I came across the awesome Schoolhouse Creek Common Garden playscape in Berkeley during a Bring Back the Natives Tour in 2008. Here is the write up on the Bring Back the Native site. I think this was my very first experience with an actual natural playscape and I was really excited by it.
This playscape has so many great features, including boulders, a tire swing, a mesh tunnel, tree stumps (movable and not), CA native plants, a nice BIG sand pit, a small hill with boulders and plantings, and secret paths.
I have brought my son here a few times over the years although we were never regulars since it is a bit far from my house. The last time we went my son was about 4.5 and we had a really good time. the first thing I did was get out my sketchbook and some pens and I started to make a map of the garden. this was a great opportunity to talk about maps and to have my son help me. He got really into it and really got the concept of translating what we were seeing to the paper. I sent him off to explore and to report back with what he found.
Note to self: find that sketchbook, scan and upload it.
We have actually have never encountered any other kids at this site and I would really love to see a group or even just two kids playing here to see what they do! J and I made maps, and we played Hide and SNEAK(TM), and dug in the sand pit looking for dinosaur bones.
You can read more about the process of building Schoolhouse Creek Commons here.