Finding Common Ground at the Children & Nature Network Conference

Richard Louv describes new directions for bringing nature to children in cities.   image: Lisa Horne, ASLA
Richard Louv describes new directions for bringing nature to children in cities.
image: Lisa Horne, ASLA

Knowing that children’s experiences in nature matter, landscape architects can look to—and get involved in—an organization that strives to advance children’s nature experiences.

The Children & Nature Network serves as a vibrant resource and advocate for improving children’s access to nature, and its April conference in Texas attracted well over 400 international and interdisciplinary participants. The ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) officers Lisa Horne, ASLA, and Julie Johnson, ASLA, were among them. With a conference theme of “Inspiration and Action for Healthy Communities,” several concurrent sessions offered insights on and case studies of children’s learning and play in nature. And the opportunities to informally meet and learn from other conference participants during breaks and meals enabled meaningful conversations.

Among the plenary sessions, a range of issues and scales were raised:

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, gave opening remarks as well as the concluding keynote talk in which he envisioned new initiatives to engage cities. Gil Penalosa, Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, also provided an inspiring keynote talk that included the challenges to safe walking and biking in cities and simple steps and examples for how these can be overcome. He raised the compelling need for utilizing healthier approaches, given the tremendous growth cities are experiencing.

Dr. Scott Sampson, author of How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, was part of a plenary session and shared insights on what he described as “re-wilding” cities. He discussed expanding efforts to connect children with the nature in their current lives, as well as looking to past ecosystems and to what the future may hold. Including example initiatives throughout his talk, Scott highlighted that collaborations are needed to make substantial changes.

The Director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, presented plans for marking the 2016 Centennial of the NPS. One such initiative is Find Your Park, an interactive website. He also described Every Kid in a Park, which is aimed at fourth graders across the country, allowing them to learn online and receive vouchers to experience national parks and other public lands firsthand.

Concurrent sessions addressed a range of topics, including schoolyards as places of learning, research findings on how nature affects children, addressing risk, and agendas and tips from granting organizations. Presenters Robin Moore, Hon. ASLA, and Sharon Danks may be familiar to those involved in the design of children’s environments. A concluding set of sessions were called “action labs”—these thematic sessions enabled discussions of opportunities and challenges for children and nature. One such session addressed opportunities to advance schoolyards as places of nature, with small groups forming around particular topics.

To learn more about what was presented, visit the Children & Nature Network’s conference website, where photos and materials from presentations may be found. These materials, as well as other resources available on the Children & Nature Network’s website, offer designers research and examples to inform our work, to enlighten our clients, and to make the places that children inhabit come alive.

by Julie Johnson, ASLA, Officer and Past Co-Chair of the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN

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