Boulder Scramble: A Creative Natural Playground Feature

by Davis Harte, PhD

The Village School Boulder Scramble / image: Davis Harte

Davis Harte is a wellness design educator at the Boston Architectural College who bridges evidence and practice with work in children’s places, trauma-informed spaces, and also birth units. Visit Paradigm Spaces’ website for more information. We are very pleased to have Davis share her thoughts about the Village School’s boulder scramble—a place for young children to play and be creative, while simultaneously providing a solution for serious erosion issues.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, Co-Communications Director and Past Co-Chair, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN)

Arriving at around lunchtime, I find ruddy-cheeked and joyful children playing on the Village School’s natural playground. The day is unseasonably warm, feeling more like late spring instead of mid-winter in the Willamette Valley. Rex Redmon, the landscape architect who designed the nature playground at the school, and father of two girls who attend this Eugene, Oregon K-8 public charter school, greets me near the entrance. Despite being 18 years old, the school has been in its current location for only two years. The building housing the school on the current campus is the oldest school building in Eugene, dating back to 1920. The property edges a hillside, studded with Douglas firs, ponderosa pines, and speckled in sections with poison oak near the parking lot.

Landscape designer Leslie Davis joins Rex and me as we pore over the master plan for this natural playground. Our focus today is the boulder scramble, located on the northwest side of a large graded field, book-ended by a fenced-off beehive and a wooden playhouse built by third graders and volunteer parents for a previous theater production. The unique landscape design feature is the needed partner to a 3-foot wide, 15-foot long metal slide, which echoes this section’s slope.

Leslie Davis and her partner and husband Aaron Davis, of Whole Gardens, conceived of and implemented the boulder scramble as the primary star in this particular story. It serves the purpose of erosion control and dry access, as well as a place to play. The slide was a ‘must-have’ for a 1st/2nd grade teacher, whose classroom door opens a few steps away from the top of the slide. The sloped area spans about 210 feet across, and was covered in invasive ivy before the transformation. The whole slope was underutilized until the slide was added last autumn just before the 2017/2018 school year began. The boulder scramble was added during winter break.

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