by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA
The ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) is pleased to share a recap of the PPN’s second Zoom book club meeting. Hosted on May 9, 2023, 32 attendees eagerly welcomed Claire Latané, FASLA, MLA, SITES AP, author of Schools That Heal: Design with Mental Health in Mind, published in 2021 by Island Press. Written with an exquisite balance of evidence, sensitivity, and compassion, the book is intended for architects, engineers, and interior designers as well as landscape architects. We are grateful that Professor Latané was able to speak with us about the book and her ongoing advocacy work. Before recapping the book club meeting, a bit more about the author of this month’s PPN book selection:
Associate Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at California State Polytechnic University – Pomona, Professor Latané became a Fellow of ASLA in 2022 and was a Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Fellow for Innovation and Leadership for 2017-2018. Her fellowship focused on high schools and high schoolers, an age when most mental health disorders get diagnosed (if they even get diagnosed). It is a tough time because by age 12, youth are no longer eligible for after school care, and are often left to their own devices. On top of it all, parents are less welcomed to participate in high schools. This period in development was, in Professor Latané’s mind, a bit of a missing piece, and very light on research focused on the mental health benefits of nature in a learning environment.
Beyond her academic role, Professor Latané’s advocacy and commitment to bettering the lives of children is evident in her work as Founder of the Collaborative for Health and Inclusive Learning Environments (CHILE—rhymes with “while”) and as Founder of the Emergency Schoolyard Design Volunteers program for the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative. With mental health challenges amongst children and youth on the rise and compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, never has connecting children with nature been more important. So too is acknowledging that learning environments need to be nature-based places of healing and must be front and center thinking in every school district, everywhere. We need more Professor Latané’s in the world to be the voice for children and youth all of whom must have opportunities to experience the mental health promoting benefits of nature.