Kids Together Playground: A case study of naturalization

Kids Together Playground (KTP), Cary, North Carolina, is an example of the new naturalization paradigm, which integrates manufactured play equipment and the living landscape. This universally designed 1 3/4-acre family recreation facility contains many innovative settings and features. Design started in 1994 with community workshops involving children and adults. Several years of fundraising preceded the opening in June 2000 at a cost of 850,000 U.S. dollars, excluding ancillary site works.

By integrating manufactured play equipment and natural components, KTP accommodates a wide spectrum of recreational needs, including gross and fine motor development, sensory stimulation, resting, nature contemplation, social gathering, and a friendly environment for children and adults with various abilities. Research indicates that users found the playground particularly attractive, and different from other regional destinations, particularly for family members with disabilities.

A haven for the community

KTP demonstrates the role of parks as communal backyards for children and other family members, where they can play freely together and be exposed to experiences that may be unavailable in more constrained domestic settings. Because the space is bounded, with few entrances, KTP provides a secure place for natural child development by allowing safer access to an ever-widening range of experiences for children alone, with peers, or accompanied by caregivers. KTP constantly challenges children to explore further, while at the same time responding to parents’ differing levels of tolerance towards children’s risk-taking.

Community artists contributed substantially to the overall aesthetic appeal of the playground by designing benches as art objects. A dragon-like play sculpture (KATAL — “Kids Are Together At Last”) rising out of the hillside also was the work of a local artist.

KTP research

Research findings indicate that KTP attracts multi-generational, multicultural users seeking satisfying family recreation experiences. The mission-driven design created a community play environment supporting the needs of all family members, including children, parents, grandparents, caregivers, and friends regardless of ethnic or racial background. KTP also serves community groups such as childcare centers, special education programs, and summer camps. Those involved in implementing the project were committed to high quality design as a crucial vehicle for bringing together all sectors of the community.


The most heavily used settings by children (measured by behavior mapping) were composite structures, swings, primary pathways, gathering areas, sand play, and the open lawn area with KATAL. The universally designed compact zone with sand play, accessible, horizontal equipment and swings, joined by a curvy path was the most heavily used area of the playground.

The most efficient site utilization (Use/Space Ratio) was exhibited by the composite manufactured equipment, sand play settings, a stepbar climber, and swings.

KATAL, the ground-level dragon sculpture stimulated the most playful interaction between adults and children.

KTP research results demonstrate the community value of high quality, compact, diverse, naturalized family playgrounds that not only support child development, but also provide crucial vehicles for inclusion because they can stimulate free flowing, positive interaction among park users of all abilities.

KTP children’s behavior map shows the relative attraction of the compact active play area. The area includes swings, a play structure accessible to a higher level, and sand and water play, interconnected by a wide, curving, primary pathway. This area accounted for 45% of children’s use of the playground.

Kids Together Playground was initiated by Bruce Brown and Cary Parks Commission, who wanted to build a universally accessible community playground. They contacted Robin Moore, MIG, Inc., as design consultant, who worked with Little and Little, Landscape Architects, Raleigh, NC, to collaborate on the design and implementation. Marla Dorell, President, Kids Together, Inc., has been instrumental in the project success since the beginning. The playground also serves as a Natural Learning Initiative research site.  Visit Kids Together Playground at www.kidstogethercary.org.


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By integrating manufactured play equipment and natural components, KTP accommodates a wide spectrum of recreational needs, including gross and fine motor development, sensory stimulation, resting, nature contemplation, social gathering, and a friendly environment for children and adults with various abilities.