Introduction

NatureGrounds Demonstration Sites serve as leaders in nature play initiatives and in the creation of innovative play environments that integrate manufactured play equipment with the living landscape. The following galleries show how school and park playgrounds have successfully implemented best practice principles for designing naturalized play environments that benefit children’s play and engage communities in working together to revalue the importance of children’s outdoor play and engagement with nature. Each project exemplifies Phase I, II, or III, showing different levels of naturalization. Demonstration Site information is updated regularly as playground projects implementing research-based naturalization best practice are developed across the nation.

To learn more about participating in this program as a model Demonstration Site please contact info@naturegrounds.org.

Phase Key

Phase I: Large and/or medium deciduous and/or evergreen shade trees are strategically planted to offer visual (seasonal or year-round) interest, playground identity, and functional shade to play settings. Preservation of existing trees as well as the addition of hardy natives is encouraged.

Phase II: In addition to Phase I tree plantings, additional large and/or medium deciduous and/or evergreen shade trees are strategically planted to offer denser visual (seasonal or year-round) interest, playground identity, and functional shade to equipment and gathering areas. Shrubs are included for ground level interest and complexity.

Phase III: In addition to Phase I and Phase II levels of trees and shrubs, Phase III includes substantial deciduous and evergreen shrub planting and large decorative grasses installed for ground level interest and complexity through strategically placed planting pockets.

Chantilly Montessori Elementary School
Charlotte, NC

The opening of the playground at Chantilly Montessori Elementary School in November of 2009 marked the success of a longstanding goal of the school PTA, which contributed to the native plantings through its fundraising efforts.  This demonstration site closely aligns with many of the Montessori learning philosophies, while providing a rich play environment where children of all abilities and engage in meaningful social and physical play.  Through naturalization, this outdoor play environment offers opportunities to interact with and discover nature during play, engage in hands-on learning experiences, and bring the science curriculum outdoors in exciting and creative ways.  “Here at our school we really teach the children to discover nature. We have classroom gardens and we often take tests and do schoolwork outside. I knew our playground had to incorporate these things,” Leslie McCarley, School Principal explained. From a generous donation made by Balfour Beatty an engineering, construction business, the funds for a new inclusive playground became a reality. GameTime(TM) representatives enlisted students from Chantilly to contribute design ideas for the master plan,  providing the children a sense of ownership in the process.  PTA members utilized the NatureGrounds.org plant selection database to identify hardy natives and species that are child-friendly and add additional play value by providing multi-sensory qualities,  offering wildlife enhancement, and producing loose parts that inspire creative and socio-dramatic play.  A welcoming entrance to the pathways and playspace was created with an arched Vine Trellis festooned with clematis, a blooming evergreen, to add year round color.  Championed by school leadership and PTA members, this unique demonstration site project was achieved through community support, and interdisciplinary team of experts, partnerships with outside organizations for funding, and volunteer resources.  The playground and plantings were installed during a community build event, which included families and students of the school.   Chantilly Montessori Elementary School is continuing their efforts to increase the student’s engagement with nature by working with The Natural Learning Initiative to expand on the play area and create curvy pathways, outdoor classrooms,  and large garden areas. “One thing I love about this school,” McCarley said, “is that we are in an urban area, what could be considered an undesirable part of town and yet I don’t feel like I am in a city environment anymore.”
 
Featured Best Practice Principles:
  • Entrances, pathways, and boundaries help organize design components, network the play environment, and offer a message about commitment to naturalization. Entrances, pathways, and boundaries help organize design components and network the play environment.

  • Child-friendly, high play value plants create planting pockets, natural boundaries, and enhance pathway aesthetics. Planting pockets are integrated as close as possible to manufactured play equipment, while still honoring appropriate use zones.
  • Mature trees are preserved as site assets, offering natural shade and aesthetic quality.
  • Manufactured playground equipment is located close to large deciduous shade trees.
  • Designed to maximize active, social, and sensory play opportunities along a developmental continuum. Includes socio-dramatic play settings and social gathering areas.
  • Appropriate ground surfaces for naturalization, safety, accessibility, and play value are utilized.
  • Child-friendly, high value plants provide color, texture, and fragrance to the play space for a multi-sensory experience.
  • Implementation included a committee to help plan, design, execute, maintain, and help fund the project.
  • Topographical variation was conserved as an important site feature, and was molded to maintain accessibility.
  • Designed to promote physical activity and active play settings.
  • Areas are designed to promote outdoor education and curriculum programming.
  • Designed for children of all abilities.
For more information, visit www.gametime.com.

