Our Summer Visit to the Thurston Nature Center

Bringing along markers, pencils, crayons, and paper to document their time, Lola and Lucy spend a blissful afternoon at the Thurston Nature Center. / image: Ben Atchison

Can you think of a better way to enjoy a balmy mid-summer afternoon? My dear friend and colleague Ben Atchison recently brought his granddaughters Lola (age 10) and Lucy (age 8) Valentin to the Thurston Nature Center in Ann Arbor, MI. Lush and inviting, the Nature Center is a favorite destination for Papa and the girls. Lola and Lucy are delighted to share their photo journal with you.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

For those familiar with Ann Arbor, Michigan, the nearly 24-acre Thurston Nature Center is next door to both the Thurston Elementary and Clague Middle Schools. Lola, who is in fifth grade and Lucy, who is in third grade, attend Thurston Elementary School, which makes the Nature Center even that much more special to them.

In 1968, the Nature Center was designated a Conservation Education Reserve by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The space is jointly owned by the Ann Arbor Public Schools and Orchard Hills Athletic Club. Fifty years “young,” the Nature Center is used by the Ann Arbor Schools Environmental Education Program and the greater Ann Arbor community. It is maintained and enhanced by the teachers and students and their families at Thurston Elementary and Clague Middle Schools, with help from devoted neighborhood volunteers. This gracious outdoor oasis is enjoyed by young and old alike.

The space hosts five ecosystems; trails; an 8.4-acre pond and a vernal pond that fish, turtles, and muskrats call home; native plants that attract butterflies and birds; and raccoons and skunks. The Center also contains a hickory-oak woodlot, a rain garden, and vine trellis. In 2015 and 2016, students from the elementary school and community volunteers worked to install a native prairie. Many of the improvement projects that occur at the Center help to support the elementary school’s Green STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) program while simultaneously improving the biodiversity of the area. The Thurston Nature Center is a popular destination for Ann Arbor school field trips and outdoor experiential education. Be sure to add The Thurston Nature Center to your agenda should your travels take you to Ann Arbor!

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Marjory’s Garden Story

by Kyle Jeter

Marjory's Garden / image: BrightView
Marjory’s Garden / image: BrightView

Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director, and Naomi A. Sachs, PhD, ASLA, EDAC, are humbled and grateful to share Kyle Jeter’s story with you.

It was January, 2016. As the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Principal and I watched the heavy machinery level the last of the dilapidated portable classrooms, an idea flitted across my mind. On a whim, I asked if a portion of the land being cleared might be set aside for science/STEM purposes—perhaps a garden? After considering the proposal for a few days, Mr. Thompson generously offered the Science Department an elongated strip of land adjacent to the tennis courts. Not expecting to receive such a large tract (~ 9,000 sq. ft.), I began to sketch out the basic layout of what would become “Marjory’s Garden.”

The environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas was 100 years old when her namesake school opened its doors in 1990 (she lived to be 108!) in Parkland, FL. Her influential book, The Everglades: River of Grass, established her as a champion of the Everglades. Accordingly, science teachers such as Tammy Orilio wanted to ensure from the start that the Garden reflected Stoneman’s values. We also wanted the Garden to be a place of learning. In May of 2016, the Parent Teacher Association voted to give us $1,000 to get the project off the ground, and the Marjory’s Garden project took its first, tentative steps.

Allow me to confess, at that time, I knew absolutely nothing about gardening! The last time I had planted anything was the tree sapling I brought home on Arbor Day in the 5th grade. I am, however, a believer in adopting a growth mindset and this presented a challenge on a much larger scale than anything else I had ever attempted. I am also a major proponent of project-based learning. My colleagues Mr. Sean Simpson (chemistry), Mr. Frank Krar (math), and I had been conducting a high-altitude balloon project, Project Aquila, since 2010, and had witnessed the positive benefits to our students of hands-on learning. We made it a priority to allow students a high degree of freedom in decision-making, and we put digital and physical tools in their hands, and under their control, as often as possible. This created an enormous degree of buy-in on their part and that, to me, is what makes that project successful year after year. We agreed that the Garden would operate under those same norms.

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Diversifying the Profession Through K-12 Outreach

by Allison Ong, Student ASLA

Chinook Middle School students used models to communicate their ideas for a new open space on their campus. / image: Allison Ong

In the first year of my MLA, I was assigned a review of Gina Ford, FASLA’s talk, “Into an Era of Landscape Humanism.” Her opening words have stayed with me ever since: “Fifty years ago,” she begins, “the voice of our profession was eerily prescient, undeniably smart, and powerfully inspired. It was also, let’s admit it, almost entirely white and male.” I am often reminded of Ford’s statement, as I continue to observe the lack of diversity she speaks of in firms, classes, conferences, and other spaces. Throughout graduate school, I’ve kept a constant eye open for opportunities to diversify our field. The traditional avenues for engagement presented to me, namely departmental diversity committees, didn’t satisfy my desire to act. I wanted to do something. I just didn’t know what that something was.

