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Best Playground EVER!

Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Who designed the best playground that my family has ever visited? Who sculpted the climbing structures and the water features? Who imagined the engineering design challenges and touch pools? Answer: the Pacific Ocean.

The Bloom: What’s the attraction? Olympic National Park is known for its dramatic mountains and drippy rainforests, but don’t miss the stellar beaches. In particular, we spent a perfect sunny (yes, sunny!) summer day at Ruby Beach on the West Coast of the Olympic Peninsula. The Nectar: What’s sweet about this place? Imagine all of the best parts of a playground, adventure park, marine science center, and tinkering lab mixed together with a rugged coastal theme. This is Ruby Beach. There are fields of driftwood to traverse and giant sea stacks to climb--streams to follow, ford, and bridge. And don’t forget, the forts to build, sea stars to ogle, and endless loose parts to fuel the imagination. The Pollen: What observations might pollinate good ideas elsewhere? My family and I are playground connoisseurs. We seek them out, photograph them, discuss their best features, compare them. My husband and I watch how our kids play and try to notice what elements make a great playground. Sometimes, it is the most unlikely feature that steals the show.

Well, Ruby Beach killed them all. My kids could have played there happily for days while I counted up the physical, cognitive, and emotional skills they were building in the process (I mostly just stared contentedly at the waves crashing on the sand, though). But what make this beach better than any playground? I’m not sure, but I think the environment was so rich with opportunities precisely because no one “designed” it. The combination of sand, water, driftwood, stones, and seaweed had no predetermined purpose. They could be combined in endless ways or be enjoyed as is. For example, the sea stack jutting from the sandy stream bed could be whatever you imagined it to be. In our case, it was a climbing structure, picture window, and storefront showcasing the kids’ “rock sale.”

That said, the setting itself inspired purpose. A stream begs for a bridge to cross it. A windy beach asks for a fort to retreat to. The variety of shells, stones, and seaweed beg to be collected and cataloged.

So, what does this mean for me as a creator of play spaces? Or, as a parent? First of all, I will take no shame in “stealing” nature’s best ideas and recreating them when families don’t have access to these spectacular places. Second, I need to remind myself (and others) that we don’t always need to take our kids to a “real playground” to really play. Instead, we should allow them to create their own adventures from the loose parts and inspiration provided by un-designed spaces.

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