Spaces Every Child Should Experience

Washington Monument – 2008 General Design Honor Award Winner image: Olin Partnership
Washington Monument – 2008 General Design Honor Award Winner
image: Olin Partnership

Favorite childhood memories are often associated with a special place, whether a beloved neighborhood park, a family vacation to somewhere unforgettable, or your own backyard. When we asked PPN members about what spaces every child should experience, the responses we received reflected the outsize impact that outdoor settings of all scales—from playing in the woods to visiting the Grand Canyon—can have on a child.

Here are a few specific locations that were mentioned:

  • Central Park, New York City
  • City Museum, St. Louis
  • Disneyland
  • Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
  • The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
  • Yosemite Valley, California

But above all, the central theme that arose from members’ responses was that children should experience natural spaces. Here are a few suggestions and comments that focus not on particular destinations, but on kinds of experiences and places that all children should have access to and be able to enjoy.

Berkeley, California image: Alexandra Hay
Berkeley, California
image: Alexandra Hay

Forests / woods

“Promotes imaginative play.”

“Best if they can enjoy and experience the outdoors with as few man-made elements as possible. It provides the opportunity to explore and test nature.”

“Scale.”

“The sense of adventure and discovery.”

“To gain perspective and realize from an early age that humans are part of something much larger than themselves.”

“A virgin-growth forest brings a realization of how short life is and that people really need to be stewards of the environment. We are only on this planet for a short time period.”

The New York Botanic Garden's Thain Family Forest image: Alexandra Hay
The New York Botanic Garden’s Thain Family Forest
image: Alexandra Hay

Nature / outdoors

“It teaches a child to listen, see, and experience the universe.”

“Great play, great imagining, inspirational views, educational, irreplaceable.”

“It is the connection between our own existence and everything else.”

“Kids need to explore.”

“Being outdoors gives kids a hands-on playground, which is instrumental in development.”

“Every child should get to run around the woods, and fields, and a beach.”

“Bonds child for life with nature and has myriad learning opportunities.”

“Kids need unstructured play time. The outdoors is the best playground.”

Block Island's Mohegan Bluffs image: Alexandra Hay
Block Island’s Mohegan Bluffs
image: Alexandra Hay

Water / beach

“Children are empowered to create with the sand. Observe the power of the ocean to create and destroy.”

“Kids need to get muddy, gaze at water skippers, collect bulging cat tails, and chase frogs. Too often today kids don’t even have one of these water bodies near them, let alone any experience running around wild in these natural places, free from hovering parents concerned about getting dirty.”

“Being in or near water is where a child can fall in love with nature.”

“The sounds, the smells, and the site invigorate and enhance play and creativity and exploration and imagination.”

“Allows children the opportunity to explore and develop an affinity for the natural environment.”

“Experience changes with time of the day and time of the year and provides endless opportunities for learning and making memories.”

Beachcombing on Amelia Island, Florida image: Alexandra Hay
Beachcombing on Amelia Island, Florida
image: Alexandra Hay

At the start of 2013, a questionnaire was sent out to members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs). The theme: favorite spaces. As you can imagine, responses were varied, and included many insightful comments and suggestions. Synopses of the survey results were originally shared in LAND over the course of 2013, and we are now re-posting this information here on The Field. For the latest updates on the results of the annual PPN Survey, see LAND’s PPN News section.

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