About a year ago an opportunity finally presented itself. The Student Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects at the University of Washington (UWASLA)’s mentorship program assigned me Laura Enman, Associate ASLA, of Swift Company, as a mentor. Meeting for the first time at a coffee shop, we bonded over our shared interest in improving diversity in landscape architecture. In that moment, a light bulb went off for both of us. We imagined an outreach program to empower students from diverse K-12 schools through landscape architecture. Laura was already connected to a non-profit after-school program, Techbridge Girls, whose goal is to “excite, educate, and equip girls from low-income communities by delivering high-quality STEM programming to empower them to achieve economic mobility and better life chances.” Within weeks, through Techbridge Girls and support from WASLA and UWASLA, we scheduled our first outreach opportunity.

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Australia’s Morialta Playspace

by Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA

Morialta Conservation Park, Nature Playspace Concept Plan / image: Peter Semple Landscape Architect (PSLA)
Final concept plan, Morialta Nature Playspace / image: courtesy of Peter Semple Landscape Architect (PSLA)

Recently, while on a trip to Australia, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of stopping in at a brand-new nature playspace just outside of Adelaide. Located within the 2,058 square-mile Morialta Conservation Park, the Muka Muka Rrinthi nature playspace is nothing short of dazzling. Not to mention, the footprint of the playspace is huge. While designed to be best suited for children ages 5-15, I saw many younger tykes happily creating their own play opportunities. It is easily a full-day, take-a-picnic-lunch destination for families looking for something wonderful to do with their children.

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Boulder Scramble: A Creative Natural Playground Feature

by Davis Harte, PhD

The Village School Boulder Scramble / image: Davis Harte

Davis Harte is a wellness design educator at the Boston Architectural College who bridges evidence and practice with work in children’s places, trauma-informed spaces, and also birth units. Visit Paradigm Spaces’ website for more information. We are very pleased to have Davis share her thoughts about the Village School’s boulder scramble—a place for young children to play and be creative, while simultaneously providing a solution for serious erosion issues.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, Co-Communications Director and Past Co-Chair, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN)

Arriving at around lunchtime, I find ruddy-cheeked and joyful children playing on the Village School’s natural playground. The day is unseasonably warm, feeling more like late spring instead of mid-winter in the Willamette Valley. Rex Redmon, the landscape architect who designed the nature playground at the school, and father of two girls who attend this Eugene, Oregon K-8 public charter school, greets me near the entrance. Despite being 18 years old, the school has been in its current location for only two years. The building housing the school on the current campus is the oldest school building in Eugene, dating back to 1920. The property edges a hillside, studded with Douglas firs, ponderosa pines, and speckled in sections with poison oak near the parking lot.

Landscape designer Leslie Davis joins Rex and me as we pore over the master plan for this natural playground. Our focus today is the boulder scramble, located on the northwest side of a large graded field, book-ended by a fenced-off beehive and a wooden playhouse built by third graders and volunteer parents for a previous theater production. The unique landscape design feature is the needed partner to a 3-foot wide, 15-foot long metal slide, which echoes this section’s slope.

Leslie Davis and her partner and husband Aaron Davis, of Whole Gardens, conceived of and implemented the boulder scramble as the primary star in this particular story. It serves the purpose of erosion control and dry access, as well as a place to play. The slide was a ‘must-have’ for a 1st/2nd grade teacher, whose classroom door opens a few steps away from the top of the slide. The sloped area spans about 210 feet across, and was covered in invasive ivy before the transformation. The whole slope was underutilized until the slide was added last autumn just before the 2017/2018 school year began. The boulder scramble was added during winter break.

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Pop-Up Playspaces Become Permanent Playspaces to Create Healthier and Happier Communities

by Missy Benson, ASLA

image: Playworld

Play is transformative and essential for us to thrive. Unique pop-up play areas can show us how to bring everyone together and live more playful lives. A new book about play describes how this is possible. Just published by the Design Museum Foundation, Design & Play is based on the nationally-traveling exhibit Extraordinary Playscapes and explores playground design, the importance of play to childhood development and social equity.

I am thrilled to be part of this book and to share this story. Two years ago, I was part of the exhibit team to provide a pop-up playspace in Chinatown Park, one of the parks created by Boston’s Big Dig project, called the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Designed by Carol R. Johnson Associates, Chinatown Park contains the Chinatown Gate, which both towers over a flurry of commuter and tourist activity, and provides a gateway into this culturally rich community.

Chinatown Park is full of activity everyday with groups practicing tai chi and playing chess on outdoor tables. Yet, there was not a place for families to play together until the installation of the pop-up PlayCubes. The pop-up PlayCubes are cuboctahedrons designed by architect Richard Dattner in the early 1960s and redesigned in 2016 by Dattner and Playworld with eight triangular faces and six square faces. Each face has a circular cutout so kids, teens, and adults can climb on top or get inside.

This iconic shape is sculptural and replicates nature—possible reasons why people of all ages are here playing together. As Richard Dattner explains, “PlayCubes are part of nature, albeit on a crystalline or molecular level. Archimedes, Kepler, and others have discovered and re-discovered this form over millennia, but it took Playworld and me to find a way to incorporate play. Stacking spheres ‘naturally’ take this cuboctahedron form, as Bucky Fuller discovered in his investigations.”

