Getting Outside Has Never Been So Meaningful

by the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN leadership team

A family visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden, pre-COVID-19. The Garden is currently closed through June 30, 2020, but is offering virtual tours and other activities for families. / image: Amy Wagenfeld

Hello from the entire Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team! Now, more than ever, people are discovering (or re-discovering) what we all know so well: that being outside is healthful, restorative, joyful, and, hopefully, just makes you feel better about life. With that said, during this time of COVID-19 and the need to practice social distancing, we decided to work together on a post with information and resources about various outdoor activities for adults to do with children. Some of the activities are more passive, like viewing nature; others are nature craft-focused; and some are more active, getting everyone outside and movement-oriented.

Please feel free to share these resources widely and, even better, share your favorite outdoor family or inter-generational “quaranteam” activity with our PPN LinkedIn group. Let’s keep this conversation going and make time to experience all that nature offers us and the young people in our lives, in a safe and responsible way.

Resources for Outdoor Activities with Your Children

The Discover Landscape Architecture Activity Book for Children from ASLA is a free, downloadable publication full of hands-on ideas that introduce children to four of the building blocks that landscape architects apply to designing outdoor spaces. ASLA’s Tools for Teachers page offers additional educational resources and activities.

Continue reading

A Brief History of Playground Design, Part 2

by Naomi Heller

ASLA 2012 Professional Honor Award in Communications. Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation. Sharon Danks, Bay Tree Design, Inc. / image: © 2010 by Sharon Danks

We are very pleased to share the second part of this highly informative article about the history of play, written by Naomi Heller.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network

The first part of this brief history of playground design concluded with the shift from more standardized “model playgrounds” to the more open-ended, imagination-focused play of “novel playgrounds.” Beginning in the 1960s, in response to the Cold War, these novelty playgrounds took on space ship-themed structures. Described in a 1963 issue of Life Magazine, these satellite, rocket, and submarine playgrounds could be seen popping up around the world (here’s just one example: Scott Carpenter Park in Boulder, CO).

During this period, the manufacturing process for playground equipment also advanced. Originally constructed by hand or assembled from kits, novelty playgrounds shifted to more elaborate and standardized pieces. In addition, large firms specializing in designing, building, and maintaining playground equipment began to emerge (Verni, 2015).

In 1978, a one-year-old boy was climbing a 12-foot tall “tornado slide” in Chicago’s Hamlin Park when he slipped between the railings and the steps and fell on his head on the asphalt below. On January 14, 1985 a judge awarded him a minimum of $9.5 million for severe head injuries (Mount, 1985). Similar lawsuits created a need for playground safety regulation. Thus began the era of the “standardized playground,” with the codification of safety regulations and a re-design of manufactured playground equipment.

In 1981, the Consumer Product Safety Commission published the Handbook for Public Playground Safety, which has since been adopted across the US. The new regulations led to the shrinking size and height of new equipment, fewer climbing opportunities, and more guardrails installed on playgrounds. The regulations also addressed safety materials and specified hard plastic or splinter-free wood equipment, vinyl coating, rounded edges, and rubber safety surfaces.

Continue reading

A Brief History of Playground Design, Part 1

by Naomi Heller

N.Y. Playground, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915 / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

We are so pleased to share this informative two-part article about the history of play, written by Naomi Heller. Naomi is a playground designer focused on creating spaces and objects that provide children the freedom to think, act, and play in creative ways. Naomi received her Master of Science in Architecture from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and her Bachelor of Architecture from the Boston Architectural College. She is employed at StudioMLA in Brookline, MA.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network

The concept of play as a vital part of human development is newer than we may imagine, emerging only towards the end of the nineteenth century. Before that time, children were required to work in fields or factories and were not given designated time for play. Public playgrounds did not exist (O’Shea, 2013).

The first public play space was introduced in Germany by Friedrich Froebel, founder of the kindergarten. Building on the work of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and educator Johann Pestalozzi, Froebel recognized the importance of a stimulating environment and how it could positively impact children (Pound, 2011). Promoting the value of free and nature play, he emphasized the need for contact with natural materials such as sand and water.

