Ron King was listening to kids talking when he founded the Natural Playgrounds Company (NPC) in 2000. “They're critical of the limited challenges, and they're very bored. How many times can they slide down a slide before wanting to try something different?”1 As an architect and play environment designer, Ron has started a new movement in the playground industry with his environments that use no manufactured equipment.
Ron, joined by his son Ethan King, is leading the Natural Playgrounds Company in unique natural playground design and construction services. They have a collaborative design process that involves children through their classroom curriculum. The children are involved with: brainstorming, making models of their own designs, doing research on materials and regulations, presenting the design to organizations for funding, documenting the progress through photos and journalism, and in the actual building with digging, measuring, sawing, screwing, and mixing concrete.
The National Playgrounds Company’s collaboration process outside of schools involves interviewing boards, staff, and parents, and using comprehensive questionnaires. In all cases NPC does an in-depth study of the “lay of the land” by measuring land contours and observing innate characteristics, drainage patterns, and weather considerations. They design in keeping with the character of the play space to create very safe play and learning opportunities. Using their knowledge of outdoor play, environmental planning, visual arts, playground safety and licensing requirements, and landscaping and hardscaping construction, NPC has completed more than seventy natural play spaces for public schools, Montessori schools, child care centers, and community playgrounds.
The Natural Playgrounds Company's unique designs include:
- Topography that is sculptured and transformed to include berms, stone walls, sand pits, water courses, mud areas and natural amphitheaters.
- Vegetation that is enhanced by indigenous, summer and winter trees, shrubs, herbs, flowers, vegetables and other garden plants, all of which are designed to attract wildlife.
- Landscaping which includes boulders, levels and tiers, park benches, rain gardens, path systems, and grassy areas.
- Structures that include gazebos, pergolas, arbors, gateways, shade tents, furniture, game tables, and climbing walls.
- Outdoor Art that starts with a well-designed framework for the entire play area and then includes mural walls, play sculpture, sound gardens, land and vegetative sculptures, and reflecting "pools."
- Learning tools which include sundials, rain gauges, nature trails, and lots of loose parts.
- Play areas for old-fashioned games, group sports, and challenge and fitness courses.2
By blending these features, the Natural Playgrounds Company has become a part of the Green Schools Initiative as well as a 2010 provider for Head Start, Body Start of the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play.
Supporting the movement to “leave no child inside,” NPC publishes an educational monthly newsletter and features articles, news releases, research findings, and instructive articles on play and outdoor play available.
Large cities, such as Seattle, Boston, Chicago, New York, and Phoenix, are adding natural play spaces in this emerging trend. The lower cost and environmental friendliness are added benefits. For Ron this means that more children will learn about nature while they play and have fun in a safe environment.3
- 1. “Natural Playgrounds Company Starts New Design Trend.” PR Leap. < http://www.prleap.com/pr/23739 > 31 Jan. 2006.
- 2. “How Are Natural Playgrounds Different?” Natural Playgrounds Company. < http://naturalplaygrounds.com/howdifferent.php > 30 Aug. 2010.
- 3. Op. cit., “Natural Playgrounds Company Starts New Design Trend.”