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The Let’s Get Ready Project

The Let's Get Ready Game Board / image: Jennie Schoof
The Let’s Get Ready Game Board / image: Jennie Schoof

Back in October 2017, I had the honor of participating in a trial of the Let’s Get Ready Project (LGR) disaster resilience game with students at the Dixon primary school in the Yarra Valley outside of Melbourne, Australia. The disaster education game was developed and delivered in Queensland, Australia by Jennie Schoof. Jennie moved to Melbourne and commenced work as the Emergency Management Project Coordinator for the Maroondah, Knox and Yarra Ranges Council Cluster Project. In this role, Jennie adapted the game to be used for the LGR project and to meet the needs of a Victorian (Australia) environment in partnership with emergency service agencies. Jennie and Andrew Williams, Emergency Management Coordinator for the Knox Council, worked with me to prepare this Field post.

The overarching objective of LGR is to engage with youth and schools in a broad exploration of resilience and to prepare today’s children and youth to become informed and resourceful adults. The disaster resilience game, a 3 x 3 meter interactive game, is best played outdoors on a school play yard or community green space. The game comes with all resources required for a facilitator to implement the scenarios: a game token, large game dice, team signs, game and scenario cards, a facilitator guide, score sheets, and game pieces (3D bushfire, cyclone/wind, volcano/landslide, earthquake, tsunami, and floods).

The inquiry-focused, immersive approach of the training game assists in planning for, responding to, and recovering from disasters and emergencies. The project challenges participants to think about what they need to know in order to prepare for and respond effectively to natural disasters and emergencies. It encourages teamwork, leadership skills, negotiation skills, exercise, excitement, and education. The hands-on and engaging immersive teaching methods for disaster resilience education as a fundamental life skill can easily be translated into children’s local environments. The interactive participant-focused activity urges investigation of effective methods for youth and their families to prepare for, cope with, and recover from natural disasters and emergencies.

With the game facilitated by youth leaders, I observed firsthand (while playing the role of a community member along with other local emergency service personnel), that the game was FUN! While the message was serious, it was set in play, a most effective way for children to learn and retain knowledge. It tapped into team building and collaboration, two skills vital for effective decision making in a disaster situation, while also enabling youth the opportunity to develop their leadership skills.

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A Call for All Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Authors!

Children’s Outdoor Environments word cloud / image: WordItOut

Have you…

  • visited a compelling outdoor space that caters to children?
  • heard about or attended an event or program that links children to outdoor places?
  • successfully addressed a child- or family-focused design challenge?
  • attended a child-centered conference that the Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (COE PPN) and other ASLA members should know about?

If so, we invite you to share what you have learned and write a piece for The Field, the blog for ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs). For more information, see The Field‘s Submission Guidelines.

Content on The Field is authored by members of ASLA and organized by ASLA’s 20 PPNs, which cover a wide range of practice areas. The PPNs provide opportunities for professionals interested in the same areas of practice to exchange information, learn about current practices and research, and network with each other—both online and in person at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO.

The Field was created to give members who work in landscape architecture a place to exchange information, learn about recent work and research, and share their thoughts about current happenings. We invite you to join the conversation!

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The Children’s Outdoor Environments and Healthcare & Therapeutic Design Meeting in Review

Joanne Hiromura, ASLA, presents during the joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Healthcare & Therapeutic Design PPNs that took place during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles last month. / image: Alexandra Hay

The 2017 ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (COE PPN) meeting took place with a new twist this year. Recognizing a synergy between PPNs, we held a joint meeting with our colleagues from the Healthcare & Therapeutic Design (HTD) PPN on Saturday afternoon during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Los Angeles last month. If attendance is an indicator, this new direction was a positive one—an unofficial count of 73 makes it the biggest PPN meeting of the conference. For those of you who attended in person, we thank you for coming!

The meeting began with short summaries of the past year from leadership of both the COE and HTD PPNs. Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, transitioned from current to past co-chair, with Ken Hurst, PhD, MLA, RLA, ASLA, CLARB, CPSI, stepping into the co-chair role with Brenna Castro, PLA, ASLA, CPSI. Amy, along with Chad Kennedy, PLA, ASLA, CPSI, LEED AP BD+C, will be serving as communications co-directors for the PPN. Over the past year, we have continued to be busy. The COE PPN logged nine blog posts for The Field, hosted three Online Learning webinars (one jointly with the HTD PPN), and have averaged three new posts per month for the PPN LinkedIn group. And, Ken Hurst was a mentor for one of the Student & Emerging Professionals SPOTLIGHT presentations that took place this summer.

While we are busily organizing several great webinars and Field posts for the upcoming year, we extend an open invitation for you to consider sharing your knowledge by presenting a webinar or writing a blog post (or several!).

Following these PPN updates, Joanne Hiromura, ASLA, RLA, Director of Landscape and Outdoor Playspace Design at studioMLA Architects in Brookline, MA, and Naomi Sachs, PhD, ASLA, EDAC, Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, provided keynote presentations.