Motivated by Froebel’s ideas, sand bergs (piles of sand) were placed in Berlin’s public parks in the 1850s. A more designed sand play was popularized in 1889 when Froebel published plans for building a sandbox (Levine, 2003). The article prompted the use of sandboxes across Germany, in schools and homes.

Continue reading

Green Schoolyards: An Interview with Sharon Danks, Part 2

by Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA

Hoover Elementary School students in their school's garden
Students at Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, California search for interesting insects to study in their beautiful half-acre garden. / image: Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Green Schoolyards: Our Cities’ Opportunities to Create Thriving Public Land Where Children and their Communities Benefit

Welcome back to the second part of Lauren Iversen’s interview with Sharon Danks, Founder and CEO of Green Schoolyards America. For the first part of this conversation, please see last week’s post.

How do you see play fitting in? I’m really interested in how play affects children’s mental and physical development. How do you see things like nature play fitting into the schoolyards?

I think it’s important that our schoolyards encourage all types of play: gross and fine motor, pretend play, social play, and nature play—particularly for preschool through elementary school. We need to be developing environments that interest children, as they play in the same place year after year, as their needs expand, and interests change.

Adding trees, shrubs, and other plants to a schoolyard—and designing them in ways that invite interaction—is important. Plants in a green schoolyard should not just be there to add to curb appeal for adults but should be designed first and foremost to facilitate child development and children’s happiness.

What do children like to do in natural settings? They generally enjoy crawling into bushes to make forts and dens. They like to climb trees. They enjoy picking flowers and collecting pine cones and acorns. They enjoy using different plant parts in their games as the seasons change—picking flowers in the spring, collecting seeds or nuts when they fall, and gathering brightly colored autumn leaves.

Continue reading

Green Schoolyards: An Interview with Sharon Danks, Part 1

by Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA

Children playing, green schoolyard, Golestan School
Children play exuberantly in the vibrant green schoolyard at Golestan School in the San Francisco Bay Area. / image: Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Green Schoolyards: Our Cities’ Opportunities to Create Thriving Public Land Where Children and their Communities Benefit

We are delighted to share Lauren’s interview with Sharon Danks, who talks about her vitally important work with greening schoolyards. This is a topic that is applicable to anyone who cares for and about children!
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

Interview with Sharon Danks, Founder and CEO of Green Schoolyards America, by
Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA, graduate student in Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington

Sharon, please tell me what Green Schoolyards America is and works towards.

Green Schoolyards America is a non-profit organization, based in Berkeley, California. We focus on transforming asphalt-covered school grounds into park-like green spaces that improve children’s well-being, learning, and play while contributing to the ecological health and resilience of our cities. We are working to change the norm for school ground design, use, and management so that all children will have access to the natural world on a daily basis, right outside their classroom door.

School districts are one of the biggest land managers in the country, and yet they often don’t see land management as their role. As a result, school grounds are often unusually barren places from an ecological perspective, particularly in our cities. Sadly, we’re putting millions of children—some of our most vulnerable citizens—in these places without adequate protection from the elements or the mental and physical health benefits that the natural world affords. The most barren school grounds are typically also in places with the fewest resources, creating an extreme equity problem and shocking level of disparity.

Continue reading

A Recap of the ASLA Conference from the Children’s Outdoors Environments PPN

by Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Missy Benson, ASLA, and Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA

The Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning field session during the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture.
Attendees enjoying a stop on the Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning field session / image: Ilisa Goldman

With the recent release of the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, let’s give homage to the iconic late Fred Rogers and his thoughts about play. He said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Our Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (COE PPN) presence at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego fully aligned with Mr. Roger’s sentiments. Here’s how.

It began with a field session, Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning, led by COE PPN Co-Chair Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Park Landscape Architect with the City of San Diego, and Andrew Spurlock, FASLA, of Spurlock Landscape Architects. The excitement and sense of wonder filled the double-decker bus as the this sold out session got started. The first stop was the CDA Hilltop Child Development Center (CDC) in Chula Vista, designed by Ilisa in 2012. Program Director at Child Development Associates (CDA), Susan Holley, and Ilisa led a tour through the Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE), discussing the concepts behind the design, site layout, installation, maintenance, and lessons learned. Highlights included the Habitat gARTen, the mud kitchen, and vegetable garden.

