playgrounds throughout Canada and the United States as well as providing significant information about accessible playgrounds.

Research study, after research study has proven that children need to play. Children need to play because it makes them healthier and less likely to become obese. Children need to play because it makes them more focused in school. Children need to play because it teaches them social skills that are essential to becoming adept adults. Although play has been decreasing from our landscape, many children are still out there playing on playgrounds.

According to the United Nations, 10% of the world’s population has a disability. Other studies in the United States and Canada have put that number as high as 20%. To create a good playground, design is incredibly important. During the design process, we must be conscious of accessibility issues to ensure that we don’t leave out 10-20% of the children. Playgrounds are often inaccessible because no one talked about it at the beginning of the design phase. Make sure that your committee includes people with disabilities, parents who are raising children with disabilities, and other stakeholders.

One of the major decisions you will need to make is about surfacing. If a child cannot get to the playground all of the other issues are moot. Therefore, you need to look at how people get from the parking area to the playground and ensure that there is a smooth path making it easy for people using wheelchairs, pushing strollers, or using other mobility devices to reach your playground. Then you need to think about surfacing. Except in the United States, there are no required standards on accessibility. However, in Canada, the UK and other countries there are voluntary standards dealing with surfacing and safety.

To make a playground truly accessible, you do not want to use loose fill. Loose fill surfacing such as sand, pea gravel, wood fiber, and rubber shreds is very difficult to push a wheelchair or stroller across. In addition, many parents who are raising children with developmental delays and autism have expressed concerns about their children eating loose fill or putting it into their nose or eyes. There are parents who are raising children with autism who will not go to a playground when the surfacing is loose fill.

Synthetic surfacing such as pour-in-place, rubber tiles, and turf designed for playgrounds are workable alternatives to loose fill. Although these options are all more expensive upfront, they do not require the constant maintenance of loose fill. The other benefit is you don’t need to add new fill on a regular basis. To meet safety standards, loose fill needs to remain at a certain depth, which requires regular purchases of new fill.

Once you have made a decision about surfacing—which is probably the most expensive decision you will make–you need to keep in mind that children’s abilities, regardless of their diagnosis are very diverse. Remember that all disabilities are not physical. There are children with autism and other sensory disabilities. There are children with a variety of learning disabilities and developmental delays. Therefore, you don’t have to put all of your money into a ramped structure. If you do include a lot of ramps there should be something significant to do at the top of the ramp. It should be recognized that it will never be possible for all users (whether they have a disability or not) to access all equipment or play activities.

The key to good playground design is for your playground to have a large variety of activities to attract children of all ages, heights and abilities as well as differing interests. There should be a balance of ‘easier’ more accessible play elements along with those that are more challenging. Consider including a variety of ground level activities. If there are not enough play elements that provide challenge, some children will go elsewhere to play, making the playground less inclusive or they will create their own challenge, making the playground more dangerous.

In this video you can see how children with disabilities do not need ramps to play.

Sensory play is important for all children and it is especially important for children with disabilities. Sensory includes movement as well as touch, sound, and smells. Parents have often expressed that the most important play equipment in a playground are swings. Playground manufacturers now make bucket swings with good seat belts to help children with disabilities position themselves in the swing.

Although the following video is long, it provides you with a understanding of the importance of sensory play. The video also demonstrates the positive impact good design has on children with disabilities and their parents.

Landscaping is another important part of playground design. Plantings can add great smells and textures. Landscaping can be designed to create quieter areas for children to have time away from the hustle and bustle of the playground. Landscaping can also ensure that there is shade over the playground. Shade is important for all children, but for some children with disabilities it is essential. If there is not natural shade, playground manufacturers have created a variety of ways to add shade to your playground.

To recap, here are the top ten things to think about when designing an accessible playground.
1. Make sure that “accessibility” stays on the table throughout the design process.
2. Include people with disabilities and parents who are raising children with disabilities on your planning committee.
3. Select synthetic surfacing for your playground.
4. Include a wide variety of playground activities.
5. If you are putting in ramps, make sure there is something to significant to do at the top of the ramp.
6. Provide a wide variety of challenge.
7. Include swings in your playground.
8. Provide a lot of sensory activities in your playground including movement, sound, and tactile.
9. Use your landscaping to enhance your playground by providing more sensory input as well as creating quieter places within your playground.
10. Make sure that your playground has shade.

If you have other questions about accessible playgrounds you can reach Mara at

Playgrounds Take a Hit in England

Playgrounds are big news in England over the last couple weeks. On August 4, people in cities and towns throughout the country participated at over 860 events organized to celebrate the 22nd annual Playday campaign.

This week The Guardian, Channel 4 News (with four minute video), the BBC and The Mail Online are reporting on funding cuts to the former Labour government’s Playbuilder scheme.

Formally launched in 2008, the policy initiative earmarked £235m to be accessed by 122 local councils (at £1.1m per council) to build 3500 playgrounds. Numerous playgrounds planned to proceed to the build phase this year risk being scrapped altogether.