Signal Centers, Inc.
Therapeutic Playground for the Arts
Chattanooga, TN

Signal Centers, Inc. is strongly committed to their mission to strengthen children, adults, and families through services focusing on disabilities, early childhood education, and self sufficiency.  The children’s program provides quality early childhood education for children who are typically-developing children and children with disabilities.  The school administration, teachers, and families wanted to build an outdoor play space that could provide meaningful and enriching experiences for young children of all abilities, and believed that the naturalization of their playground would be essential to creating a truly unique outdoor play environment where every child could learn, play, and develop skills side-by-side.  Donna McConnico, Chief Executive Officer explained, “Children need interaction with nature during outdoor play because it stimulates the mind, strengthens the body and helps to develop a sense of wonder and imagination.  Nature also buffers children from the environmental stressors in our society.  Our new playground will have over a thousand plants, shrubs and trees including more than 50 varieties and will provide added play value and create a rich environment for the development of young minds and bodies.”  Signal Centers was not only inspired to incorporate the best practice principles of NatureGrounds, the project committee felt it was essential that their new play environment was designed to meet the 7 Benefits of Inclusive Design which were developed in partnership by Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities.  Over $215,000 was raised by sponsoring organization, Friends of Special Children to fund the project, and volunteers from Chattanooga State and PlayCore participated in a “Day of Caring” event to help install the recommended plant material chosen by local landscape architects and the team utilizing the NatureGrounds online plant selection data base.  The landscaping will include a variety of color, texture and scent, creating a multisensory experience for children of all abilities.  “We are incredibly grateful for the work that our partners have done to make our dreams of a naturalized, fully inclusive playground come true,” expressed McConnico.

Featured Best Practice Principles:

  • Child-friendly, high value plants provide color, texture, and fragrance to the play space for a multi-sensory experience.
  • Playground is located within easy walking distance via accessible routes to parking area, pathways, and important facilities.
  • Child-friendly, high play value plants create planting pockets, natural boundaries, and enhance pathway aesthetics
  • Designed to maximize active, social, and sensory play opportunities along a developmental continuum.
  • Appropriate ground surfaces for naturalization, safety, accessibility, and play value are utilized.
  • Includes socio-dramatic play settings and social gathering areas.
  • Entrances, pathways, and boundaries help organize design components, network the play environment, and offer a message about commitment to naturalization.
  • Implementation included a committee to help plan, design, execute, maintain, and help fund the project.
  • Areas are designed to promote outdoor education and curriculum programming.
  • Site was designed for children of all abilities.

For more information visit www.playandpark.com or www.signalcenters.org.

Thrasher Park
City of Norcross
Norcross, GA

This model demonstration of a naturalized play environment was the result of a complete overhaul of the 2 acre downtown park, focusing on enlarging and improving the play area to create an ideal environment for families to play and spend time together outdoors.  The playground features a unique train theme to compliment the historic train depot and active train tracks adjacent to the park.  By preserving existing mature trees, the play environment instantly had an aesthetically pleasing natural backdrop.  A local landscape architect designed the park and worked closely with GameTime® to install the equipment to take full advantage of the large adjacent trees to provide natural shade for comfort and add play value to the area.  Additional trees, shrubs, and groundcover throughout helped create natural boundaries and made the living landscape become part of the play experience.  The natural and multi-generational qualities of this park have transformed it into a unique destination point for the children, families, and community members of Norcross. 

