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Bamboo Playground Equipment : Innovation for Healthy Early Childhood

Vacharee Vacharasin, Assoc, Prof.,

Department of Architecture,
Faculty of Architecture, King Mongkuts Institute of Technology Ladkrabang


I have experimented with designing and producing bamboo playground equipment for children
in three remote communities. The installation of these playground items made lasting
impressions on me; foremost among them the delight of adult community members who
participated in making gifts for the children and the pleasure and joy of the children evident on
their smiling faces and happy laughter as they used the bamboo swings, the see-saw, etc. Even
though no attractive bright colors had been used, all the pieces were of contemporary functional
design. Each set is built by the traditional tenon and tied rope method in which no nails are used.

The creative idea which underlies the construction of these playground sets combines the use of
bamboo, which is an environment-friendly material and locally available in all regions of the
country, with the traditional skill of local builders. This project is a realization and a testimony to
the practicality of His Majesty the Kings self-sufficiency principle, an excellent guidance for
the people . All sectors of Thai society should try to do their best to achieve sustainable
development that will strengthen our ideal of self-sufficient communities.

playground equipment, bamboo, innovation, health, early childhood
1. The story of the bamboo playground
set design

The bamboo playground set was first

designed and built in November 2004 as a
sample of a green product to be shown in
the 29th annual fair of the Thailand Picture 1. Bamboo playground set at the annual fair
of the Ornamental Plants Association
Decorative Plants Society.
The second show was in December 2004 in
the 17th annual flower fair of the Suan Luang
Rama IX Park.
The third show was in January 2005 at the
Architecture Faculty of KMITL for a
workshop titled Bamboo and Leaf
Construction in Thai Vernacular
Architecture. The workshop was organized
at the request of Ball State University in the
United States.
Picture 2. Bamboo playground set exhibited at the
Later on in April 2005 the bamboo Rama IX Park
playground set was installed at Tap Tawan
community in Khao Lak District, Phanga
Province, as a gift for the children whose
lives were affected by the tsunami. The
playground set was taken there by the Bicycle
for Health Club, of which I am a member.
The long-distance bicycling event from
Bangkok to Phanga commemorated the 100
days of the tsunami. Members of the club
helped to set up the playground set.
Picture 3. Bamboo playground set at the workshop
The bamboo playground set was designed and site
built for a second time in 2007, to be set up at
the Arts Camp organized by the KMITL
Architecture students. The event took place at
Kamapado Village, Tha Song Yang District,
Tak Province, at the elementary school for hill
tribe children which is under the supervision
of the Border Patrol Police. I adjusted the
design for better efficiency so that the
equipment became more suitable for various
stages of childhood development. It was
designed to bear more weight from many
children playing together. A roof was added
for shade and to extend the bamboo life. This Picture 4. Bamboo playground set installed at Ban
time the children participated in setting up the Tap Tawan community
2. Rationale
Young children of the same age group may 4.1 The playground sets form and
have different muscle development. Playing composition are suitable for early childhood
which includes climbing, hanging and development.
swinging is an important activity which 4.2 The creative idea is based on childrens
benefits the development of a childs major play in both local and contemporary contexts.
muscles and minor muscles. They should be 4.3 Material for the basic structure must be
provided with indoor and outdoor activities environmentally friendly.
which give them experiences that promote 4.4 The playground set must be attractive in
physical balance, fluidity and coordination. form and image.
Play experience also promotes personality 4.5 The playground set will incorporate the
development and social development which characteristics of indigenous building
may be an inner process which cannot be techniques.
seen, or a physical development which can be 4.6 The set will have strong joints in every
seen. detail, using traditional tenon and tied rope
methods, no nails.
The most important consideration or the 4.7 The set can be disassembled and
essence of the design is to provide play reassembled piece by piece.
equipment which accommodates childhood
development. Attractive colors to hold a
childs attention is second in importance. 5. Physical Developments of Elementary
School Children
The choice of bamboo as construction
material is environmentally friendly. It is Early childhood means children between the
available in all regions of the country. Its ages of 4 13 years from kindergarten to
process of growth and dissolution is grade 6. Children in this age group have a
ecologically sound unlike synthetic material high rate of physical growth compared to
or some irreplaceable natural material. Using their emotional, mental, social and intellectual
bamboo helps to reduce and avoid the development. The physical growth is apparent
degradation of natural resources and the in weight, height and limbs. The development
environment which has great impact on the of muscles is clearly seen in the capacity for
health and life quality of people. This is in gross motor coordination and fine motor
accordance with the first principle of coordination.
ecologically sound design.
5.1 The capacity of gross motor coordination
When the adult community members can are seen in the following:
maintain and repair the playground set, and 5.1.1 The ability to stand on one leg or to
add their own creative touch, the promotion stand thus with eyes closed for more than 6
and development of childhood health can minutes.
really be sustainably established. 5.1.2 The ability to walk on a single 4-6
centimeter wide plank without falling.
5.1.3 The ability to run the determined
distance without falling.
5.1.4 The ability to jump from the tip of the
3. The Objective of the Design toes up to at least 12 high.
5.1.5 The ability to kick a ball.
It is to set an example for the community to 5.1.6 The ability to climb, to dangle and to
use material available locally to make play swing using their arms.
sets for the healthy development of children. 5.1.7 The ability to catch and to throw a ball
The aim is also to give under-privileged with arms held high.
children the opportunity to have activities that 5.1.8 The ability to walk upstairs alternating
are fun and healthy. left and right feet.
5.1.9 The ability to ride a bicycle, etc.
4. Design Concepts
5.2.1 The ability to draw pictures according to
5.2.2 The ability to draw different types of
5.2.3 The ability to color and paint within
5.2.4 The ability to cut and fold papers along
marked lines.
5.2.5 The ability to string beads.
5.2.6 The ability to button up and zip up.
5.2.7 The ability to build forms from different
Picture 5. A young child learning to ride a bicycle materials, etc.

