BLS Outdoor Classroom: Toddler Play Space

Redesigning this play space was my first project with the Burlington Little School thanks to educator / author Deb Curtis who hired me after buying my services at an auction.

The north side of the Burlington Little School property is designated as the Toddler Play Space. The activities here are geared towards 2 and 3 year olds. While I found the space to be very creative and possessing many strong elements such as a play house, a sand box, a climbing wall and a tire swing, I felt some fundamental piece was missing.

I found the space to be amorphous and difficult to navigate so I felt a pathway connecting all the different play elements was important to include. Something as simple as a pathway can make such a huge difference in the subliminal experience as one moves through a space. I displaced the existing pea gravel and replaced it with crushed gravel  in the newly defined pathway, crushed gravel is simply easier to walk on.  Volunteer BLS parents edged the pathway with large pieces of driftwood, granite boulders, pavers, bricks and tires donated by various community members and Les Schwab Tires.

Other elements I added includes a bridge / tunnel, a worm bin, (donated by the City of Sedro Wooley),  a digging area, I rebuilt the climbing wall, a boat in a sea of cobbles, a grape vine and willow fort woven around an apple tree, driftwood sculptures and chimes and a small slide on a berm of grass.

The bridge with a tunnel is basically a huge drain pipe with steps built over  the top of it.  It is a structure that can be perceived to be a castle, a boat or any number of other things. We were able to recycle all the wood from material that was on site, thanks to the clever handiwork of volunteer BLS dad, Caleb.

I think my favorite contribution to this space is the willow and grape woven fort. I dug in cedar poles around the drip line of the apple tree on the west side of the play area. Thanks to donations of time and willow from Katherine Lewis from Dunbar Gardens we wove a low wall around the tree. Thanks to a donation of grape vines from Tom Wake I continued to weave vertically around the tree, creating windows  for the kids to look through.

Plant material, such as Carex buchanannii, Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’, honeysuckle and Viburnum triloba  were installed to soften the rocky space, add another texture, color and pleasant smell to the play area.  Fragrant blooming hedges and vines on metal trellises separate one space from another and create transitions from the pathway.

Now, several years later, the hedge has matured, the vine is established and the grasses are self sewing around the space.  Now the garden is moving into another phase, the plant material is as much a part of the play area as the structures.  Maintaining the yard has a new incentive because the ornamental plants and the structures shine when the blackberries and weeds are kept at bay