Nature Play Area, Annie Wright Schools

Tacoma, WA


K-12 Schools


Civil Engineering

Land Surveying

Landscape Architecture

Structural Engineering


The team sought to create an imaginative, hands-on learning environment to inspire children to explore, discover, and play.

"At Annie Wright Schools, we recognize the importance play has in learning important life skills. We believe in nurturing the whole child and the nature-based play area allows us to do this in an incredible way.
One feature isn’t favored most; all aspects of the nature play area are enjoyed daily by a range of students. From imagination and make believe, to dipping fingers into the rainfilled rock bowl, singing or telling jokes on the large tree trunk, pretending to embark on a sailing adventure in the dingy, or engaging in a cooperative game – the landscape adapts to the students’ play. I have not had to mediate conflicts in the nature play area. Instead, I see friends coming together to share, create, and have adventures. It is play at its best."
- Ann Dicks, Director of Lower School - Annie Wright Schools
The Annie Wright School’s nature play area is a small but mighty project. Inspired by existing site treasures such as the school’s sunflower patch to sweeping views of Commencement Bay in Tacoma, AHBL’s landscape architects revived an underutilized courtyard into a vibrant nature play area supporting the school’s educational mission.
Nature play design is rooted in creating ways to connect children with the outdoors, a vision that aligned with the school’s newly adopted International Baccalureate program for early education. The primary user groups are early education students (3 to 5 year olds) but the space also doubles as a play area for students ages 5 to 12. From informal secondary paths, to a gigantic tree trunk table, and a willow tunnel, the site encourages exploration and discovery.
AHBL worked to blend the nature play area into the existing traditional play area to create a cohesive outdoor experience. A re-purposed wooden dingy became a visual connection to the adjacent playground’s pirate ship.
The design team collaborated with teachers and parents to create a nature play area that sparked intellectual curiosity and environmental understanding. Flexible spaces provide opportunities for teachers to bring lessons outdoors that complement their curriculum. No nature play area would be complete without a robust and diverse planting palette. Rudbeckia was selected as a nod to the school’s former sunflower patch and perennial grasses provide movement and year-round interest.