6. Promotion of Physical Development

In essence, physical development is

stimulated by experiences that strengthen the
gross motor coordination and fine motor
coordination of the muscles.
Organized playing to provide experiences for
children should include outdoor and indoor
To encourage children to use their senses,
namely seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and
Picture 6. Children on a see-saw
touching is to stimulate the motor center of
the brain to grow.

7. The benefits of play

Playing induces learning which leads to

personality development and social

7.1 Personality development is the inner

process of growth in thoughts and emotions
which lead to more self confidence, trust in
others, good behavior, integrated thinking,
Picture 7. Children painting a plaster figurine
understanding of sexual role, and the ability
to control emotional expression such as fear,
anger, repentance, jealousy and pride.

7.1.2 Social development is the adaptation of

self in order to be with other people who are
not family members. A child learns to be
compassionate, to share, and to observer rules
and manners.

Picture 8. A child building a sand hill 8. Traditional Bamboo Toys and

5.2 The capacity of fine motor coordination are: Playground Set
water for about a month to improve its pliant
strength and to prevent destructive insects.
Then the bamboo is dried thoroughly and cut
into component pieces for the frames of
There are traditional bamboo toys that have different kinds of kite. Then the craftsman
been passed on from generation to generation works on finishing the frame and papering the
and are found in every region of the country. kite.
8.1 The Kratae Wian is a trainer for a
toddler who is learning to walk. It is stuck
into the ground. This is the description given
by the Royal Institute Dictionary of Arts: It
is made of a bamboo tube with a node
attached about 2 in diameter. A horizontal
stick is inserted into the top end (diameter
about 1), long enough for a toddler to hold
on to. The vertical tube fits over a 50
centimeter stake (diameter about 1.5) stuck
into the ground.
Picture 9. Kratee Wien, a simple device for
toddlers learning to walk
8.2 The Bamboo Top is a toy made by
people of the northern region called
Bakangwo in local dialect. It is made out of
a bamboo tube of any size cut between the
nodes. A sound hole is cut along the length. A
pin is inserted through the enclosed top and
bottom ends. One end of the pin stick is
sharpened for good balancing when the top is
spinning. The top end of the pin stick is long
enough to hold a rolled length of string. The
top is played by throwing it onto the ground
while pulling the string to spin it. A fast
spinning top makes a wo-wo sound.
Picture 10. A villagers shop selling bamboo tops on
Chiangmais Walking Street
8.3 Paper Kite is a plaything mentioned in
the historical record of Ayutthaya Period. La
Loubere wrote that kite flying is a fun
activity in every court in Chompu Dweep (the
Indian Subcontinent) in the cooler season
sometimes a lamp is attached to the kite so
that it looks like a star. Sometimes a golden
coin is attached as a reward to the person who
finds it after the string breaks, or if it falls too
far away to be retrieved. The Siamese kings
kite is seen every night during the 2 months
of the cool season. Noblemen are appointed
to take turn to hold the kite string. During Picture 11. Sing Kantarit, special conservationist
the early Bangkok Period, King Rama II and Chula kites, Samut Songkram Province
King Rama V supported kite flying as a sport.
The Chula-Pakpao Kite Competition has
recorded regulations.
A professional kite maker chooses Si-sook
Bamboo at least 3 years old, of dark green
color. The bamboo is split and soaked in
8.4 The Stilt-walker or High-Walker is a
toy that contributes to balancing skill. It is
called Kha Thoke Thake in the north
eastern dialect. Bamboo poles are made into
extended legs with foot bars. It was originally
invented for daily use on wet ground.
Sometimes unscrupulous folk used them to
walk over low fences for stealing. Now they
are local toys found in all regions of the
8.5 The Swing belonging to the Akha
Picture 12. A child walking with stilts community in the hill country is set up near
the village entrance, which is their
distinguishing characteristic. It is built to
worship the god who bestows fertility to the
village. Every year between the months of
August and September there is a traditional
rocking of the swing ceremony for the women
of the tribe (community). The men have their
own Top playing ceremony. The women
dress up in their special new clothes and
finery which have taken them the whole year
to prepare. The 4-day festivity is full of group
singing and playing on the swing.
Picture 13. A swing for Thai hill tribe children On the first day there is a ritual to offer food
and homage to ancestors. The women fetch
water from the villages sacred well to soak
sticky rice which will be pounded and made
into Khao Pook for the ceremony.
The second day sees the communal effort to
raise a huge swing. There is no killing of
animals for food. Young people gather to sing
and to have fun with making bamboo
The third day is the New Year day which is
the day of big ritual and festivity. There is the
slaughtering of pigs and chicken, and liquor is
Picture 14. A swing for children in Chieng Tung brought out to feast the whole village and all
There is no ritual on the fourth and the last
day: only young girls and boys and children
playing at the swing all day.
The swings of different hill tribes in different
regions have similar characteristics in that
they are very big. The frame is made of 6
bamboo poles arranged in two groups to
support a horizontal pole from which a swing
is hung. The strength and security of each leg
is achieved by positioning each pole at the
Picture 15. A swing for Vietnamese hill tribe
points of a triangle.
9. The Fastening Technique in Traditional
House Building