From the Hilltop CDC, the field session headed to the community of Encanto in South East San Diego to visit the EarthLab, run by Groundwork San Diego/Chollas Creek. Education Director Joanna Proctor led the group through the project site, which included a native garden/pocket park, outdoor learning amphitheater, educational creek bed, production gardens, and newly installed accessible pathways. An engaging discussion about partnerships with the school district and community, and curricular connections, took place.

Continue reading

Nature’s Capacity to Create a Lifetime Home

by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Farmer David, age 4, helping to create our first family garden. / image: Amy Wagenfeld

I think that my commitment to nature all started with my childhood home. I grew up in a very busy Midwestern household, the oldest of four children, with two transplanted Brooklyn, New York academics for parents. My parents’ prior experience with plants and gardening was nil. Nonetheless, upon purchasing our home in Southwest Michigan, they tackled installing a vegetable garden in our suburban home with great zest and enthusiasm; determined to be farmers and to cast aside their collective urban world view. Their interest in the garden rapidly waned, but much to their surprise, their six-year-old daughter (me) took to the dirt with unfettered passion and zeal.

I quickly found that tending to the garden was a means to escape from three pesky younger siblings and find quiet and solitude amongst the veggies. It was my place in our home, a place where I felt most attached and connected and whole. The garden was where I wanted to be whenever I could. When it came time to harvest, I can still recall, half a century later, a sense of sheer wonder and delight in what I, as a little six-year-old girl, had nurtured all summer long. I can point to those early experiences in our vegetable garden as the catalyst for what would ultimately define my professional work and lifelong love of gardening and nature as a means to define home and to enhance the human experience.

As an occupational therapy educator, researcher, and landscape design consultant, my work focuses on how experiences in nature impact health and wellbeing. I am increasingly interested in how childhood experiences with nature can enrich parent-child as well as place attachment relationships and buffer the impact of trauma. We want our children to develop healthy and secure attachment relationships with their caregivers and to home and to be whole. These relationships may be nurtured through experiences in nature.

Continue reading

The Wild City

by Sarah Bartosh

The Wild City
image: Sarah Bartosh

Sarah Bartosh is currently a master’s of landscape architecture student at the University of Washington. She received her Bachelor of Environmental Design from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and then went on to work for Growing Up Boulder, Boulder’s child- and youth-friendly city initiative. She also worked with the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program to lead Seattle’s Playful Learning Landscapes Pilot Project.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

With one quarter left of my MLA, I would like to pose this question to our profession: how can we challenge the way that we think about designing for children’s connection with nature in our increasingly urban environments?

Just as we are challenging many other spaces we design, I believe it is time we begin to do the same for nature play. As landscape architects, we are some of the most progressive and game-changing thinkers. We are constantly questioning the role of built environments, how they can address pressing climate issues, and how they can foster relationships between humans and the world around them. Yet, when it comes to children’s environments, we often settle for adding a few logs in a park, and call it “nature play.” I recognize and respect that this is a result of the many legal barriers that prevent us from creating bolder, designated spaces for children to connect to nature. This article suggests a way to think beyond these barriers.

Continue reading

The Greening of Schoolyards: Campus Master Plans are Vital Tools

by Jane Tesner Kleiner, ASLA, PLA

Hough Elementary School’s outdoor classroom
Students practicing their year-end play in Hough Elementary School’s outdoor classroom / image: Jane Tesner Kleiner

I recently attended lunch recess at a local elementary school. With a bright orange measuring tape and a can of white marking paint in hand, I made my way to the far corner of the playground. It was a typical elementary school setting: lots of grass, a few trees, pavement play, and manufactured play structures. There was not much else, including shade, and it was pretty warm already. Before I knew it, though, a small cluster of kids trailed behind me, asking the classic, “Whatcha doing?” When I said I was marking the location for their new Butterfly, Sensory, and Strawberry Garden, they told me they were going to help. And as we talked, I gave them the BIG PICTURE of what we wanted to change on their campus. I shared with them the campus Master Plan.

