PPN Zoom Book Club: Naturally Inclusive

by Lisa Howard, MLA, RLA

image: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) is pleased to share a summary of the PPN’s third Zoom Book Club. Hosted on October 3, 2023, 15 attendees welcomed Ruth Wilson, PhD, educator and author of Naturally Inclusive: Engaging Children of All Abilities Outdoors, published in 2022 by Gryphon House. Dr. Ruth Wilson has several published works focusing on early childhood environmental education. She is an educational consultant who has worked with Sesame Street in designing nature education programs and has been an educator for over 30 years including work at Bowling Green State University. She currently works as the curator for the Children & Nature Network’s Research Library.

The book provides landscape architects with a basis of knowledge and understanding of children’s needs and the many benefits a natural environment provides for children’s whole development, including children with physical, sensory, and/or cognitive challenges such as autism or ADHD. Flagship programs from around the country provide program spotlights throughout the book providing detailed successful examples in relation to each chapter’s focus.

PPN leader Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, prepared and moderated this event leading the group through a series of thoughtful questions that were key to the themes of the book and ending by reading a passage illustrating how creative inclusive design can empower and engage children of differing abilities including a wheelchair accessible tree house.

Can you describe the concept of kinship and its importance as a keystone to nature play and inclusive design?

Ruth shared, for children with differing abilities this is especially important to feel like they belong. Kinship suggests a relationship. With kinship one can feel more belonging. In terms of humans, we are all kin, but kinship is much broader than physical connectedness. It has a lot to do with the emotions of who and what we feel connected with. Pets are an example, kinship with a pet is a part of the family demonstrating the emotional element of kinship.

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PPN Zoom Book Club: Schools That Heal

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

Schools That Heal: Schools That Heal: Design with Mental Health in Mind by Claire Latané, FASLA / image: Claire Latané

The ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) is pleased to share a recap of the PPN’s second Zoom book club meeting. Hosted on May 9, 2023, 32 attendees eagerly welcomed Claire Latané, FASLA, MLA, SITES AP, author of Schools That Heal: Design with Mental Health in Mind, published in 2021 by Island Press. Written with an exquisite balance of evidence, sensitivity, and compassion, the book is intended for architects, engineers, and interior designers as well as landscape architects. We are grateful that Professor Latané was able to speak with us about the book and her ongoing advocacy work. Before recapping the book club meeting, a bit more about the author of this month’s PPN book selection:

Associate Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at California State Polytechnic University – Pomona, Professor Latané became a Fellow of ASLA in 2022 and was a Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Fellow for Innovation and Leadership for 2017-2018. Her fellowship focused on high schools and high schoolers, an age when most mental health disorders get diagnosed (if they even get diagnosed). It is a tough time because by age 12, youth are no longer eligible for after school care, and are often left to their own devices. On top of it all, parents are less welcomed to participate in high schools. This period in development was, in Professor Latané’s mind, a bit of a missing piece, and very light on research focused on the mental health benefits of nature in a learning environment.

Beyond her academic role, Professor Latané’s advocacy and commitment to bettering the lives of children is evident in her work as Founder of the Collaborative for Health and Inclusive Learning Environments (CHILE—rhymes with “while”) and as Founder of the Emergency Schoolyard Design Volunteers program for the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative. With mental health challenges amongst children and youth on the rise and compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, never has connecting children with nature been more important. So too is acknowledging that learning environments need to be nature-based places of healing and must be front and center thinking in every school district, everywhere. We need more Professor Latané’s in the world to be the voice for children and youth all of whom must have opportunities to experience the mental health promoting benefits of nature.

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Letting Play Bloom: Designing Nature-Based Risky Play for Children

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

image: book cover courtesy of Lolly Tai, FASLA

Notes from the Inaugural Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) Book Group Meeting

Written by Lolly Tai, PhD, RLA, FASLA, with a foreword by Teri Hendy, CPSI, Letting Play Bloom: Designing Nature-Based Risky Play for Children is magnificent. Published in 2022 by Temple University Press, it is an elegant, rich, and beautiful accounting of the need for children to experience risk in play, because as Dr. Tai eloquently states, “Children love to play in risky ways, it’s how children learn [about themselves and others and the world around them]” (p. 3). She makes clear that risky play is not a synonym for unsafe play; rather she cites Joe Frost’s idea of risky play as being “exciting, thrilling, and challenging while at the same time keeping risk to a minimum.” Children will find their way to risky play, and as the projects in the book make clear, presenting opportunities for risky play makes children happy.

The book is organized around five projects that exemplify risky play: three from the US, one from the Netherlands, and one from Australia. Each project offers risky play opportunities for children, but in different ways. The first project is Slide Hill at the Hills, a project on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor. The next is the iconic Adventure Playground in Berkeley, California. We move on the Rotterdam in the Netherlands to learn about De Speeldernis, return back to the US for WildWoods at the Fernbank Museum, and then to the Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden in Sydney, Australia.