Featured Best Practice Principles:

  • Designed as a multigenerational, inclusive environment that brings families together.
  • Mature trees were preserved as site assets, offering natural shade and aesthetic quality.
  • Plants provide color, texture, and fragrance to the play space for a multi-sensory experience.
  • Playground is located within easy walking distance via accessible routes to parking area, pathways, and important facilities.
  • Child-friendly, high play value plants create planting pockets, natural boundaries, and enhance pathway aesthetics
  • Designed to maximize active, social, and sensory play opportunities along a developmental continuum.
  • Well-designed surface drainage systems were created.
  • Appropriate ground surfaces for naturalization, safety, accessibility, and play value are utilized.
  • Playground includes socio-dramatic play settings, sand and water play, and social gathering areas.
  • Entrances, pathways, and boundaries help organize design components, network the play environment, and offer a message about commitment to naturalization.
  • Implementation included an interdisciplinary committee to help plan, design, execute, maintain, and help fund the project.
  • Manufactured playground equipment is located close to large deciduous shade trees and plant materials, while still adhering to appropriate use zone areas.
  • Park was designed for community special events and utilized multi-use lawn and open green space adjacent to the playground area
  • Water is readily available for cooling, drinking, and washing off.

For more information visit: www.gametime.com.

Hickory Hills Elementary School
Springfield, Missouri 

In May of 2010, Hickory Hills School, celebrated at a grand opening their ongoing multi-phase initiative to promote play in nature.  The unique project is the result of a solid partnership between the Springfield Public Schools and the Springfield-Greene County Park Board to promote healthy play for the students and families of the surrounding community.  The joint-use site will be used during the school day by students and teachers as an outdoor classroom and will also be available for families and community members to use for play and recreation. Their goal was to create a unique and inviting play environment that would promote physical activity, bring nature into the play experience, offer opportunities to bring learning and the school curriculum outdoors, and create inclusive play opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.  Hickory Hills School is the first LEED certified school in southwest Missouri, and it was important to use the same “green” philosophy outside throughout the play and recreation areas to create an integrated naturalized setting.    In addition to the implementation of NatureGrounds best practices, this inclusive playground was specifically designed to meet the 7 Principles of Universal Design developed by Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities.  The six key elements of play promoted by the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation (AAPAR) were also intentionally incorporated into the playground design so that the students could utilize the Play On!: Playground Learning Activities for Youth Fitness curriculum while increasing their physical activity on the playground.  “This innovative project and partnership have been instrumental in helping us meet the needs of both Springfield’s students and neighborhoods,” explained Jodie Adams, Park Board Director.  This site demonstrates how a variety of stakeholders and community-based volunteer groups worked seamlessly together to make this project a sustainable success.  The PTA, Jack Ball & Associates, Architectural Firm, Master Gardeners, Friends of the Garden, University of Missouri Extension Council, Ozark Greenway Trails, Missouri Department of Conservation Division, and the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks were just a few of the groups that were important to the creation of and the ongoing management of the site.  Future plans for the outdoor play space include a looping trail, naturalized reading and study areas, an amphitheater and pavilion, wetland study area, grasslands, and classroom gardens.

Featured Best Practice Principles:

  • Child-friendly, high value plants provide color, texture, and fragrance to the play space for a multi-sensory experience.
  • Playground is located within easy walking distance via accessible routes to parking area, pathways, and important community facilities.
  • Entrances, pathways, and boundaries help organize design components, network the play environment, and offer a message about commitment to naturalization.
  • Child-friendly, high play value plants create planting pockets, natural boundaries, and enhance pathway aesthetics. 
  • Designed as a multigenerational, inclusive environment that brings families together.
  • Designed to maximize active, social, and sensory play opportunities along a developmental continuum.
  • Planting pockets are integrated as close as possible to manufactured play equipment, while still honoring appropriate use zones.
  • Appropriate ground surfaces for naturalization, safety, accessibility, and play value are utilized.
  • Includes socio-dramatic play settings and social gathering areas.
  • Implementation included a committee to help plan, design, execute, maintain, and help fund the project.
  • Site was designed to promote physical activity and active play settings.
  • Areas are designed to promote outdoor education and curriculum programming.
  • Site was designed for children of all abilities.
  • Designed for community special events and other programming efforts.
  • Conservation of wetlands adds natural value.
  • Project sustainability, management, and maintenance plan includes a variety of volunteers, community partnership, and funders. 