Ruen Kreung Phoog is the most ancient

type of traditional local houses. The structure
is held securely without the use of any nails
by three basic techniques: tying, beveling,
and hole-drilling.
9.1 Tying is the essence of assembling the
structure. It can be used in any situation
where a nail is needed. This particular knot is Picture 19. Photograph of the Hoo Kapong knot
called binding a chickens neck. In some
cases where tenons are needed to strengthen
the hold, a knot called Kapongs ear is 9.2 Beveling is used in cases where more
used. strength is needed in the vertical structure to
bear load from the horizontal structure, such
as posts carrying beams and tie beams.

Picture 16.
Line drawing of the Kaad Kor Gai knot

Picture 20. How the top of the post is beveled to

hold the cross-beam

9.3 Boring is done in cases where tenons

are needed to anchor tie ropes, and in cases
where it is necessary to hold bamboo poles in
the same plane while allowing for angle
adjustment as in rafters, strips of wood to tie
roofing material to, and end planks.

Picture 17.
Photograph of the Kaad Kor Gai knot

Picture 21. Rafters are held in place with rope and

Picture 18. Line drawing of the Hoo Kapong knot tenon
10. Non-Chemical Preservation of Bamboo 11. Bamboo Playground Equipment Sets of
for Long-Lasting Use; My Own Design

Set 1 Playground set for toddlers.

The degeneration of bamboo has three causes:

natural decomposition of wood fiber, decay
caused by weevils and termites, and rot
caused by fungus.
Preserving bamboo by chemical processes
(soaking, application and pressing) may give
it longer life, but it means ignoring the
understanding of bamboos natural
characteristics. A result of a field survey of
traditional rope-tied bamboo homes (Ruen Picture 22. See-saw for small children
Kreung Phoog) over 20 years old shows that
weevil damage problem does not exist
because only bamboo stalks older than 5
years were chosen for building. Younger
bamboo stalks still have carbohydrates, fat
and sugar to attract insects.
The method for maintaining quality in the
bamboo stalks selected for aging is to set the
stalks bottom up, or to pile them up in the
open shade to prevent more moisture
gathering, and to dry them out slowly. Picture 22. See-saw for school-age children
If the cut bamboo stalks are less than 5 years
old, the preservation is done by two methods:
soaking and roasting or boiling
Soaking in fresh water or sea water for over
two months leaches out the carbohydrates and
Roasting or boiling is another method to
eliminate fat and nutrients in the stalks.
Roasting at the temperature of 120-130 C will
harden the bamboo so that it better withstands
the stressing and straining forces. To soak
bamboo in boiling water also cooks it but the
bamboo will be more pliable. Picture 26. Jungle gym

Picture 27. Swings for small children

Picture 22. Heating bamboo for strength
Set 2 Playground sets for young children.
They are designed to have stronger structure
to take more weight of many children playing
together. The three sets are:
2.1 Swing Rocking Horse Set
2.2 See - Saw set
2.3 Jungle Gym with a Roller Board

