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Recess

  • Inside Design: Branch Out

    I’ve worked in the playground equipment industry for decades and one of the best aspects of my job is getting to see firsthand the pure joy that play brings to children. My team and I work hard ensuring we’re continually innovating and designing equipment that keeps children excited about free play.

    For a while we’ve been intrigued by the renewed interest in nature play and frankly, a bit disenchanted by the current state of post and platform playgrounds. Having discussed these two factors extensively, our brainstorms and design sessions eventually led us to Branch Out. Launched in January 2016, Branch Out is a large play component inspired by the play that happens in trees.

    In retrospect, I think designing Branch Out was an extremely fascinating process. While the tree seemed like a good starting point, we were always very sure about not wanting to replicate it. After all, why create something that already exists? Plus, we can’t compete with the beauty of our planet’s natural landscape. Our goal, instead, with Branch Out was to draw more people to the playground and in doing so, we focused on bringing to life an inclusive play component and creating meaningful play experiences for children of all ages in an open, efficient layout.

    Designed for children ages 5-12, it has the scale to become the central hub of any playground. However, it is transparent, non-directional and open. And with play happening on multiple levels and directions, people to can imagine their own story as they play.

    Additionally, the complexity of elements and absence of an obvious play path foster physical and cognitive engagement, effective hand-eye coordination, decision making, greater individual challenge, risk management, a deeper understanding of the surrounding and the opportunity for social interaction among children.

    Our team designed Branch Out as a play component that encourages kids to embrace new challenges and play activities. It is my hope that this piece will encourage kids and adults alike to step outdoors and head to a playground.

    What other aspects of nature play would you like to rediscover on the playground?

  • Playground trends to watch out for in 2016

    Do you remember being a kid, tearing through the neighborhood with your friends for hours? If you were anything like me, afternoons were spent at the playground, riding bikes and maybe a quick pick-up game. But things have really changed when it comes to children’s freedom to explore and play. If you were to fall asleep on a playground in the ‘70s and wake up in 2016, you’d probably have a tough time guessing what happened to the carefree, playful vibe.

    I’m an optimist and think we can get back to a place where kids can play with their friends and learn about the world around them in an organic, fun manner. I also look at my peers and think a lot of adults would benefit from letting loose and absorbing the advantages of play.

    So, what might a playground or free play look like in 2026? It’s hard to predict what anything will look like a decade from now but I am starting to see a positive shift.

    Check out my take on play trends and predictions for 2016:

    Adult playgrounds
    Gymtimidation. That funky odor. There are lots of reasons that keep people from hitting the gym. Getting a great workout doesn’t need to happen within the walls of a fitness facility. I’m much more motivated to get my workout outside and know I’m not the only one who likes a little fresh air. In fact, playgrounds for adults are being planned in several states across the country. You might want to reconsider your gym membership and head to a park instead. I’m not sure the schoolyard monkey bars were this tough.

    Pocket parks
    Do you know that cities nationwide are working towards creating family-friendly, kid-friendly environments that promote play everywhere? They’re doing this by building pocket parks – transforming unused corners and roads into hubs of recreation.

    Free-range parenting
    Step away from your child. A lot of people are beginning to realize that it’s ok not to hold their child’s hand all day. More parents are embracing free-range parenting, the concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently in accordance of their age.

    Forest-kindergartens
    I recently read an article on Swiss Waldkindergartens, forest kindergartens, where children spend all day playing outdoors, regardless of weather. The Swiss don’t begin studying math or literacy until the first grade and are using this first year of school to focus on the social interaction and emotional well-being found in free play. I dream that we’ll embrace this type of thinking here in the States sometime soon. To combat the development issues facing our kids, parents should embrace the idea of an unconventional learning system.

    Return of recess
    This trend has my Playworld team jazzed. I was an energetic kid – a trait I passed down to my own sons – and I have a hard time picturing any one of us chained to a desk all day. I truly believe recess is critical for children. The absence of recess in American schools has been a trend for the past several years. But things are looking up. New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly have unanimously passed a legislation that would require a 20-minute daily recess for all students in kindergarten through fifth grade. I’m hopeful that other states across the country will follow suit.

    What play-related trends have you excited?

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