In a letter to local authorities, Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote, “…play has to make its contribution to tackling the deficit along with other important programs.” Communities are looking to see how they themselves can fund projects that are now in jeopardy of not proceeding.

Play England has issued a news release outlining its response to the Government’s plan to identify savings through reductions to the Playbuilder scheme. Numerous observers comment on the country’s soaring child obesity rates and the role that playgrounds may be able to play in reducing this trend.

This week, with plans for many playgrounds under threat, it’s not play as per usual. Parents can be forgiven if they’re not feeling quite as much love in jolly olde England.

Dunkinfield Park, Greater Manchester – Photo courtesy of Parklover

Update – August 13

See below opposing views on the cuts to the Playbuilder program from two bloggers in merry olde England.

In this corner, in support of the cuts – Of Playgrounds and Spending Cuts.

And in defense of continued playground expenditures – Milk and Playgrounds.

A Spot of Time Lapse

I remember those summer playground days when time was gone in a flash. The call to come in for supper seemed like it cut through the sky, the clouds, the blue. Wasn’t it just minutes earlier that we had bolted down our lunches? This sense of compression still happens though not as frequently and with less drama.

There’s nothing like a good playground time lapse. If there’s been pent up energy in the house for a few days, it can seem like the kids really are in this accelerated reality. Thanks to Guillaume Labrie in France for this fine afternoon at the playground. If we could make the Canadian winter melt away with the same magic, post-Olympics of course, it would be a wonderful thing.

Labrie is passionate about time lapse photography. He runs an excellent site – time lapse – that provides tips on techniques, information on equipment, a blog and a brilliant selection of time lapse films. Note the site is in French. No French language knowledge necessary to view the films.

Labrie did mention a great ancillary benefit of his work on Playground Afternoon, “My two girls couldn’t stop laughing when they first saw the video.” He added that while taking photos, “I stayed close to my girls because taking photos of children in playgrounds can be misinterpreted in France. I also had my partner with me.” This is a good cautionary tip that my wife Mé draws to my attention when I’m out taking photos in Halifax for another blogging project, Playground Chronicles.

Adults can get in on the Keystone Cops kinetic activity too as these volunteers demonstrate in Philadelphia. This playground-in-a-day is a 200 person effort in conjunction with KaBOOM! and the Wharton School of Business. It’s the modern, urban equivalent of a barn raising, a community hard at work for its kids. The video was shot between 8h00 and 16h00 with five hours total shooting time resulting in 3600 frames at five second intervals. Thanks to Brian Biggs for the video and the original music.

Brian is a children’s book illustrator. He’s mad about time lapse and loves the creative process. “I’m always looking for an excuse to time lapse. It might be carving pumpkins, decorating a tree. I like doing it. It’s fun. I thought it would be interesting to set up the camera and record what was done in one day. I draw pictures all day long but I’ve always liked film and video. Every chance we get, I like to bring in some creativity into what my kids and I are doing whether we’re cooking dinner or wrapping presents.”

Over 200 volunteers were moving and grooving all day in a keystone builders style. As the day was getting underway, Brian set up on the roof. One of the toughest challenges was to position the camera correctly to get the best wide angle shot. “I don’t go in advance and scout it out or anything. I never know what’s going to happen. We get there that day and real men are hammering and nailing, I’m up on the roof screwing around with my nerd gear,” he says with a chuckle.

At the end of a long day’s work both the playground and the time lapse video were a wrap. So what did Brian’s 10 and 9 year old kids think? “Wow!” That was the unanimous reaction of everyone who gathered around for a sneak peek on the laptop display.

Volunteering with KaBOOM! was a positive experience for Brian and his kids. He’d consider doing it again if the kids were involved too. The build at Wissahickon Charter School in Philadelphia had the additional attraction of being in the local area as well as being a school his kids attended.

The Wharton School of Business contacted Brian for a high quality DVD version of the the short film. They now use this time lapse video as part of their orientation for new students. It’s a fun and effective means to introduce new recruits to the school’s commitment to community involvement. Brian’s all for that. He enjoys volunteering in the local community when he has the opportunity.

I’ve turned my hand to this too though in a much less polished manner than either Guillaume or Brian. Well, my end result doesn’t even look like a distant cousin. Here’s my first and and only attempt to date.

It’s pretty choppy and a little hard on the eyes. I’ll keep playing around to make a better product. In addition to experimentation, some of the links below will help set me on the right track. Note – my two little ones find this quite hilarious.

Dust off your camera, take a few thousand frames and create the magic of condensed time at the playground.

There are numerous examples of time lapse at playgrounds on the web. Check your favourite video hosting service to see what they have. KaBOOM!’s video collection is also well worth a visit.

Quick links

All things photography – Time Lapse Photography

Time Lapse Photography – Wikipedia

An Introduction to Time Lapse Photography

The Ultimate Guide to Time Lapse Photography

Time Lapse on Facebook

Gorgas Park – Brian’s favourite playground in Philadelphia

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.