At the Fuji Kindergarten, outside Tokyo, the entire school is a playground: It’s possible to climb a tree to get to some classrooms, and take a slide to others. From the roof–where kids play at recess–five-year-olds can look down skylights at friends still in class.
The school, one example of how designers are reimagining the idea of playgrounds, is part of a new exhibit called Extraordinary Playscapes from the Boston-based Design Museum Foundation. The nonprofit chose 41 playgrounds from around the world.
“We really just started digging and selecting what we thought were extraordinary stories,” says Amanda Hawkins, one of the curators. In Malawi, outside a hospital for disabled children, an old Land Rover and tires were transformed into a place to play. In upstate New York, an High Line-like trail leads visitors on a walk at the level of treetops, past a four-story treehouse made of twigs, to a human-sized bird’s nest.
Each of the playgrounds shows that it isn’t necessary to keep replicating the standard swing set-and-slide combination that most people grew up with. If cost is an issue, there are low-to-no-budget adventure or nature playgrounds–essentially empty lots filled with scraps that kids can hack together themselves. One example is Himmelhøj, a natural playground in Copenhagen.
“It’s a place where kids can experiment, and build fires, and build with sticks on their own to create their own play experience,” says Hawkins.
She thinks creative playgrounds are becoming more common. “There’s a lot of appreciation for research that’s been done about the importance of play on childhood development and learning,” she says. “So I think a lot of play advocates and communities and parks departments are realizing that these post-and-platform structures are not benefitting kids as much as they could be.”
The exhibit will be on display in Boston at BSA Space from June through September, and then will travel to Portland, San Francisco, and Chicago.