Greening of Schoolyards (GOSY) projects can involve many things, but central to them all are access for everyone and user safety. Of course, in a world of sanitized “play structures” and manufactured authenticity, adding natural areas can come with concerns, many of which stem from lack of experience on the part of stakeholders. They aren’t uncreative…they just haven’t redesigned large, open spaces. When it comes to schools, thoughtful master planning encompasses two main objectives: enhancing the campus and building buy-in among numerous constituent groups.

Continue reading

To Vend or Not to Vend

by Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA

A typical vending machine station
A typical vending machine station / image: Amy Wagenfeld

I have been thinking about vending machines since last year when I attended and presented at the National Children’s Youth Gardening Conference hosted at Cornell University. What is my inspiration? Located in the lobby of the Mann Library is a vending machine loaded with fresh apples. Graduate students in the Horticulture Program pick the apples from the Cornell and Horticulture Section’s Lansing Orchards and keep the machine well stocked. Proceeds from sales benefit the Society for Horticulture Graduate Student Association.

What a surprise! I had never seen anything like it. My experiences with vending machines are those full of soft drinks and not-so-healthy snacks. One thing led to another, and I began taking pictures of vending machines, making note of where they were located and what their contents included. Then I started to do a bit of a search for research on their impact on children’s health. Here I share a few thoughts about how landscape architects committed to promoting children’s health and wellness can contribute to a conversation about vending machines.

Continue reading

Gambling on Green: A Playground Renovation in Las Vegas, Nevada

by Lauren Iversen

Kindergartners play on completed labyrinth made from donated pavers and painted by students. / image: Lauren Iversen

We are delighted that Lauren Iversen has shared her story about a low budget, heartfelt playground renovation with us. Lauren is currently an MLA student at the University of Washington. She received her BLA from Iowa State University, then worked as a second grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada through Teach for America Las Vegas Valley.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

Under my wide brimmed hat, with sweat dripping, I added paint, stroke by stroke, to the long wall. My legs burned sitting on the decomposed granite roasting in the hot sun. I sipped Cool Blue Frost Gatorade, hunger dissipated by 110° heat. A giant cottonwood shaded the playground in the afternoon, but at midday there was nowhere to hide. I looked behind me. Pavers in bright pink and green lay scattered about. Soon I would have to muster the energy to dig up the remaining pavers, wincing at the first attempt to lay a labyrinth. Next to the pavers, the newly planted Desert King fig reflected bright green fruit, leaves wilted trying to send all its efforts in the heat to its future. “Will these figs be around when the kids come back for school?” “Will I ever finish painting this wall?” Why did I get myself into this mess?”

In the 2017-2018 school year I found myself leading efforts to reimagine a field that had succumbed to sand from the desert heat. Working as a second-grade teacher with a BLA, a culmination of timing and tenacity led to a moment that morphed into an actual plan to build the playground. With my background, I embodied the role of designer, fundraiser, project manager, and community advocate. So, how do you build a playground without any money? In the end, the WHY was more important than HOW; therefore, it got done.

Continue reading

Swings: All Ages and All Fun

by Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA

Swings for all ages
Swings for all ages / images: a collage from our contributors

I have been thinking about swings lately, weighing the risk factors now associated with their installation in playspaces with the benefits they provide to motor and sensory development. I have also been wondering what others think about them. As a Professional Practice Network (PPN), we reached out to readers via ASLA, the Therapeutic Landscapes Network, the American Occupational Therapy Association’s social media sites, and to friends to gather some insights.

Front yard tire swing
The not-so-oft-found front yard tire swing. / image: Amy Wagenfeld

What about swings? They can provide therapeutic benefit for some children (and adults). The sensory systems most activated when swinging, gliding, or rocking include the vestibular, proprioceptive, and to a lesser extent the tactile. Here is how they contribute to overall sensory enrichment:

Vestibular: refers to the balance system. Located in the middle ear, the vestibular system responds to the position of the head in relation to gravity and movement and helps keep us from becoming dizzy. Our vestibular systems get a work out with the varied planes of movement a swing make take- front and back, side to side, circular, or up and down.

