A Tree Grows in…the Playground
Trees are a vital part of our existence. Appearing on Earth nearly 400 million years ago, they draw in everything they need from the environment above, below and around them. Likewise, they give back the very element all living things need to inhabit this planet — oxygen.
Besides their endowment of breathable air, trees also bestow other benefits to their fellow earthlings:
- Public Health and Social Benefits - cleaner air and a calming effect on the mind and body
- Environmental Benefits - climate cooling and lower ambient temperatures
- Climate Benefits - trees remove greenhouse gases from our atmosphere and lower ambient
- Conservation Benefits - trees serve as natural air conditioners through evaporative cooling
- Wildlife Benefits - trees provide important habitats for numerous bird, insect and animal species
- Economic Benefits - trees increase property values, enhance economic stability and reduce crime rates in neighborhoods
Trees, and other natural plantings, also create richer play experiences on the playground. In 2009, PlayCore, Inc. and the National Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University released NatureGrounds: Creating & Retrofitting Play Environments. This guidebook outlines the distinctive benefits of designing play environments that integrate manufactured equipment with the living landscape. Specifically, it details how a movement to naturalize a play space contributes to the development and well-being of children and families.
According to the guidebook, plants [and trees] increase the diversity of social, construction, symbolic, dramatic, and physical play and related learning activities by encouraging children to explore and discover the wonder of the world around them. They improve natural habitat conditions for wildlife species that fascinate children such as butterflies, caterpillars, ladybird beetles and salamanders and attract songbirds that add sensory appeal to the playground. Naturalizing a playground enhances sensory stimulation by providing sounds, textures, tactile interaction, fragrance and visual interest and increases playground aesthetic appeal, which stimulates higher levels of use, a greater variety of play behavior, increased social interaction and diverse habitat for wildlife.
Trees provide natural shade on or near the playground, keeping it cooler and encouraging children to play longer, particularly during summer months. The NatureGrounds guidebook offers some advice for those who want to incorporate trees in a playground naturalization project:
- Consider mature trees as they are crucial site assets that add shade and aesthetic quality to the site making it more attractive to more users
- Make every effort to conserve trees and other significant vegetation such as existing woodland
- Appoint a certified arborist to determine health of existing trees
- Seek professional advice from a licensed landscape architect or landscape contractor concerning appropriate construction methods near mature trees
- Do not encroach with new construction (including use zones) into the dripline of existing mature trees as the risk of root damage will increase. The dripline of the tree canopy is the first source of moisture for trees.
Trees beautify and protect the environment in which we live, work and play. By infusing the power of these arboretic denizens into your playground design, you create a play and recreation area that does more than provide a place to play. You create an opportunity to elevate communities, enhance property values and, most importantly, enrich a child's life.