New Nature-Inspired Playground at Benson Primary School

The client and community stakeholders sought a playground to blend into the neighborhood with natural colors and textures. Current research suggests that there is a strong relationship between daily exposure to nature and healthy human development. It has been well documented that nature-based play reduces stress, improves behavior, and promotes fitness. This led the design team to explore incorporating as many elements and concepts found in nature into the playground design as possible.

In keeping with the desire for organic features, the nature-inspired playground incorporates not only normal climbing/treehouse type apparatuses but also several rocks and treelike structures for climbing, jumping, and finding refuge within cave-like crevasses. The curving paths, river, and obstacle course features provide a continuous circuit designed to promote movement within a compact space. Existing mature trees were preserved and incorporated as feature elements. Spaces for refuge like a hollowed-out log and a playhouse were also added to provide areas for more sensitive or special needs children to play quietly or decompress.

The playground was designed to accommodate specific age appropriate settings within the overall layout of the equipment.  The playground contains specific equipment for ages 2-5 and 5-12 years of age. Various panel-based activities were incorporated that include, music, fine motor skills and playacting.

The play surface utilizes Perfect Turf, a padded, synthetic grass surface. The turf is designed to readily drain, making the playground available for use when other natural grassed areas would prove muddy and unusable. The Design Team took advantage of the fact that the turf was available in multiple colors to incorporate a meandering “river” through the playground for children to experience as they play.

A raised-bed for the creation of a butterfly garden or natural garden space was incorporated within and immediately adjacent to the playground equipment.

Located immediately adjacent to the Park District Center, the playground offers an opportunity for combined programmatic use. Although use of the playground is limited during normal school hours to those attending the school, the facility has become a jewel to the neighborhood and community at large.

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