A woodland playground with a real ‘kick’
As a spa town, Bad Nauheim has a long tradition of making people fit and healthy. Part of the holistic approach to health is the awareness of the need to promote wellbeing through complementary measures, so that the aim is not just to overcome an illness, but also to adopt an appropriately healthy lifestyle that will prevent sickness occurring. In today’s health-conscious communities, with their established and extensive network of health and social facilities and organisations, the need to develop a preventive concept for their citizens is more or less mandatory.
Based on these assumptions, a concept has been proposed that comprehensively covers the problems of lack of physical exercise, malnutrition, addiction and violence and that can be adopted for use in children from an early age for preventive purposes. The main impetus for the development of the project was provided by the reaction to the results of DELPHI and PISA surveys, and the 12th Report on Children and Adolescents prepared by the German government, which showed that children were taking significantly less exercise and had become more prone to malnutrition than in the past. In Bad Nauheim, however, the response to the problem of physical inactivity not only involves the implementation of corresponding measures by public institutions and organisations, but also the adoption of a policy that involves remodelling of cityscape and neighbourhood locations.
The underlying concept:
In cooperation with the local children’s organisation KIKS UP, Bad Nauheim has constructed a woodland playground in and around a clearing in the Goldsteinwäldchen wood that has been conceived with the aim of implementing the holistic preventive approach, and encouraging children to take more exercise in the fresh air. One of the central objectives that was to be achieved through the design of the KIKS UP playground was to create play areas that would encourage children to take active exercise, would bring people into contact and would thus not only promote the physical condition of children but also the social skills of children and adults. Existing resources were to be used to put in place attractive options for cross-generational games and exercise in the fresh air. Other major factors taken into account were environmental aspects, such as the provision of diversified natural vegetation appropriate to the site, and the choice of user-orientated locations.
The KIKS UP woodland playground in the Goldsteinpark provides for outdoor open spaces that encourage the users to experiment, discover and play together utilising all their senses and abilities. The purpose is to comprehensively further the motor coordination skills and psycho-social capacities of children and young people. The KIKS UP woodland playground not only confronts its visitors with various challenges designed for play purposes, but also provides chill out zones and seating options for groups. This range of alternatives within a diversified natural landscape is attractive to all age groups. Individuals, families and groups can use it for recreational purposes tailored to their own specific needs.
The fascination of the playground complex as a whole for children and adults is enhanced by an underlying conundrum that enables them to together experience an exciting adventure. The basic concept is that of the thematic playground, which has here been taken and further refined: all the various play elements are linked by riddles concerning the mythical salt king “Cum Grano Salis”. And this quest story relating to the “Treasure of the Salt King” has been realised at a former commercial salt extraction site where various play units that need to be mastered using different motor skills have been constructed. In order to acquire the treasure, children first need to successfully negotiate a ‘dangerous’ pathway leading to the palace of the Salt King and, at the same time, solve a riddle. They must overcome the ‘Nest of the Giant Griffin’, the ‘Blackthorn Maze’, the ‘Wobbly Way of the Precarious Plank’ and the ‘Saltstick Garden’ before they reach the ‘Crystal Towers’. The play equipment was constructed by Zimmer.Obst GmbH.
Sited apparently at random between these locations are various smaller play facilities, such as a tree telephone and carved wooden beams that can be discovered by the children and used for play. ‘Forest Guardians’ – carved wooden figures that peer down from trees or that seem to appear suddenly from the undergrowth – line the route and provide the children with clues to help them solve the riddles. In addition to the various play locations, children are encouraged to include the surrounding forest in their games and thus increase the radius of their activities.
In addition to being designed for play purposes, the playground also extends a helping hand to teachers and educators. Equipment has been specially developed for the KIKS UP woodland playground for the targeted exercising of specific physical motor skills as appropriate to various age groups. And areas specially designed for outdoor games have been put in place and set up so that these can be used with the minimum of preparation - by parents as a special birthday treat for their children or even by school classes. All these amenities have been designed with the objective of enticing people out in the open air, persuading them to stay and amuse themselves and take pleasure in what they find outdoors. This, it is hoped, will help them recognise the value of nature to mankind so that they will grow up to be conscientious and aware citizens who will actively participate in the protection of the environment. The purpose of the playground is also to help develop the various motor skills of children as appropriate to their age and abilities.
Special features from the landscape architectural point of view:
- Meticulous incorporation in an already existing natural landscape
- Trees have not been cut down, but the equipment has been constructed around them: natural blackthorn shrubbery has also been incorporated
- The ‘Salt King’ theme is pertinent to the location
- Collaboration with the local KIKS UP children's organisation
- Little to no instructions for the children for whom the equipment is designed, although guidelines are of course provided for accompanying persons, such as parents and exercise instructors
- Designed to stimulate children’s creativity and imagination
The playground is located within the Goldsteinpark horticultural show site and covers an area slightly greater than an acre. It cost some € 51,500 to plan and some € 256,650 to build.
Images: Jens Haentzschel (greengrass media)