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A Conversation on Trauma Responsive Design Thinking

The Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN campfire session took place on November 12, 2022, in San Francisco at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture. / image: Alexandra Hay

ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture Recap: The Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Campfire Session on Trauma Responsive Design 

Kat Lewis, ASLA – Moderator
Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA – Campfire Lead
Lisa Casey, ASLA – Campfire Facilitator
Chad Kennedy, ASLA – Campfire Facilitator

The Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) hosted their campfire session on Saturday afternoon of the conference. PPN leaders were joined by an enthusiastic group of around twenty individuals who participated in the discussion. Our session was opened by Kat, who gave a brief overview of the purpose, with the focus not being on a single solution but to explore the complexity and considerations of trauma responsive design. But first, we needed to establish that there is no clear definition of trauma responsive design and little to no evidence-based research to support it, but there needs to be!

Amy and Lisa went through a series of questions about what trauma is, and whether there is a difference between childhood and adult trauma to engage the group and get the conversation going. They went on to talk about stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and how toxic stress feeds ACEs and collectively changes the child’s brain structure and negatively alters their development.

This became a call to action that launched into some brainstorming about landscape architects partnering with healthcare professionals to study the impact of landscape projects on reducing the impacts of child trauma.

We had a strong turnout for this discussion and there were many interested in joining or learning more about the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN. Even if you were not able to join us in San Francisco, we encourage you to join the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN and considering becoming a PPN leader.

Children, Nature, and Health Reference List

At our campfire session, it came up in conversation that having a list of child and nature-focused articles would be helpful. What follows is a reference list organized by topic (some articles appear in multiple sections). It is intended to be representative of recent and seminal publications and by no means covers all the amazing literature that has been published, so let’s think of this list as an evolving resource. Please share your favorite articles in the comments section and we will keep the list growing. We plan to add an expanded version to the PPN’s Resources webpage in the future.

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A Few Fun Playgrounds In and Around San Francisco, Part 2

by Roger Grant, ASLA, PLA

Dennis the Menace Park’s suspension bridge / image: Roger Grant

Last week, we explored San Francisco’s Koret Children’s Quarter and playground, the Tot Lot at Portsmouth Square Park, Willie “Woo-Woo” Wong Playground, and Presidio Tunnel Tops in Part 1. Today in Part 2, we are moving slightly further afield to Dennis the Menace Park, located on California’s Central Coast.

Dennis the Menace Park
El Estero Park, 777 Pearl Street
Monterey, CA 93940

A couple of hours south of San Francisco, a small town on Monterey Bay is home to a park that represented the forefront of creative children’s outdoor play when it was opened 65 years ago and is still going strong today. Its namesake is the famous cartoon character Dennis the Menace, and the creator of this mischievous comic character helped make this project a reality. A quick Google search shows that the park was originally built before any notion of children’s safety standards existed. It had numerous fabricated steel pieces that were engineering marvels that kids could climb on, slide down, and even spin, elevated approximately 15’ above the ground, on. There have been various park renovations, but the essence of the park is intact and it still feels like a wild and unique play space.

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A Few Fun Playgrounds In and Around San Francisco, Part 1

by Roger Grant, ASLA, PLA

The play space at San Francisco’s Presidio Tunnel Tops—this new park is the focus of one of the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture’s (already sold out!) field sessions. / image: Roger Grant

As a landscape architect with four young children, I enjoy visiting unique and dynamic playgrounds wherever I travel. This summer, I had the good fortune of traveling to San Francisco, and I wanted to share my thoughts on a few playgrounds I visited for anyone thinking about the topic of children’s outdoor play as they head to San Francisco for the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and hopefully my experiences will be a motivating factor for others to get out and explore unique outdoor spaces in the Bay Area and beyond.

Koret Children’s Quarter and Playground
320 Bowling Green Drive (southeast corner of Golden Gate Park)
San Francisco, CA 94199

Originally opened in 1888, some claim that this is the oldest children’s playground in the US. It was remodeled and reopened in 2007, and has some unique, artistic, and fun features that make it stand out. The play area is about an acre and mostly open, with a sunny exposure. Pathways lead to sand areas with age sensitive manufactured playground equipment.

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Loosening Up: Breaking Boundaries for Creative Play in Schoolyards, Part 3

by Eric Higbee, ASLA, Jason Medeiros, and Leon Smith

Students play with the loose parts at Hawthorne Elementary’s creative playspace. / image: Eric Higbee

Education and Creativity at Hawthorne Elementary’s STEAM Playspace

Part 3: Design, Implementation, and Lessons Learned

Welcome to Part 3 of “Loosening Up,” the story of transforming Hawthorne Elementary’s asphalt schoolyard into a community-curated, nature-based, loose parts playground. Our first post focused on our student and community engagement process, and our second post focused on navigating bureaucratic resistance to loose parts and nature play. In this third installment, we cover the final design, implementation, and lessons learned.

