Children’s Outdoor Environments: Annual Meeting Highlights

Plaza with Native Plant Garden Links to the Pre-existing Harborwalk image: Lisa Horne
Plaza with native plant garden links to the pre-existing Harborwalk
image: Lisa Horne

The ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston had several informative presentations and exciting events on children’s outdoor environments. As always, the conference ends too soon. If you missed it this year or overlooked one or two of the presentations, see highlights below.

Field Session: Outdoor Classrooms Designed for Learning

This field session included an afternoon of touring three different schools: Harvard-Kent School, Russell School, and Perry School. The Boston Schoolyard Initiative has invested over $20 million in projects over the past 18 years with a total of 32 outdoor classrooms constructed. Over 850 teachers have been involved with the project and at least 30,000 school children are affected each year by the Boston Schoolyard Initiative’s work.

The notes for this session can still be downloaded here.

Education Session: Playing It Too Safe?

This presentation covered an in-depth exploration of balancing risk and safety in play environments from the vantage point of both European and American specialists. Jane Clark Chermayeff with Architectural Playground Equipment, Inc. moderated the panel discussion with Philip Howard, from Common Good, and Julian Richter and Peter Heuken, from Richter Spielgeräte GmbH.

Notes can still be downloaded here.

General Session: Biophilic Design: People and Nature in the Modern World

Biophilic design and its value to all people including children were the centerpiece of the conference with Stephen Kellert speaking as the keynote on Sunday. He touched on the growing body of evidence revealing that contact with nature can foster health and well-being. At least two case studies included  children’s hospitals – Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, Texas and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon. He has also recently published a new book, Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World.

Hood milk bottle in Boston Children’s Museum plaza image: Lisa Horne
Hood milk bottle in Boston Children’s Museum plaza
image: Lisa Horne

PPN Meeting: Children’s Outdoor Environments

For this year’s meeting, which PlayGuard Safety Surfacing sponsored, we decided to go outside and explore. Andrew Gutterman with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. met our PPN to give us a brief tour of the award-winning plaza in front of the Boston Children’s Museum.

Tour of Boston Children’s Museum Plaza image: Julie Johnson
Tour of Boston Children’s Museum plaza
image: Julie Johnson

Design included relocating the iconic Hood milk bottle, establishing an entry sequence between the front door and the street, introducing sculptural marble boulders, and creating a native plant garden. The site was technically challenging with poor subsurface conditions including intrusion of saltwater. A unique waterproof liner system protects the root system of weeping willows in the plaza from saltwater.

View of Fort Point Channel from Plaza image: Lisa Horne
View of Fort Point Channel from plaza
image: Lisa Horne

Education Session: Re-Imaging the Schoolyard: Innovative Design Ideas for Outdoor Learning

In this presentation by Ross Miller and Kristin Metz of the Boston Schoolyard Initiative and Kari Martin of Klopfer Martin Design Group, careful post-occupancy evaluation of outdoor learning spaces in the Boston area showed that teachers only used them once or twice. The Boston Schoolyard Initiative used the information to systematically remove barriers for teachers to take students outside. They created cohesive learning spaces with a degree of separation or enclosure, provided spaces that supported lesson formats, and adapted spaces to correspond with existing curriculum.

Notes can still be downloaded here.

by Lisa Horne, Associate ASLA, Co-Chair of the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN

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