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Oh, For the Love of Butterflies (and Children)!

The Bayscape Garden at Pot Spring Elementary School, Baltimore County, MD – May 29, 2017 / image: Tobi Louise Kester

Every year, Pot Spring Elementary School in Baltimore County, Maryland is faced with what seems to be a big problem. Their Bayscape Garden, where the kids are given hands-on experience with plants, insects, birds, and butterflies, looks something like this:

The Bayscape Garden at Pot Spring Elementary School, Baltimore County, MD – April, 2016 / image: Tobi Louise Kester

Located immediately adjacent to the school’s back door, the garden’s proximity to the pre-K, kindergarten, and 1st grade classrooms is no accident…it’s meant to be a part of the learning environment of the school. But each spring, after the snow melts and the mostly herbaceous plants have been dormant for many months, the Bayscape is a far cry from the vibrant, colorful, and exciting place of adventure the students might imagine when they think of gardens. It looks abandoned and forlorn, a mess that is almost lost in the open space of the school yard. It looks like it doesn’t have much potential for anything besides becoming a bigger mess!

But, as a landscape architect, I know better. I can envision the possibilities of lush vegetation, brimming with life. I see a pathway that leads through the garden, and maybe even a hideaway for quiet viewing of ecology in action (and the blending of science and artistic expression) on a personal scale. I can see children smelling the brightly colored flowers, hearing the birds, touching the delicate (yet somehow tenaciously strong) leaves, and excitedly watching the caterpillars eating the milkweeds, then forming their chrysalises, and transforming into delicate butterflies. I can see it because I’ve helped the School staff, other volunteers, and children of Pot Spring create it before!

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Call for Presentations: The Many Faces of Play

image: US Play Coalition

A couple of years ago I attended this conference as a speaker to discuss the developmental needs of children in play environments. I went into the conference as an instructor but quickly became the pupil. All of the attendees were professionals dedicated to play and children’s outdoor environments, who have, and are, doing great things. This three-day conference is a great experience for anyone involved with design and management of outdoor play environments.
–Chad Kennedy, ASLA, Officer and Past Co-Chair of the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN

2018 Conference on the Value of Play: The Many Faces of Play
Call for Presentations Deadline: 11:59 PM EST, Sunday, October 15, 2017

The US Play Coalition is now accepting proposals for Educational Sessions, Poster Presentations, and the Play Research Symposium at the 2018 Conference on the Value of Play: The Many Faces of Play. The conference will be held April 8-11, 2018 at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina. “The Many Faces of Play” will explore play from across the globe and address universal issues of access, accessibility, inclusion and more.

At the Conference on the Value of Play, we have long relied on scholars, practitioners, and industry leaders to share their expertise on various aspects of play. Submit your application to present in one of the following theme tracks (detailed on the call website):

  • International/Global Play
  • Multi/Intergenerational & Adults at Play
  • Accessible & Inclusive Play
  • Health, Recreation & Play
  • Nature Based & Outdoor Play
  • Education & Play
  • Designing for Play
  • Emerging Trends in Play
  • Nuts & Bolts

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An Interview with Lolly Tai, FASLA

Reprinted from The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design by Lolly Tai. Used by permission of Temple University Press. © 2017 by Temple University. Aquatic Exploration Chicago Botanic Garden Regenstein Learning Campus.

An Interview with Lolly Tai, PhD, RLA, FASLA, author of The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design

Lolly Tai is a very busy person. In addition to serving as Professor of Landscape Architecture in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at Temple University and maintaining a landscape architecture practice, Lolly is the recipient of many awards, has authored numerous articles, wrote the highly praised 2006 book Designing Outdoor Environments for Children, and is author of the newly released 2017 book The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design.

Published in 2017 by Temple University Press, The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design is a must-have book, and this is not just for landscape architects, students, and designers. Anyone who interacts with and cares about children—parents, grandparents, childcare staff, teachers, and therapists—will reap innumerable benefits and inspiration from reading this gem of a book. It is a rare book that crosses over between textbook and general interest book, and this is one. Landscape architecture and design students will be inspired by the case examples. The general public now has a guide for must-visit children’s gardens, because as we all know, letting children do what they do best—engaging in spontaneous play, learning, and exploration—can happen in an outdoor space designed just for them.

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Mud and Dirt Play: Embracing the Mess

Children and mud—a perfect pair. / image: Antonio Esposito (public domain)

Few activities inspire more nostalgia than the beloved childhood pastime of splashing, running, and squishing in the mud, free of rules and inhibitions. For children and young-at-heart adults, playing in the mud is just plain fun, with a feeling of mischievousness that comes with making a mess. But for children, all that fun also benefits their physical, emotional, social, and mental growth in a variety of ways. When designing outdoor environments that support children’s development, we can promote mud play by creating flexible spaces and by supporting programming efforts such as International Mud Day—and by worrying a little less about the mess.

Benefits of Muddy, Messy Play

Mud play is more than just a fun activity that gets kids outdoors and away from computer screens. Some benefits of messy play, and ways for adults to encourage and support it, are discussed here and we will further examine some of the play-related benefits that mud play can support.

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Learning in the Garden, Part 3

Ah, the glories of basil! / image: Memory Trees

Debbie Lee Bester, Executive Director, is a co-founder of Memory Trees, a 501(c)(3) social impact organization with a mission of “Giving Back Life…In Abundance.” Memory Trees is moving the social needle on food insecurity and inspiring healthier communities by focusing on: education, social change, food donations, female empowerment, sustainable food, entrepreneurship, public/private collaboration, urban farming, self-sufficiency, and microlending. We are very pleased to have Debbie share her thoughts about the Highridge garden project that Memory Trees developed and continues to facilitate.

–Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair

Where is your garden located? Is it a public or private facility?

The Highridge Facility for at-risk youth is located on a Palm Beach County-owned property in West Palm Beach, FL. This residential facility accommodates approximately 72 youths, aged 9-16, in six individual dormitories (12 youths per house).

Please tell us more about your garden facility—what is the total size, and what types of amenities and spaces does it include, such as garden beds, prep area, or an outdoor classroom? How many children use the garden?

There are two garden facilities: a 3-bed, above-ground planter setup for the commercial kitchen, and one planter alongside each of the 6 dormitories, as described above.

The planters for the commercial kitchen are approximately 100 square feet in total size, and the planters built next to each dormitory are about 16 square feet each.

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Learning in the Garden, Part 2

A clever adaptive reuse of pallets / image: Memory Trees

Debbie Lee Bester, Executive Director, is a co-founder of Memory Trees, a 501(c)(3) social impact organization with a mission of “Giving Back Life… In Abundance.”  Memory Trees is moving the social needle on food insecurity and inspiring healthier communities by focusing on: education, social change, food donations, female empowerment, sustainable food, entrepreneurship, public / private collaboration, urban farming, self-sufficiency, and microlending. We are very pleased to have Debbie share her thoughts about the De George Boys & Girls Club garden project that Memory Trees developed and continues to facilitate.

–Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair

Where is your garden located? Is it a public or private facility?

The De George Boys & Girls Club is located on a property owned by the City of West Palm Beach, FL.

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Pop Up Park Buffalo: Changing the Idea of Play

image: Pop Up Park Buffalo

Changing the Idea of Play Through Personal Empowerment that is Fun & Risky

Pop Up Park Buffalo is a grassroots organization committed to providing community-based “free-play” opportunities for kids in Buffalo and Western New York. In recent decades, opportunities for free-play have been greatly reduced due to parental fears, overscheduling of children, and a general feeling that children should not be on their own. Yet, evidence suggests that free-play is the very best life-lesson tool, and is vital to the growth and development of children into healthy and productive adults.

Being a teacher, an environmental activist, landscape architects, and a planner, we, as founders of Pop Up Buffalo, were specifically interested in creating an experience that fostered the next generation of inventors, philosophers, and designers. As parents, we were also interested in the personal empowerment of risky play and how we could create a free-play experience that parents and communities could be equally empowered in providing. In 2012, we came together to “change the state of play for just one day” and after a very successful event our concept of “Community Based Free-Play” was created. Our one-day experiment was so successful we were urged to continue, and in 2013 we went on to host five more Pop Up Park events in Buffalo and by 2015 we were under the umbrella of The Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo & WNY, Inc., a non-profit incubator organization.

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Learning in the Garden, Part 1

image: Kasey Wooten

The learning garden is a designed outdoor space meant to help children engage with and learn about the natural world, as well as provide opportunities for physical, mental, and social growth. Spaces that serve this purpose can vary hugely in form, size, and design, as well as programming, funding, and intended users. We are excited to present a three-part series of learning garden case studies to better understand how these spaces come to be, how they function now, and what we can learn from them for future projects.

The first of these case studies is the school garden A.P. Giannini Middle School in San Francisco. We asked Kasey Wooten, the school’s Outdoor Science and Garden Consultant, some questions about the facility and her role in its daily operations. Kasey is an educator with a background in farming, and she brings these skills, along with a personal interest in sustainability and in how young people relate to the food they eat, to enrich the education and growth of her students.

-Brenna Castro, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair

Where is your garden located? Is it a public or private facility?

The garden is located in the Outer Sunset in San Francisco, just 10 blocks from Ocean Beach. It sits in the middle of the school, protected by buildings on three sides. A.P. Giannini (APG) is a public school and the schoolyard, including the garden, is open to the public on Sundays 9am-4pm through the Shared Schoolyard Project.

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The Children & Nature Network Conference

2016 C&NN Conference participants gather to learn about a park’s “pop-up adventure play” area. / image: Julie Johnson, ASLA
2016 C&NN Conference participants gather to learn about a park’s “pop-up adventure play” area. / image: Julie Johnson, ASLA

The Children & Nature Network Conference Brings Diverse Perspectives to Shared Goals

As architects of landscapes, we know that what we design impacts children’s lives and their well-being—how they may learn, play, and make sense of their world. And we’re not alone. The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) is an organization seeking to engage children with the natural world, and the C&NN International Conference brings together people of myriad professions, including landscape architects, to learn from each other.

While an exploration of the C&NN website offers valuable research and precedents for practice, along with relevant news articles, taking part in a C&NN International Conference makes those resources tangible. I have attended two prior C&NN Conferences and was inspired by informative and interactive sessions. I also appreciated the deliberate time set aside to meet people effecting change across scales and disciplines.

The 2016 C&NN International Conference in St. Paul, MN, featured a number of design-focused sessions, including a field trip to a “pop-up adventure play” area in a city park, and a presentation on “Green Schoolyards” with speakers presenting different models. Other sessions and plenary talks brought into focus such issues as health, diversity, and learning opportunities. To see highlights of last year’s conference, check out videos and session descriptions on C&NN’s website.

This year’s conference will be held April 18-21, 2017 in Vancouver, BC. The conference schedule, posted online, illustrates the thematic sessions and tours addressing such topics as play, learning, and health from a range of perspectives. Members of the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN will be taking part, as they present through the Conference’s poster sessions.

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

Where Design Meets Play

Conference on the Value of Play: Where Design Meets Play image: US Play Coalition
Conference on the Value of Play: Where Design Meets Play
image: US Play Coalition

A couple of years ago I attended this conference as a speaker to discuss the developmental needs of children in play environments. I went into the conference as an instructor but quickly became the pupil. All of the attendees were professionals dedicated to play and children’s outdoor environments, who have, and are, doing great things. This three-day conference is a great experience for anyone involved with design and management of outdoor play environments.
– Chad Kennedy, ASLA, Officer and Past Co-Chair of the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN

The US Play Coalition invites you to attend the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play: Where Design Meets Play, April 2-5 at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.

The annual Conference on the Value of Play brings together leading play researchers, park and recreation professionals, educators, health scientists, landscape architects, designers, planners, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians and parents from across the country.

The three-day event includes keynote and featured speakers, play institutes, PLAYtalks, research symposium, educational sessions, roundtables, grant opportunities, networking, and opportunities for play. LA CES credits also available!

We have already announced some incredible headliners for 2017 Conference on the Value of Play. Innovative Play Space Designer Matthew Urbanski, ASLA, will be a keynote speaker, sharing his lessons learned from designing play spaces. James Siegal, CEO of KaBOOM!, and Kimberly S. Clay, Founder & Executive Director, Play Like A Girl!®, are among our PLAYtalk presenters (our version of TED talks). There are more speaker announcements to come…not to mention the dozens of educational session and research symposium presenters!

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Children’s Outdoor Environments: Annual Meeting Highlights

The 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting in New Orleans image: Lisa Horne
The 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting in New Orleans
image: Lisa Horne

It was another great year for the Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) at the ASLA Annual Meeting in New Orleans with a special guest speaker as the keynote of the PPN meeting.

Professor Lolly Tai as meeting keynote image: Lisa Horne
Professor Lolly Tai as meeting keynote
image: Lisa Horne

Annual PPN Meeting

The meeting started with a short summary of the year for the PPN, including ten blog posts on The Field and four Online Learning webinars providing content on engaging youth in place making and integrating sensory processing disorders with outdoor play environments. The PPN LinkedIn group has continued to grow over the past year and now includes more than 800 members. Chad Kennedy, PLA, ASLA, CPSI, LEED AP BD+C, transitioned from current to past co-chair with the announcement that Brenna Castro, PLA, ASLA, CPSI, is the incoming co-chair and will guide the leadership team with current co-chair Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, Affiliate ASLA, OTR/L, SCEM, CAPS, FAOTA.

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Wonder for the Outdoors

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood, by Kathryn Aalto image: Timber Press
The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood, by Kathryn Aalto
image: Timber Press

Book Review of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh by Kathryn Aalto

Although I have read Winnie-the-Pooh and grew up watching the Disney movies, a book on the forest that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh seemed a stretch for design application, even with children’s outdoors environments. But it isn’t. Winnie-the-Pooh’s 100 Acre Forest was based on the real Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England. Preservationists have kept it much the same as it was when A.A. Milne wrote the stories so it can be visited today. Kathryn Aalto’s approach to her subject is nuanced and thorough. It provides a perfect case study for children spending time in nature.

Divided into three parts, the book starts with a short biography of A.A. Milne and the illustrator E.H. Shepard as well as the creation of the story. The youngest and most precocious of three sons, Milne could identify words before age three. With two parents who were teachers and the nature around Hampstead in the late 1800s, he thrived. His father told the children, “Keep out of doors as much as you can, and see all you can of nature: she has the most wonderful exhibition, always open and always free.” [2] It is hard to imagine the breadth of the territory that he explored with his nine-year-old brother as they wandered through the British countryside. The text includes Milne’s essay on their three-day walking tour through the country and villages. This narrative fits well with Louise Chawla’s research that most people who care about the environment had either an adult modeling a love of nature or spent extensive time in nature as a child. [1] Milne had both.