The Design and the Build

Community engagement and negotiation with the School District produced a vision for Hawthorne’s playspace that weaves a tapestry of loose-parts play, native plants, stormwater capture, learning gardens, an outdoor classroom, and creative play.

A first phase was built in 2019, including natural spaces, a creative play area, and a bioretention swale. A second phase, completed in 2020, expanded the creative play area and replaced aging playground equipment. As of June 2022, the third phase and completion of the vision is still waiting to be fulfilled.

The loose parts and creative play area is a focal point of the playground. Set amongst groups of native plants and trees, the space holds a collection of moveable stumps, logs, and “cookies” for kids to move, stack, manipulate, and more. To our knowledge, this is one of the only contemporary public schools in the U.S. to embrace loose parts as an intentional part of its playground design.

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Loosening Up: Breaking Boundaries for Creative Play in Schoolyards, Part 2

by Eric Higbee, ASLA, Jason Medeiros, and Leon Smith

Hawthorne students play with loose parts during an afterschool demonstration by Portland Free Play. / image: Fahad Aldaajani

Education and Creativity at Hawthorne Elementary’s STEAM Playspace

Part 2: Making the Case

Welcome to Part 2 of “Loosening Up,” the story of transforming Hawthorne Elementary’s asphalt schoolyard into a community-curated, nature-based, loose parts playground. Our first post focused on our student and community engagement process. This second post focuses on navigating bureaucratic resistance. A third will cover the final design, implementation, and lessons learned.

The Benefits of Loose Parts and Nature Play

There is ample evidence for the academic and social benefits of enriching a play environment with loose parts and nature. Studies have shown that loose parts play supports creative problem solving (Daly & Beloglovsky, 2015); fosters imagination, creativity, and symbolic abstract thinking (Miller, 2007); and leads to greater happiness and social inclusion during recess.

Studies have also shown that natural play environments stimulate social interaction between children and reduce the incidence of bullying (Bixler et al., 2002; Malone & Tranter, 2003; Moore 1986) and that some contact with nature during the school day improves children’s concentration and self-discipline in the classroom (Grahn, et al., 1997; Taylor et al., 2002; Wells, 2000).

The Barriers to Loose Parts and Nature Play

Yet despite the benefits, school districts are typically averse to incorporating nature or loose parts into school playgrounds.

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Loosening Up: Breaking Boundaries for Creative Play in Schoolyards

by Eric Higbee, ASLA, Jason Medeiros, and Leon Smith

Students use graphic organizers to help generate models of playground installations designed to inspire STEAM learning and creative play. / image: Fahad Aldaajani

Education and Creativity at Hawthorne Elementary’s STEAM Playspace

Part 1: Engaging Students and Community

The beneficial value of ‘Loose Parts’ and ‘Nature Play’ for childhood development comes up repeatedly in education literature and discussions on landscape design. Yet, in our opinion, there are few examples of these being built in public school settings because of a variety of prohibitive factors, including the dominance of manufactured playground equipment in children’s landscapes and district-level fear of injury and liability.

Beginning in 2017, the community at Hawthorne Elementary in Seattle bridged this gap with the Hawthorne STEAM Playspace, transforming a portion of their asphalt schoolyard into a community-curated, nature-based, loose parts playground. To our knowledge, this is one of the only contemporary public schools to embrace loose parts as an intentional part of its playground.

Over this and two more posts, we will tell Hawthorne’s story and share what we learned. In this post, we will discuss our student and community engagement process; the second post will focus on navigating bureaucratic resistance; and the third will cover the final design, implementation, and lessons learned.

Let’s dive in!

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Students Exploring Enriching Design: Hammock Hollow at Bok Tower Gardens

by Kaylin Slaughter, Student ASLA, and Kenneth Hurst, ASLA

A sketch of my friend basking under the palms, taking in the exquisite site. / image: Kaylin Slaughter

The mission of this study trip to Orlando, Florida, was to have the second year landscape architecture students at Texas A&M University engage with a question about popular play spaces: what elements of design make these spaces work? Students were given pencils and a journal, and were invited to tap into the knowledge we had acquired thus far in our education and record our uniquely formed observations. Through this journaling process we developed unexpected and meaningful relationships with the sites we visited.

In built environments, an individual’s experience of any given site may often feel as programmed as the paths of travel. However, designers have the capacity to see a site for its full potential. As a student of design, I see the world through two lenses. One is the rose-colored glass that shows me the designed world the way the landscape architect intended it to be seen. The other lens offers a designer’s X-ray vision that allows me to see past beauty to purpose. As a design student I am caught between these perspectives—I can uncover a space with childlike wonder, and yet I have the vocabulary to articulate the design’s successes while doing so on a journey deeper into a site’s purpose than most user groups could. This realization came to me as my classmates and I were observing a children’s play space.

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A New Design Guide for Nature Exploration Areas

by Lisa Howard, ASLA, and Willa Caughey

A child simultaneously developing fine and gross motor skills, executive function, and creative skills at Evergreen Brick Works. / image: Lisa Howard

For those with access, nature has been a healing salve throughout the pandemic—a safe space to interact with the outside world, stimulate the senses, and explore freely. But for the many without ready access to pockets of nature, the crisis served to amplify existing inequities and brought urgency to the already pressing need for more equal access to natural outdoor spaces, particularly for children.

Dedicated natural areas for children don’t need to be expansive or pristine to offer benefits, but access is key. Small pockets set aside for nature exploration that are within 15 minutes walking distance from children’s residences or schools can provide children daily or weekly access to experiences that regularly support their cognitive, physical, and social development in ways a traditional playground can’t.

Historically, children generally had more freedom to roam and explore their surrounding landscapes. From streets to backyards, vacant lots to forests, these unofficial spaces offered opportunities for children to learn, grow, and challenge themselves in an unstructured environment. Today, opportunities to play and explore in these types of landscapes have been significantly diminished by children’s increasingly structured lives, urban/suburban development, and the absence of “eyes on the street.” Nature Exploration Areas (NEAs) offer a model for reintroducing such landscapes—and their associated benefits—into children’s daily lives.

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Creating a Space to Reflect, Heal, and Remember

by Valerie Bassett, ASLA

Park visitors using musical instruments
image: Valerie Bassett

The Quinterra Legacy Garden

Seven years after five university students were killed at a house party in Calgary, Alberta, a memorial park designed to honor them opened recently in the local South Glenmore Park. The design of the area, now known as the Quinterra Legacy Garden, was informed by sensitivities surrounding the planning process and shaped by the steps taken to support the families’ design vision for the creation of the park.

The tragedy happened in April 2014 on “Bermuda Shorts Day,” a time which used to be a celebration of the end of the university school year. After several years of mourning, in 2019, we were contacted by the Quinterra Group, set up by family and friends of those lost, to meet with them to understand their aspirations.

In short, the Group’s vision was for a peaceful, contemplative, and vibrant outdoor community space for people to be inspired, to heal, and to connect with nature. They also wanted it to be a special place to celebrate the students’ lives and bring a positive light to the tragedy. With each of the students being known for their love of music, art, and the community, this had to be at the core of the legacy garden.

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The Orchard at White Street Park

by Roger Grant, ASLA, PLA

Boy Scouts installing hammock posts at the Orchard at White Street Park, 2020 / image: Roger Grant

A Case Study in Community Orchard-Playground Design

In Suwanee, a small suburb north of Atlanta, Georgia, lies a one-acre public park combining edible fruiting plants with child-friendly play features. Suwanee has a small but popular parks network that includes a seven-acre site with an organically maintained community garden, stream, trails, and a lawn that was a former pasture. In 2012, a local landscape architect met with City staff to discuss the potential to convert the former pasture area into a new kind of park for the City—an “orchard-playground.” The concept was intended to combine the enjoyment of edible fruit with play features rooted in the natural playground movement. After several years of both volunteer- and employer-supported efforts, the City approved a final design, and the Orchard at White Street Park was constructed and officially opened in the fall of 2017.

The notion of a public orchard where fruit is grown for free harvest by the community is a logical extension of the community gardening movement that is increasingly being explored throughout the country. During the design process, there was little information regarding public orchards, but as of now, there are numerous efforts in Georgia and around the US. Some go by the name of “food forest,” which can be a combination of orchard and annual fruit and vegetable growing, and some follow the concept of “permaculture,” which relies on dynamic and symbiotic relationships between edible plants and their allies to develop a long lasting and self-sustaining harvest. While these concepts were explored during the design process, the planting design was simplified for the initial phase based on available budget and anticipated maintenance capacity. Thus, the outcome was creation of a combination of pathways, benches, fences, play features, lawn areas, and mulched fruit tree, shrub, and vine areas.

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An Interview with Patrick Barkham, Part 3

Children playing in the rain
image: Patrick Barkham

What follows is the final part of the interview that I had with Patrick Barkham, author of Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature. (Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.) We end the interview with some of his thoughts about designing for ‘wild children.’
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Amy Wagenfeld (AW): What do you see as the most challenging issue that’s preventing children from fully embracing nature? While you have spoken about it in previous questions, let’s fully encapsulate it here.

Patrick Barkham (PB): What’s preventing children from engaging with nature in one word is: adults. We despair about our children being hooked on electronic screens and so forth, as if it’s their fault but it’s down to us adults and I feel the problems are incredibly deep rooted in society.

There are two or three really obvious and practical things in society that I think apply to North America as much as Britain. One is the increase in fear about stranger danger, that our children are unsafe unless we’ve got our eyes on them all the time. Good parenting has become synonymous with perpetual supervision, and we’ve failed to see that this is a very recent phenomenon. It wasn’t a standard that we demanded of our parents as recently as, say, the 1950s. So somehow, we’ve got to get out of that psychological bind.

There’s another problem though, which I think is much more rational, and that’s traffic on our roads. In Britain there isn’t an enormous amount of public space. Our streets and roads are public space, but they are so busy with cars now that it really isn’t safe for children to bike and play on the street, as they once did. An obvious solution, and I think this is happening in the States as well as Britain, is to make streets more shared spaces and have car free Sundays on streets. Neighborhoods can potentially make this happen, particularly if you live on suburban estates with roads that don’t lead anywhere. Again, it’s up to us adults to better regulate our roads and to give children some rights on them, as well as to our car drivers. There’s a brilliant, very elderly sociologist in Britain named Mayer Hillman. He pointed out that we’ve prioritized the rights of car drivers over the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups in society, our children.

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An Interview with Patrick Barkham, Part 2

Children playing in nature
image: Patrick Barkham

Welcome back to the second part of my interview with Patrick Barkham, author of Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature. (Click here to read the first part, published last week.) We pick up the conversation by looking at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on children and their families’ connections with nature.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Amy Wagenfeld (AW): As we continue to navigate through the current pandemic, what are your thoughts about connecting children and their families with nature? And, have you had any new ideas or thoughts emerge as a result of the lockdowns and restrictions that we’re experiencing?

Patrick Barkham (PB): The thing that I’ve seen is perhaps small and off point, but we in Britain had our schools shut for more than a term, so almost half a year of our schools being shut and learning either not being provided at all or via online lessons at home. It was a really obvious point to me that in the depths of the pandemic, even in the worst moments of the curve, we could have still provided schooling for our children if we had moved learning outdoors. There was some slightly hopeful talk of that in Britain at the start of the first lockdown and nothing’s really happened with it. The government hasn’t made it a priority or enabled it or funded it in schools.

Understandably, hard-pressed, under-resourced schools haven’t been able to deliver outdoor learning in any enhanced way, and indeed in most schools, there has been less outdoor learning since the pandemic struck than before because teachers have had to focus back on the apparent, key maths and English and so forth that they’ve missed out on. Maths and English can be taught outdoors equally well as indoors. I’ve met some inspiring teachers who are teaching very conventional hard maths and science and English outdoors and getting better results for the children. The children are outdoors and they’re able to concentrate and focus much better when they’re outdoors than when they’re cramped in a noisy, busy classroom, which for some children can lead to sensory overload. My answer would be that the pandemic has been a real opportunity to massively expand outdoor school for everyone.

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An Interview with Patrick Barkham, Author of Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature

Patrick Barkham and his family
image: © Marcus Garrett

I recently had the pleasure of having an extensive Zoom interview with Patrick Barkham. He is an award-winning author and natural history writer for The Guardian. Patrick’s books include The Butterfly Isles, Badgerlands, Coastlines, Islander, and Wild Child. He has edited an anthology of British nature writing, The Wild Isles, and is currently writing a biography of nature writer and wild swimmer Roger Deakin. Patrick lives in Norfolk, England, with his family. What follows will be a three-part series of our conversation about Wild Child that, in all actuality, reads more like a story than an interview.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Amy Wagenfeld (AW): Patrick, thanks so much for making time to speak with me today on behalf of the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN). Let’s start with this question. Would you please tell us what your favorite place in nature is and what makes it special?

Patrick Barkham (PB): My favorite place in nature is a beach in Norfolk in England called Wells-Next-the-Sea. It’s a small port on the varied marshy North coast and next to it, about a mile beyond over the marshes is the sea, and I love it because it has an enormous golden sandy beach, and sand dunes and pine woods behind it.

It’s very reminiscent of beaches on the East coast of North America and in its scale, a place where you can go and just find peace and space, both of which are two things at a kind of premium in today’s world. It’s also this vast arena of freedom for children, where they can run free and enjoy themselves. Obviously, it’s a place very rich in nature, but for us humans it’s the blank canvas on which we can play and create. My children love drawing in the sand or building the classic motif castle as the tide comes in over the sand. There’s just no end to things that you can do in this environment by engaging peacefully with it.

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In the Flow: Loose Parts Play, Take Two

image: Nathalie Aluisi

Having enjoyed collaborating on our first loose parts play post last month, bi-coastal photos continue to be shared within the Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team. As the weather improves and we head swiftly towards summer, here is hoping that we see many more children (and those of us who are still children at heart) having lots of unstructured and creative fun with loose parts play. Enjoy this second photo series and please consider how loose parts play opportunities can be safely programmed into your projects.

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In the Flow: Loose Parts Play

Playing in nature
image: Nari Chung

In 1971, architect and artist Simon Nicholson introduced the concept of loose parts in his article “The Theory of Loose Parts: How NOT to Cheat Children.” In the article, Mr. Nicholson described loose parts as materials, natural or manmade, that can be used in different ways for children to manipulate, experiment with, create and invent with, and generally do whatever they want with them. Further described, there are no set directions that accompany loose parts play, so they are limited only by safety and any existing environmental constraints and the far reaches of childrens’ imagination (Neill, 2013).

Loose parts are well suited for solitary and social play. The bottom line is, while further research is needed, what we do know is that loose parts play appears to enhance active and unstructured play (Houser, et al., 2016). Take a look at some of the images that our Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team compiled of children engaging in loose play in the woods, on the playground, at the shore, and some of the projects they have left behind for others to enjoy. Please feel free to share some of your favorite images with us, in the comments below or by email.

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More Research Needed: Trail Access and Use for Youth from Under-Resourced Communities

by Mike Hill, ASLA

Aerial view of the 606 in Chicago
ASLA 2020 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. The 606, Chicago, Illinois. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.. / image: MVVA

The recently published paper, “Identification of Effective Programs to Improve Access to and Use of Trails among Youth from Under-Resourced Communities: A Review” is a collaboration between researchers from National Institutes of Health, US Department of Transportation, Centers for Disease Control, USDA Forest Service, and Furman University in Greenville, SC. In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of programs to increase access to trails and trails use among youth from under-resourced communities, this paper also aims to identify:

  • relationships between physical activity/trail use and features of transportation systems and/or built environment and land use destinations,
  • benefits associated with trail use, and
  • barriers to trail use.

What We Found: The paper reviewed existing literature to identify, abstract, and evaluate studies related to programs to promote trail use among youth and youth from under-resourced communities. Eight studies used longitudinal or quasi-experimental designs to evaluate physical activity and neighborhood characteristics prospectively among adolescent girls, the effects of the path or trail development on physical activity behaviors of children, youth, and adults, marketing or media campaigns, and wayfinding and incremental distance signage to promote increased trail use.

No studies were located that evaluated programs designed to promote and increase trail use among youth, including youth from under-resourced communities. Few intervention studies using trails to increase physical activity among under-resourced youth were identified in this review. More studies need to be conducted using access to trails as interventions to promote trail-use among youth.

Many barriers to trail use are practical, such as costs, crime, lack of transportation. Others are psycho-social in nature—what trusted role models are introducing trail use? Is the “culture of the trail” welcoming to people from my background? How does being outdoors connect to my cultural identity, and through what activities? These are all challenges that impact youth and youth leaders’ decisions as much as institutional discrimination and its impact on recreation planning.

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An Invitation

image: Grace ‘n’ Chase Photography

The Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) is very pleased to share this blog post about the concept of inclusion and its connection with landscape architecture. A giant thank you to Natalie Mackay, Executive Director of Unlimited Play, for contributing this thought provoking and deeply compelling article. We invite you all to share your thoughts and ideas on this important topic.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

June 21, 2000. I received the invitation. No one else I had known or knew at that time received this invitation—just me. Membership in this ‘group’ required countless sleepless nights, endless appointments, and patience as I learned a new language. Tired and heartbroken, I found the determination to move forward in hopes of creating something better out of this life-changing circumstance.

My invitation to join the special needs community arrived the day my son Zachary was born and diagnosed with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease. Now, 20 years later, this disease has taken almost everything from Zach, except for his love for life and community. Throughout the last 20 years, I have learned that each one of you has more than likely received, or will receive, a similar invitation. Through family members, close friends, or serendipitous circumstances, you have also been invited to join this close community.

Unlimited Play is a nonprofit I founded in 2003 that is focused on the need to build inclusive playgrounds. More than simply giving children the chance to play was my germ of an idea of building a community focused on inclusion. I dreamed of a place where children would not just see a little boy in a wheelchair, but a new friend. I like to imagine that children who play on the playgrounds we have built grow up to become landscape architects with memories of friendships developed on a playground designed for all children, regardless of situation or circumstance. Those early friendships formed on the playground (that proverbial ‘sandbox’) then become the professional inspiration behind using inclusion as the foundation of each design, no matter what it is, because inclusion is everything and everyone.

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Making Mud Pies

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

Mud pie
Mud pie / image: Missy Benson

Expanding sensory opportunities in outdoor spaces for children is always important, but even more so during a pandemic like we are experiencing now. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us the United States lived as an indoor society with little connection with nature, especially in our low-income, under-served neighborhoods. Research tells us rich outdoor sensory experiences provide both stress release and can help build positive memories that last a lifetime—both are much needed now!

Stories of Therapeutic and Sensory Rich Outdoor Spaces

Living with Dementia
When my mother lived in a retirement community, I was lucky to work with Jack Carman, FASLA, of Spiezle Architectural Group, Inc. and Design for Generations, LLC, to provide a new sensory courtyard design for their residents and staff. When I interviewed staff to understand their needs of the space, I heard much more than the standard wish list of benches, shade, water feature, raised garden beds, and such. The staff, deeply dedicated to patients with dementia, also expressed how some of their patients lived only in the past—but with happy memories of being outdoors. Yet, others they observed lived in a painful past fraught with sad memories.

In talking with the nursing staff, I learned that most of them felt sure that the memories their patients have of being outdoors remain helpful throughout their lives, especially during times of stress. This same memory bank may serve all of us well. While there is little evidence to support whether, for individuals with dementia, limited past access to nature is associated with diminished happiness in older adulthood (now, this is a great idea for research!), there is ample evidence that for older adults, being in sensory rich gardens—touching, smelling, viewing, listening to, moving about, and tasting the plants—can evoke positive memories, improve health and well-being, and is restorative. A brief snapshot of references that supports these benefits follows at the end of this post. Please do feel free to share other pertinent articles with all of us in the comments section below.

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An Interview with David Kamp, FASLA: The Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden

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

Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden
Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden. A spacious curved trellis serves as a welcoming transition from the elementary school to the garden. The adjacent activity space, an oval “lawn” of resilient paving, features a variety of fixed and movable seating choices. / image: Robin Hill (c)

An Interview with David Kamp, FASLA, LF, NA, Founding Partner of Dirtworks Landscape Architecture, PC

The Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) is honored to share the second part of my interview with David Kamp, FASLA, whose influential work is held in the highest esteem in the design, planning, and environmental psychology community. (Please see the first installment, covering what shaped David’s design philosophy, here.)

Representative Projects

Your portfolio of projects is amazing. Could you share your thoughts about several that provided you the foundation to design the Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden?

I realize that much of what I have shared with you deals with health. Building health through a stronger connection with nature, which strengthens connections to ourselves, our communities, and the larger world, is the foundation to all our projects. That includes our work with children—whether it is designing a universal access trail system for an environmental education center, dealing with the trauma of neo-natal intensive care for parents and well siblings, a public garden that engages everyone regardless of age or condition, or an international campus that welcomes children from a dozen different cultures. All of these perspectives deal with celebrating the wonder and delight of nature and using that resonating “connectiveness” to open up new worlds for kids to explore. Receiving the commission for the Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden, we had a rich and nuanced perspective to draw upon for the collaboration.

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An Interview with David Kamp, FASLA

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

Sensory Arts Garden
Within a lush and safe setting, the Sensory Arts Garden fosters curiosity and meaningful interactions and is welcoming to all regardless of ability. / image: Robin Hill (c)

An Interview with David Kamp, FASLA, LF, NA, Founding Partner of Dirtworks Landscape Architecture, PC

I am delighted to share the first of a two-part interview I had with landscape architect David Kamp, FASLA. Having followed his innovative and influential work with great interest for many years, I was fortunate to have worked with David and his team at Dirtworks to design the Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden, located in Jupiter, Florida. It remains one of my favorite and most meaningful projects, one that truly meets the needs of children and adults with autism. We will talk about the Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden in the second part of the interview, to be published here on The Field next week. For now, please enjoy learning about what shaped David’s design philosophy.

Personal History

Please tell us about your firm, when it was founded, and what your vision was.

Early in my career, as one of the designers for Australia’s Parliament House, I saw how design could express a sense of identity both personal and national—and do it at vastly different scales. Working for landscape architect Peter Rolland, FASLA, and a design team headed by Mitchell Giurgola Thorp Architects, the design for Parliament House drew upon an important historic concept whereby the city used its natural topography as a major organizing device. The design made little distinction between architecture and landscape. It is a triumph of the planner’s art, merging built form with landform in a way that is at once natural and monumental, seeking a balance with the existing landscape and morphology of the city.

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ICYMI: A Virtual Forum on the Future of Parks and Play

Social distancing circles in a park
Circles in a London park mark appropriate social distance. / image: Winniepix licensed under CC BY 2.0

On July 15, right in the middle of Park and Recreation Month, three of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs)—Children’s Outdoor Environments, Environmental Justice, and Parks & Recreation—collaborated to host an open dialogue on the future of parks and play.

ASLA members were invited to take part in this virtual forum as an opportunity to converse with peers about their observations and experiences, new developments being planned or currently underway, and what they are seeing locally in terms of park and play space usage or changes in use.

PPN leaders and members came together for small-group discussions within Zoom breakout rooms focused on what’s happening in parks and playspaces, and what landscape architects are hearing from clients and stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forum Facilitators:

  • Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair
  • Ken Hurst, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair
  • Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer and past Co-Chair
  • Heidi Cohen, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer
  • Missy Benson, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer
  • Chad Kennedy, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments and past Co-Chair
  • Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, Environmental Justice PPN Co-Chair
  • Tom Martin, ASLA, Environmental Justice PPN Co-Chair
  • Bronwen Mastro, ASLA, Parks and Recreation PPN Officer
  • Matt Boehner, ASLA, Parks and Recreation PPN Officer

Four discussion topics and prompts were provided to spark discussion and input from attendees, who ranged from students to firm principals who came from across the U.S., along with a few based internationally. Below, we recap key points, recurring trends, and takeaways from the conversation.

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Getting Started with Participatory Placemaking

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

Teachers and students interacting
An effective strategy for participatory design is to go where children are, working with them alongside teachers and out-of-school program leaders as core partners. / image: Darcy Varney Kitching

We are honored to share the third of a three-part interview with Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (please see part one, Not Just Climate Strikes: Giving Young People Roles in Community Greening, and part two, The Benefits of Including Children in Participatory Placemaking, published here on The Field earlier this month). The three worked together on Growing Up Boulder (whose home base is at the University of Colorado Boulder), a program to engage children and teens in city planning and design. They also co-authored the book Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices to Plan Sustainable Communities, winner of the 2019 Achievement Award from the Environmental Design Research Association. A new book, The Routledge Handbook of Designing Public Spaces for Young People, contains chapters by Louise and Mara on developing partnerships for child and youth participation and ensuring that young people’s ideas influence final plans. Happy reading!
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

If you were to create a dream team to facilitate a placemaking process with children, who would be on this team, and why?

Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (TD, LC, MM): Start with a few enthusiastic people who represent different types of organizations. You need to have people who work with children and youth, such as teachers who want to do project-based learning, or education staff in nonprofit organizations. You will also want someone who can influence decisions. One or two people need to be willing to take charge of the project. For a small initial venture, they can be volunteers, but to sustain a culture of participatory practice, coordinators require funding.

In the Growing Up Boulder program that we have worked on together, a team typically includes schools or child- and youth-serving organizations, city planning and design staff, and university students. Specific partners vary depending on how a project lines up with organization aims and who will be impacted. We are fortunate to have committed city leadership, but in some cities, a nonprofit organization with a sustainability mission may be the critical catalyst and serve as facilitator. The single most important element of a “dream team” is that it reflects the community and pays close attention to people whose perspectives might otherwise not be heard.

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The Benefits of Including Children in Participatory Placemaking

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

A third grade student exploring an outdoor space with peers
When third graders explored opportunities to redesign the Civic Area, they wanted to honor the wildlife that lived there. This boy signals to his peers, “Shh, don’t scare the ducks!” / image: Stephen Cardinale

We are honored to share the second of a three-part interview with Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (please see part one: Not Just Climate Strikes: Giving Young People Roles in Community Greening, published last week). The three worked together on Growing Up Boulder (whose home base is at the University of Colorado Boulder), a program to engage children and teens in city planning and design. They also co-authored the book Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices to Plan Sustainable Communities, winner of the 2019 Achievement Award from the Environmental Design Research Association. A new book, The Routledge Handbook of Designing Public Spaces for Young People, contains chapters by Louise and Mara on developing partnerships for child and youth participation and ensuring that young people’s ideas influence final plans. Happy reading!
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

What are the advantages for everyone of including children on a design team?

Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (TD, LC, MM): Children bring a playfulness that lightens the work and energizes creativity. They literally see the world from different perspectives, given their different heights and their love of climbing and running over, around, and through the landscape. Children bring freedom from preconceived expectations. We find that children tend to think about all groups in their community—including other species! When the City of Boulder gathered input from all ages in preparation for redeveloping the downtown Civic Area, preschoolers and elementary school students were the voices for biodiversity. They wanted to make sure that changes would accommodate ducks, other birds, squirrels, and butterflies.

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Not Just Climate Strikes: Giving Young People Roles in Community Greening

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

Middle school students documenting a site with photos
Middle school youth photo-document open space adjacent to their school prior to an intergenerational neighborhood park redesign. / image: Lynn M. Lickteig

We are honored to share the first of a three-part interview with Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer. The three worked together on Growing Up Boulder (whose home base is at the University of Colorado Boulder), a program to engage children and teens in city planning and design. They also co-authored the book Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices to Plan Sustainable Communities, winner of the 2019 Achievement Award from the Environmental Design Research Association. A new book, The Routledge Handbook of Designing Public Spaces for Young People, contains chapters by Louise and Mara on developing partnerships for child and youth participation and ensuring that young people’s ideas influence final plans. Happy reading!
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

For readers who are unfamiliar with the concept of placemaking, would you please share a bit about it?

Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (TD, LC, MM): Placemaking involves bringing people together to plan, design, construct, and inhabit settings of daily life: the local region, city, town, neighborhood, and everywhere people live, learn, work, and play. It is an art and a science, as people contribute their insights, creativity, and knowledge to co-construct places of meaning and memory.

The last two years have seen a wave of youth activism—first climate strikes, and more recently, demonstrations that Black Lives Matter. The climate strikers are rallying for a better future built on renewable energy, social and intergenerational justice, and the protection of biodiversity and the living world. Their scale is global. As one of their slogans says, “There is no Planet B.” Placemaking brings ideas like these down to the local level. By including young people in placemaking, we invite them to participate in creating the world they want to live in. They are telling us that they want a world where people live in harmony with nature.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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