For more information visit: www.gametime.com.

Lake Winnepesaukah
Rossville, GA

The Stay & Play Hideaway playground opened in Spring 2008 at Lake Winnepesaukah, a family-owned amusement park founded in 1925 in northern Georgia. The park features rides, games, and events for the entire family. The large naturalized, family fun playground provides a place to relax and enjoy the shade. The universally designed play structure meets the seven principles of inclusive design, offers sensory-rich ground level activities, including water features, and employed recycled materials in its construction. Responding to the planning committee’s desire to create a playground that integrated the living landscape with manufactured play equipment, GameTime™ designed a play environment to sit among the many historic trees, making nature integral to the play experience. The natural color palette of the equipment, its close proximity to an existing stream, shade trees, and ample social areas, create the perfect setting where families can gather, recoup, and enjoy an exciting play experience together in nature. The addition of this playground has increased traffic to the park and expanded the available activities and programs for people of all ages and abilities.

Featured Best Practice Principles:

  • Mature trees preserved as site assets, offering shade and aesthetic quality.
  • Manufactured playground equipment designed around and located close to large, deciduous shade trees.
  • A multigenerational, inclusive environment that brings families together.
  • Designed to promote physical activity and active play settings.
  • Designed to maximize active, social, and sensory play opportunities along a developmental continuum.
  • Designed to promote sun protection.
  • Includes water for cooling and hands-on water play.
  • Includes socio-dramatic play settings and social gathering areas.
  • Designed for community special events and additional programming efforts.

For more information visit www.lakewinnie.com or www.gametime.com.

Lake Winnepesaukah
1739 Lakeview Dr.
Rossville, GA 30741
(706) 866-5681

Green Meadow Elementary School
East Greenbush, NY

The playground at Green Meadow Elementary School was implemented in two phases (2005 and 2006) to bring nature into the outdoor play environment by utilizing existing topography and trees. As part of the design process, site planners used a Global Positioning System (GPS) to map the existing natural assets to conserve them. GameTime™ then planned the playground around these natural site features to enhance the aesthetic quality and to increase socio-dramatic play opportunities for students. The playground includes a landscaped berm to lift the accessible route to the play structure. Planting pockets and existing vegetation are integrated with manufactured equipment such as swings. Social seating offers color, texture, and smell for a rich multi-sensory experience. This joint use, universally designed playground serves a nearby school for children with disabilities. The donor bricks and dedication plaque attached to the boulder alongside the hillside berm, recognize funding sources and contributors to this unique project. The parent organization at the school engages members to volunteer time to help maintain their valuable resource.

Featured Best Practice Principles:

  • Playground is located within easy walking distance via accessible routes to parking area, school building, and facilities.
  • Entrances, pathways, and boundaries help organize design components and network the play environment.
  • Topographical variation was conserved as an important site feature.
  • Mature trees preserved as a site asset, offer natural shade and aesthetic quality.
  • Manufactured playground equipment is located close to large, deciduous shade trees.
  • Designed for children of all abilities.
  • Designed to maximize active, social, and sensory play opportunities along a developmental continuum.
  • Multi-use lawns and open space support ball play, group play, and social interaction.
  • Areas are designed to promote outdoor education and curriculum programming.
  • Includes socio-dramatic play settings and social gathering areas.
  • Planting pockets are integrated as close as possible to manufactured play equipment, while still honoring appropriate use zones.
  • Child-friendly, high value plants provide color, texture, and fragrance to the play space for a multi-sensory experience.
  • Implementation included a committee to help plan, design, execute, maintain, and help fund the project.

For more information visit www.gametime.com.




Register for the guidebook

“Nature should be considered a critical variable in the design of all childhood habitats, including homes, childcare centers, schools, places of worship, and neighborhoods, and in the many other community places where children go with family and friends: botanical gardens, museums, city parks, etc.”

- Robin Moore, Director of the Natural Learning Initiative