Proprioception/Kinesthesia: located in the muscles and joints, the proprioceptive system provides awareness of where our bodies are in space. When swinging, proprioception and kinesthesia help us understand the relationship of our bodies to the seat, sides, and back of the swing, and to know where to sit or lay on the swing without falling off.

Tactile: refers to the sense of touch. We make contact with and touch swings by potentially using all body parts, depending on whether sitting or lying down.

Continue reading

Architecture and Design Pop-Up Play

by Chad Kennedy, ASLA

Children used left-over paper tubes, rope, and other materials to design chairs, cabins, and other cool things during the Modesto Architecture Festival
Children used left-over paper tubes, rope, and other materials to design chairs, cabins, and other cool things during Modesto Architecture & Design Week. / image: Chad Kennedy

Most autumn Saturday mornings at the downtown library in Modesto, California are decorated with shoppers and families enjoying artisan organic foods and searching for hidden gems and trinkets at a seasonal farmer’s market along a closed-off section of 17th Street. There is always plenty of music, food, and social dialogue, and everyone enjoys themselves. Once a year, however, this same location is overtaken with laughter, giggles, and smiles as hundreds of families and children swarm the area, overshadowing the events of the farmer’s market, to participate in an annual pop-up play event meant to raise awareness within the community about the design industries.

This pop-up play family event was developed by members of the local ASLA and the AIA chapters as a way to involve children and families in the wildly popular Modesto Architecture Festival, a week-long festival celebrating local architecture and design (now branded as MAD Week). The hope was that over time, more of the community would become familiar with the design professions and enjoy what they have to offer. The pop-up play family event is consistently held on the third Saturday of September each year, and this past year was the eighth consecutive year it was held. For months prior to the event, a team of landscape architects, engineers, library staff, architects, and volunteers coordinate and determine how to bring their skills and passions together to best showcase how fun design can be. Those same professionals donate their time and resources as they gather on the day of the event to mentor, guide, and help families learn, play, and enjoy their time together.

Continue reading

Lessons in Children’s Garden Accessibility

by Jeannie Fernsworth

Aerial view of the children's garden
An aerial view of the veggie labyrinth and surrounding garden treasures. / image: PAPPHOTO

Over a year ago, I heard that one of the 2017 ASLA Florida annual meeting tours was to the Delray Beach Children’s Garden. While I was unable to attend the tour, I did have the good fortune of running into Jeannie Fernsworth at the 2018 American Horticultural Society National Children & Youth Garden Symposium. Jeannie Fernsworth, Co-Founder and Horticulturalist at the Delray Beach Children’s Garden, was kind enough to invite me to the garden and to share some thoughts about this magical place. Thank you, Jeannie!
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

Keeping nature and children wild is a challenge in the midst of urbanity. Parental instincts are to tame wild children and urban sprawl is about beating back wildness so that a townhouse can live there. For the sake of our health and wellness, the look and feel of nature needs to be maintained. This involves careful observation of what nature looks like and also encompasses deep understanding of the needs of people and children of varying ages, abilities, and preferences in a wildscape. The Delray Beach (Florida) Children’s Garden (DBCG)‘s mission is to promote eco-consciousness in all children through nature education and play experiences. Located just south of the downtown area, being immersed in the garden feels like you are miles away from the bustle of this South Florida beach town. The DBCG boasts innovative features, many involving repurposing materials otherwise destined for the scrap heap or recycling bin.

Continue reading

Parks, Play, and People: Equity and Community in Recreation

by Missy Benson, ASLA

The joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) in Philadelphia / image: EPNAC
The joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) in Philadelphia / image: EPNAC

The 2018 Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Meeting in Review

The ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO’s joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), which offered attendees 1.0 PDH, focused on the topic of “Parks, Play, and People: Equity and Community in Recreation” with short presentations by, from left right in the photo above: Joy Kuebler, ASLA, Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect, PC; Andrew Spurlock, FASLA, Spurlock Landscape Architects; and Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, The University of Texas at Arlington and DesignJones, LLC. (For a recap of all PPN events that took place during the meeting, see the overall PPN Live in Review Field post.)