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Sensory Gardens

Tactile nourishment for the feet image: Amy Wagenfeld
Tactile nourishment for the feet
image: Amy Wagenfeld

Mention a sensory garden and what often comes to mind is an outdoor space resplendent with aromatic plants and lush plantings abounding with splashes of color. While certainly part of the picture, it is perhaps not the complete one. In this post, we share strategies to create gardens that nurture and enrich all of the sensory systems. Our ideas to create a naturalized outdoor space for sensory exploration and enrichment are general. If you have the opportunity to create specialized sensory gardens for children with complex sensory integrative challenges, we recommend teaming up with occupational therapists with extensive training in sensory integration (it was introduced and the theory was developed by an occupational therapist, A. Jean Ayres), to make it as usable as possible. Because occupational therapists are also well versed in child development, it is a bonus for great sensory garden design.

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Children’s Outdoor Environments at the Annual Meeting

image: Gary Smith
image: Gary Smith

Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (COE PPN) Meeting
Sunday, October 23, 10:00 – 10:45 AM, City Park Stage in PPN Live

Join the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans for our annual PPN meeting, this year in the new PPN Live format! Our meeting will include a keynote presentation by Lolly Tai, FASLA, Professor of Landscape Architecture at Temple University. She is the lead author of the award-winning book Designing Outdoor Environments for Children, published by McGraw-Hill. Her second book, The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design, is in publication by Temple University Press and will be available in spring 2017. Lolly is the recipient of the 2004 Bradford Williams Medal. She holds a BSLA from Cornell University, a MLA from Harvard University, and a PhD from Heriot Watt University. Her keynote address at the COE PPN Meeting will cover:

Children’s Gardens: Design Features and Goals

A recent examination of twenty case studies of public children’s gardens reveals essential design features and key goals. Two case studies are selected to illustrate how key design elements are coherently integrated in creating children’s gardens.

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Playing with Topography

Lafayette Park, San Francisco image: Miller Company Landscape Architects
Lafayette Park, San Francisco
image: Miller Company Landscape Architects

One way we can avoid the effect of a cookie-cutter playground and invite children into the landscape is to integrate the play space with the contours of the site, whether by taking advantage of existing grade changes or by introducing topography to an otherwise flat space. However, the technical challenges and safety concerns associated with hillside play have, in recent years, been a barrier to the design and installation of embankment slides and other play features that integrate with topography. Bridget Muck and Tracey Adams of Miracle Play Systems share knowledge and expertise gained by working on several successful hillside play installations.
-Brenna Castro, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer

There are all sorts of new and exciting playground equipment on the market these days, but one familiar piece from decades ago has made a major comeback—the embankment slide.

Joe DiMaggio Park, San Francisco image: Miracle Play Systems
Joe DiMaggio Park, San Francisco
image: Miracle Play Systems

The embankment slide is not a new concept. However, with safety codes and regulations such as ASTM, CPSC, ADA, and CBC, they are a little trickier than they were for the designers of the past. In this article, we will define embankment slides versus elevated hillslides, provide design methods and approaches, offer material recommendations, and share a few success stories along the way. We will also show other play features that can be incorporated into a site with topography.

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Designing for All Children

Ramp and steps located together provide equitable access to the play structure. image: Amy Wagenfeld
Ramp and steps located together provide equitable access to the play structure.
image: Amy Wagenfeld

The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) suggests that disability is contextual. Environmental contexts can reduce or exacerbate disability. If an environment enables a young girl with a left leg amputation who uses a wheelchair to access spaces the same ways everyone else does, she is not disabled in this context. In accordance with the ICF, if she has to gain access to an environment via a steep ramp, be carried because the only access is steps, or be unable to enter at all, she is disabled. If she cannot participate or engage in the space, she is disabled in this environmental context. In the exemplar above, the ramp and steps are adjacent. The surface is crushed stone and the ramp slope is barely discernible. Both wheeled mobility users and those ambulating can equitably gain access to the Zen garden beyond the shelter. There is no backdoor entrance; all are equal and welcomed through the front door.

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How Play Environments Assist Mother–Infant Interactive Behavior

Expression swing image: Gametime
Expression swing
image: Gametime

The process by which a child enters the world is a truly fathomless miracle. On three occasions I have personally witnessed this amazing process as a child gasps for its first breath, declares its first cry of dissatisfaction, and opens its eyes for the first time to gaze into its mother’s eyes. Of all the crazy things that happen during the whirlwind of childbirth, the moments just mentioned create the most vivid and resonant memories. I stood by as an apparent bystander and watched as mother and child formed unique bonds through mutual gazing that perhaps none of us can truly understand or comprehend. As I watch my three children continue to grow and develop, I often notice this same mesmerizing gaze occur with their mother during moments of quiet calm, active play, and even when miserable, cuddled close trying to fight off a cold. This interactive relationship, referred to as “affect attunement,” developed between a mother and child, is real and seemingly palpable. This article will discuss the science behind this mother-child connection and offer examples of how the play environment can be altered to facilitate important mother-child interaction.

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Small Site, Big Impact

Barrio Logan Child Development Center image: Alex Calegari
Barrio Logan Child Development Center
image: Alex Calegari

The Barrio Logan Child Development Center

When my client, Child Development Associates, first approached me about designing an Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) for the Barrio Logan Child Development Center, he warned me it would be one of my most challenging projects. I saw these challenges as opportunities! Together we had an opportunity to maximize space, to transform lives, and to make a statement that all children could have access to a quality OLE.

The Barrio Logan Child Development Center (CDC) is located in the urban neighborhood of Barrio Logan just south of downtown San Diego. This publicly funded program serves approximately 85 children (3-5 years of age), with the majority from low-income families in the community. The small 1,513 sf play yard (17’ wide x 89’ long), with little shade and no vegetation, sits directly adjacent to the I-5 Freeway, the heavy traffic generating a constant background noise for the students and staff at the Center. Most of the children spend 40-50 hours a week at the Center with little access to nature and open space in their community.

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Make-Believe: Inspiring Imaginative Play in Public Play Spaces

Concessions climber at McClatchy Park in Sacramento, CA, designed by Callander Associates image: Billy Hustace
Concessions climber at McClatchy Park in Sacramento, CA, designed by Callander Associates
image: Billy Hustace

In the hands of a child, a cardboard box can transcend its humble origins to become a racecar, a fort, a cave, a classroom…anything the child can imagine. Similarly, the landscapes that we design for children are the stage on which innumerable dramas, comedies, games, and interactions can unfold, and designing spaces that promote imaginative play can help to support children’s physical, emotional, and social growth. Play that benefits physical health has been a particular focus in the face of increasing levels of childhood obesity—and for good reason, since the importance of movement and activity is so well-documented as to be irrefutable.

While few would argue against the importance of these efforts, we would do children a disservice if we designed spaces meant only to develop their strength and balance at the expense of the emotional and social skills such as creativity, empathy, and cooperation. So while traditional active play is still the default mode for most publicly-funded projects, a thoughtfully designed active play space can also serve to promote imaginative or dramatic play. Moreover, play spaces that stimulate the imagination produce a sense of wonder and possibility, allowing children to create experiences that are different every time and encouraging repeat visits.

Imaginative Play

Imaginative play—a term used here to include pretend play, sociodramatic play, and other forms of symbolic or “make-believe” play [1, 2, 3]—is when children imagine a situation, take on a role, and act out the situation (either alone or in groups) through words or actions [4]. By acting outside the constraints of reality, children are able to deal with problems and fears, develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and experiment with if-then situations.

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Play as Panacea, Part 2

Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas image: Jody Horton
Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas
image: Jody Horton

Part 2: Transforming Lives & Communities

Healthcare Environments

The importance and effectiveness of outdoor therapy, play, and immersion in nature has been widely embraced in recent years and continues to gain prominence in the healthcare industry. As noted nearly 20 years ago, patients are less likely to exhibit signs of depression especially where access to natural light and opportunities for physical exercise are present [1].

One hospital network in Central Texas, Seton Healthcare Family, has eight major facilities in the region and all include some form of healing garden [2]. The 3-acre healing garden at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas—a leading pediatric hospital that was the world’s first LEED Platinum for Healthcare project—is by far the largest of those eight and is integrally intertwined with the institution’s success. The healing garden provides patients, families, and caregivers a literal and figurative escape from the rigors of hospital life that has proven to be restorative and cherished by all. Indeed, probable outcomes from the appropriate use of nature are benefits that will more than likely be experienced in the reduction of anxiety/stress or a buffering of subsequent stressful episodes by the patients, staff, and visitors alike [3].

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Play as Panacea, Part 1

Riverstone’s Big Adventure Park image: Jody Horton
Riverstone’s Big Adventure Park
image: Jody Horton

An Associate in the Houston office of TBG Partners, Jeff Lindstrom is a landscape designer and project manager with in-depth experience in the areas of nature-based play and environments emphasizing education and childhood development. He has a strong interest in designing spaces that elicit full engagement—physical, cognitive, social, and emotional—and support whole child development. He maintains involvement in many organizations—including the Children & Nature Network, Texas Children in Nature – Houston Collaborative, World Forum Foundation, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America—and has attended a variety of conferences focused on play, childhood development, and related issues. Jeff is a University of Wisconsin – Madison alumnus.
–Meade Mitchell, PLA, and Brenna Castro, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer

Part 1: Transforming Lives & Communities

Researchers and experts in childhood development have long recognized the tremendous impact outdoor play and interaction with nature can have on health and well-being. As this appreciation for the power of play continues to be more widely embraced by mainstream audiences, beneficial impacts far beyond physical health have risen to the fore—with multifaceted outcomes and unique applications demonstrating the power of play in distinctly different environmental contexts. Play is increasingly becoming an integral component, and frequently a key driver, of development projects, and while characteristics of play environments often vary dramatically from one realm to another, the efficacy of prioritizing play is serving to transform the design and development of physical spaces—as well as longstanding attitudes by development decision-makers. Play environments were for many years viewed as a nonessential, a line-item consideration fulfilled by uninspired, off-the-shelf, manufactured play equipment lacking creativity. But fortunately, as Bob Dylan would say, the times they are a-changin’.

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