Bring Storytelling To Life

Themed playgrounds not only challenge children to use their imaginations, but they also tell a story, educate, and engage visitors.

Themed playgrounds take lots of research and planning. Photos Courtesy of Brenda J. Iraola, Landscape Architect and Designer

But they are not play spaces that can be “thrown together” in a hurry. Designers must research the appropriate theme for an area so it piques the community’s interest.

The Landscape Architecture Section of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation, has taken the lead in creating new “imagination playgrounds” for residents.

Approximately 12 sites were selected for themed playgrounds throughout the county. With the help of local fifth and sixth graders, storylines were developed and concepts were drawn up for each of the sites, including the Berwyn Heights Indian Creek Playground.

When designing imagination-themed playgrounds, there are several factors to consider:

  • Site history and park-theme creation
  • Signage
  • Safety issues
  • Community participation
  • Environment and existing conditions.

Site History And Park-Theme Creation

It is important to consider the history of the site in the early stages of design. In speaking with the community about Indian Creek, the designers learned that Native American Indians inhabited the site many years ago. This prompted officials to pass on the original design and pursue a playground that reflected this significant finding.

Upon researching Native American Indian cultures, several classic symbols were woven into the design:

  • A North Pacific tribe totem pole
  • A Conoy tribe arrowhead
  • A Sioux tribe tipi
  • Badlands boulders
  • A thunderbird
  • An Algonquian tribe canoe
  • A Navaho tribe drum
  • A Powhatan tribe maize field (corn)
  • A dreamcatcher and beads
  • Buffalo hide paintings
  • A colorful rug design.


Gone are the days when designers build a structure just for its own sake; today, landscape architects design to deliver a message.

At the Indian Creek playground, age-appropriate signage is used to tell a story and educate children about the life of American Indians and the equipment they regularly used.

Signs like this one tell the story of the playground and bring the area’s history to life.

One example of the signage is the Conoy Arrowhead:


“The Conoy Indian tribes in Maryland were hunting experts–they used bows and arrows for hunting and were very skilled. They became experts by practice; they would throw a spear into the air and then shoot an arrow afterwards to hit the spear before it fell to the ground. They hunted squirrels, turkeys, partridges, and wild animals.”

Safety Issues

Safety is always a concern when designing custom parks, and it is up to the manufacturer to make the equipment safe.

For example, equipment must comply with the American Standard Testing Materials and Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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