2.1 Swing Rocking Horse Set Picture 31. Frame for swing set

Picture 32. Builders assembling swing set

Picture 29. Perspective drawing of swing set

Picture 33. Young children, Kamapado Village

Picture 30. Cross-section drawing of swing set Picture 34. Children playing on the finished swing
2.2 See - Saw set

Picture 35. Frame for see-saw set

Picture 36. Builders assembling see-saw frame

Picture 39. Perspective drawing of see-saw set

Picture 37. Children testing the strength of the


Picture 40. Cross-section drawing of see-saw set

2.3 Jungle Gym with a Roller Board

Picture 38. A finished play set
Picture 43. Builders assembling jungle gym set

Picture 44. Attaching monkey ladder to the


Picture 41. Perspective drawing of the jungle gym

Picture 45. The finished jungle gym

Picture 42. Cross-section drawing

Picture 46. Children testing the strength of the

Set 3 The playground sets designed for the
ASA Workshop (28 March 6 April
At present they are set up at The Phumirak
Nature Center in Tha Dan Village, Hin Tung
Sub District, Muang District, Nakorn Nayok
Province. I designed three new sets.
3.1 A combination set of 4 activities: swing,
see-saw, climbing and hanging.

Picture 47. A combination play set

Picture 48. A climbing board part

Picture 51. A length-wise cross-section drawing of

the combination set

Picture 49. A see-saw part

Picture 52. A width-wise cross-section drawing of

the combination set
Picture 50. A child on a swing-rocker
3.2 Happy Globe Set. The design was
inspired by the village chicken coop form.
The dome shaped interior is wide enough to
accommodate a play set that helps to develop
fine motor coordination in small children, and
to encourage them to imitate adult daily
activities. The interior space is supposed to
be a childs world where they experience and
learn about light and the suns movement
from the skylight. The sounds from the
hollowed out bamboo stalks inside give them
another dimension of learning.

Picture 55. Skylight at the top of the globe structure

seen from inside

Picture 56. A child learning about light

Picture 53. Proportional drawing of the Happy


Picture 57. Space inside the globe

Picture 54. Perspective drawing of the Happy


Picture 58. Interior light

3.3 Up-Down Ladder and Roller Board
Walking and climbing up and down become
entertaining activities when children can see
each other at the other side doing something
different like sliding or climbing down a
bamboo slope. This activity promotes
development of gross motor coordination
such as walking in alternate steps. This design
was inspired by the different levels of steps
and ladders inside the Chakri Narubate
aircraft carrier at Sattahip Navel Station when
Picture 59. A child hanging from an inclined
I took some students on a field trip.
bamboo pole

Picture 60. A child on a bamboo slide

Picture 63. Drawing of the ladder combination set

Picture 61. A child sliding down an inclined roller-


Picture 64. Drawing of different levels of up-and-

down ladders
11. Conclusion
Picture 62. Ladder play set
The concept and method of designing the
playground equipment presented here is not
fantastic design to excite and to impress.
These creations reflect a designers thoughts
and awareness of the role of creative design
in agreement with global organizations on
the awareness on conscious design for
environmental preservation or Green

It is well known that at this present time

population growth and economic
development increasingly generate activities
and new products to satisfy needs and to
facilitate better life style. All these take a toll
on our natural resources and environment,
which in turn affect peoples health and life
quality, especially that of children. Bamboo is
the chosen material because it is available
locally and it is environmentally friendly.
Together with the traditional practice of local
builders and with contemporary designs
which emphasize natural harmony and
childhood development, the result fits in with
the Economic and Ecological Design concept,
or, in short, EcoDesign. Reflecting on the life The editorial section of the Agriculture
cycle of the product from the bamboo Graduate Volunteer Group, Bamboo and its
beginning to the end, bamboo has the 4Rs Cultivations, Bangkok, Rung Reung Sarn
qualities of sustainable development, namely; Publishers, 1987.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair. Nopnate Thamboron, Dr., The Evaluation of
Early Childhood Development, Bangkok:
Personal experiences in designing and Test and Journal Publication Co. Ltd., 2002.
building bamboo playground sets, installing Nikorn Nujcharoenphon, Woven Pattern,
them in remote communities and testing their M.P.T, 1982.
use, have brought great joy to me. The Bunchonsak Pimthong, translator, Principle
childrens gladness was apparent in their and Theory of Design for Environmental
laughs and bright faces. They learn through Preservation, UKK: B. Jon and Jon Co Lt.,
having fun and playing. Furthermore, these 1987.
undertakings are meant to be pilot projects to Saner Nildej, Ass. Prof.. Reun Kreung
demonstrate to communities the use of Phoog, Bangkok: Ancient City, 2004.
environmentally friendly natural materials,
and to stimulate people to think and to make
what they need in daily life. Also, community
members are encouraged to take part in
solving problems of environmental
degradation which will affect us all.