We measure success at our events when we have a great turnout of people interested in our topics—and indeed we had standing room only during our joint event in Philadelphia! Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN leadership was well represented among the 70+ attendees (and several attendees also signed up to join the PPN leadership team!). Here is a summary of the three presentations that took place.

Diane Jones Allen spoke about “The Challenge of Park Equity in Communities with Environmental Challenges,” including Sankofa Wetland Park in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Diane explained the technique “Mining the Indigenous” as described in Design as Democracy to bring together community knowledge typically overlooked and left unmined, to the detriment of projects. For example, local residents shared extensive knowledge of the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle from childhoods spent in these wetlands. Contributions from locals provided a better understanding of the fauna, including alligators, snakes, and insects, and flora, such as edible plants and the historical uses of existing vegetation. Diane described examples of bio-retention facilities designed to alleviate neighborhood flooding during heavy rainfall, with native vegetation and walking paths to promote educational and recreational opportunities for community residents and other users.

Continue reading

Exploring Social & Sensory Barriers That Impede Play in Public Spaces

Chad Kennedy, ASLA, speaking at TEDx Modesto / image: TEDx

TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading,” has popularized short, engaging talks from thought leaders since its founding in 1984 as a conference on Technology, Entertainment and Design. Since then, TED has expanded with the TEDx program to support local, independently organized events that bring communities together to share ideas and spark conversation.

TED speakers have included Walter Hood, ASLA, Kate Orff, ASLA, Janette Sadik-Kahn, Honorary ASLA, and Jeff Speck, Honorary ASLA. This past September, Chad Kennedy, ASLA, P.L.A., CPSI, LEED® AP BD+C, joined the TED speaker cohort at TEDxModesto, which combined TED Talks videos and live presentations by local thinkers and doers on the theme “What makes your life more colorful?”

Chad is Principal Landscape Architect at O’Dell Engineering, and he is also serving as Chair of ASLA’s Professional Practice Network (PPN) Council this year, after serving as co-chair and officer for the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN. Chad is an advocate for and designer of recreational spaces that are created specifically to enrich the lives of all those who visit them. (See “Processing Through Play,” from the June 2018 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, for more on Chad’s focus on play spaces for children with sensory disorders.)

Continue reading

PPN Interview: Ilisa Goldman, ASLA

Child Development Associates, Hilltop Child Development Center Habitat gARTen: On November 15 and 16, 2014, approximately 150 volunteers worked together to build the Habitat gARTen, combining art and nature into a dynamic laboratory for hands on, project based learning. / image: Alex Calegari

Recently, the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN)’s Online Learning Coordinator, Principal Ilisa Goldman, PLA, MLA, ASLA, Founder of Rooted in Place, recorded a podcast: I Made It in San Diego: A Place Maker Builds a Business. It is well worth listening to! For now, we invite you to read an interview with Ilisa, whose work with children and those who are marginalized in the San Diego community is truly making a difference.

How has your passion influenced your practice?

I have held the core values of stewardship, social equity, and environmentalism since my teen years. If you had asked me twenty years ago what I would be doing now, I think my answer would have been very similar to the work I do today: fostering community and connecting people to the natural world.

I was introduced to landscape architecture during my senior year at Rollins College. Majoring in environmental studies, I learned environmental issues from cultural, economic, and science based perspectives. During graduate school at North Carolina State University, I sought out classes, mentors, and projects that allowed me to focus my passions. From studying permaculture to the design of children’s environments, I saw the importance of taking an integrated approach to design. Beginning practice in 2002, I looked for meaningful and interesting work. I am grateful to have worked for Spurlock Landscape Architects (formerly Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects). During this time, I was encouraged to bring my knowledge to the table, explore my ideas, and grow as designer, all while learning the realities of landscape architecture and running a practice.

Between 2009 and 2012, while raising my two young daughters, I began volunteering at San Diego Children and Nature, teaching at the NewSchool of Architecture & Design, and training in the Pomegranate Method for Creative Collaboration. These experiences showed me how small scale, community-oriented projects were critical in improving the quality of educational and community spaces.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading