A recent examination of twenty case studies of public children’s gardens reveals essential design features and key goals. Two case studies are selected to illustrate how key design elements are coherently integrated in creating children’s gardens.
One way we can avoid the effect of a cookie-cutter playground and invite children into the landscape is to integrate the play space with the contours of the site, whether by taking advantage of existing grade changes or by introducing topography to an otherwise flat space. However, the technical challenges and safety concerns associated with hillside play have, in recent years, been a barrier to the design and installation of embankment slides and other play features that integrate with topography. Bridget Muck and Tracey Adams of Miracle Play Systems share knowledge and expertise gained by working on several successful hillside play installations.
-Brenna Castro, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer
There are all sorts of new and exciting playground equipment on the market these days, but one familiar piece from decades ago has made a major comeback—the embankment slide.
The embankment slide is not a new concept. However, with safety codes and regulations such as ASTM, CPSC, ADA, and CBC, they are a little trickier than they were for the designers of the past. In this article, we will define embankment slides versus elevated hillslides, provide design methods and approaches, offer material recommendations, and share a few success stories along the way. We will also show other play features that can be incorporated into a site with topography.
The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) suggests that disability is contextual. Environmental contexts can reduce or exacerbate disability. If an environment enables a young girl with a left leg amputation who uses a wheelchair to access spaces the same ways everyone else does, she is not disabled in this context. In accordance with the ICF, if she has to gain access to an environment via a steep ramp, be carried because the only access is steps, or be unable to enter at all, she is disabled. If she cannot participate or engage in the space, she is disabled in this environmental context. In the exemplar above, the ramp and steps are adjacent. The surface is crushed stone and the ramp slope is barely discernible. Both wheeled mobility users and those ambulating can equitably gain access to the Zen garden beyond the shelter. There is no backdoor entrance; all are equal and welcomed through the front door.
The process by which a child enters the world is a truly fathomless miracle. On three occasions I have personally witnessed this amazing process as a child gasps for its first breath, declares its first cry of dissatisfaction, and opens its eyes for the first time to gaze into its mother’s eyes. Of all the crazy things that happen during the whirlwind of childbirth, the moments just mentioned create the most vivid and resonant memories. I stood by as an apparent bystander and watched as mother and child formed unique bonds through mutual gazing that perhaps none of us can truly understand or comprehend. As I watch my three children continue to grow and develop, I often notice this same mesmerizing gaze occur with their mother during moments of quiet calm, active play, and even when miserable, cuddled close trying to fight off a cold. This interactive relationship, referred to as “affect attunement,” developed between a mother and child, is real and seemingly palpable. This article will discuss the science behind this mother-child connection and offer examples of how the play environment can be altered to facilitate important mother-child interaction.
When my client, Child Development Associates, first approached me about designing an Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) for the Barrio Logan Child Development Center, he warned me it would be one of my most challenging projects. I saw these challenges as opportunities! Together we had an opportunity to maximize space, to transform lives, and to make a statement that all children could have access to a quality OLE.
The Barrio Logan Child Development Center (CDC) is located in the urban neighborhood of Barrio Logan just south of downtown San Diego. This publicly funded program serves approximately 85 children (3-5 years of age), with the majority from low-income families in the community. The small 1,513 sf play yard (17’ wide x 89’ long), with little shade and no vegetation, sits directly adjacent to the I-5 Freeway, the heavy traffic generating a constant background noise for the students and staff at the Center. Most of the children spend 40-50 hours a week at the Center with little access to nature and open space in their community.
In the hands of a child, a cardboard box can transcend its humble origins to become a racecar, a fort, a cave, a classroom…anything the child can imagine. Similarly, the landscapes that we design for children are the stage on which innumerable dramas, comedies, games, and interactions can unfold, and designing spaces that promote imaginative play can help to support children’s physical, emotional, and social growth. Play that benefits physical health has been a particular focus in the face of increasing levels of childhood obesity—and for good reason, since the importance of movement and activity is so well-documented as to be irrefutable.
While few would argue against the importance of these efforts, we would do children a disservice if we designed spaces meant only to develop their strength and balance at the expense of the emotional and social skills such as creativity, empathy, and cooperation. So while traditional active play is still the default mode for most publicly-funded projects, a thoughtfully designed active play space can also serve to promote imaginative or dramatic play. Moreover, play spaces that stimulate the imagination produce a sense of wonder and possibility, allowing children to create experiences that are different every time and encouraging repeat visits.
Imaginative play—a term used here to include pretend play, sociodramatic play, and other forms of symbolic or “make-believe” play [1, 2, 3]—is when children imagine a situation, take on a role, and act out the situation (either alone or in groups) through words or actions . By acting outside the constraints of reality, children are able to deal with problems and fears, develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and experiment with if-then situations.
One hospital network in Central Texas, Seton Healthcare Family, has eight major facilities in the region and all include some form of healing garden . The 3-acre healing garden at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas—a leading pediatric hospital that was the world’s first LEED Platinum for Healthcare project—is by far the largest of those eight and is integrally intertwined with the institution’s success. The healing garden provides patients, families, and caregivers a literal and figurative escape from the rigors of hospital life that has proven to be restorative and cherished by all. Indeed, probable outcomes from the appropriate use of nature are benefits that will more than likely be experienced in the reduction of anxiety/stress or a buffering of subsequent stressful episodes by the patients, staff, and visitors alike .
An Associate in the Houston office of TBG Partners, Jeff Lindstrom is a landscape designer and project manager with in-depth experience in the areas of nature-based play and environments emphasizing education and childhood development. He has a strong interest in designing spaces that elicit full engagement—physical, cognitive, social, and emotional—and support whole child development. He maintains involvement in many organizations—including the Children & Nature Network, Texas Children in Nature – Houston Collaborative, World Forum Foundation, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America—and has attended a variety of conferences focused on play, childhood development, and related issues. Jeff is a University of Wisconsin – Madison alumnus.
–Meade Mitchell, PLA, and Brenna Castro, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer
Part 1: Transforming Lives & Communities
Researchers and experts in childhood development have long recognized the tremendous impact outdoor play and interaction with nature can have on health and well-being. As this appreciation for the power of play continues to be more widely embraced by mainstream audiences, beneficial impacts far beyond physical health have risen to the fore—with multifaceted outcomes and unique applications demonstrating the power of play in distinctly different environmental contexts. Play is increasingly becoming an integral component, and frequently a key driver, of development projects, and while characteristics of play environments often vary dramatically from one realm to another, the efficacy of prioritizing play is serving to transform the design and development of physical spaces—as well as longstanding attitudes by development decision-makers. Play environments were for many years viewed as a nonessential, a line-item consideration fulfilled by uninspired, off-the-shelf, manufactured play equipment lacking creativity. But fortunately, as Bob Dylan would say, the times they are a-changin’.
Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden: A New Design Typology
After seventeen years in the making, the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden opened in the fall of 2013. With a $63 million construction budget, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens had transformed the eight-acre site along White Rock Lake in the northern part of the grounds into something new that merged typologies. The adventure garden fuses seventeen educational interactive displays with lush native or adapted plantings and water features. It is part botanical immersion and part outdoor curriculum.
An entry plaza, small amphitheater, and generously sized café placed adjacent to the garden entrance easily accommodates school groups. Through the whimsical metal entry gate with the state flower and butterfly is a plaza with a lively at-grade fountain surrounded by shade structures and seating.
A water narrative starts at the entry and continues throughout the site. One of the unique challenges to the site is a significant grade change. The design turns this into an advantage with generously sized water features flowing from the entry to the edge of the property by the lake. The Cascades allows a close up view of water as it falls.
If you missed the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN meeting at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Chicago, you missed a fantastic meeting that rivaled many of the education sessions in value and content. As has been the trend in recent years, meeting attendance exceeded that of past years and presentations have never been better. This year’s meeting began with a surprise mini-birthday celebration for Nilda Cosco, PhD, Affiliate ASLA. She and Robin Moore, Hon. ASLA, were kind enough to make the trip to join us over her birthday weekend, so we took that opportunity to show our appreciation by singing happy birthday and presenting her with a cupcake and birthday crown.
After this brief introduction, the meeting began with presentations by four fantastic speakers on a variety of children’s open space topics ranging from public engagement of youth, to research projects, and even to controversial topics like risk in the play environment. Below is a list of the speakers and the specific topics each of them addressed. The presentations used by each of the speakers can be found on our PPN Resources page for those interested in learning more about what was shared.
The Collaborative and DVAEYC are seeking innovative ideas from interdisciplinary team of designers, educators, and more. Sign up now! The deadline to register is November 30. To register, you just need to pick your site and identify at least one licensed professional on your team. The design competition ends with a public event in Philadelphia in March 2016 with juried awards and cash prizes ($10,000 to three teams!).
The design competition is part of Infill Philadelphia: Play Space, a partnership of the Collaborative and the DVAEYC with support from the William Penn Foundation. It’s a design initiative to explore the unexpected ways that innovative play space helps both children and communities grow. Together, we can design a more playful Philadelphia!
Alexa Bosse, Associate ASLA, is a Program Associate at the Community Design Collaborative and presented at the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Meeting at the 2015 ASLA Annual Meeting in Chicago. The Community Design Collaborative provides pro bono design services to nonprofit organizations in greater Philadelphia, creates engaging volunteer opportunities for design professionals, and raises awareness about the importance of design in revitalizing communities.
Nature play has been in the news a lot in the past few years, but what does it really mean and how can you successfully introduce it into a public park setting if it is new to your organization?
Just about every type of media, from popular to professional, has covered nature play in the last few years. The benefits of nature play are well researched and the field is still growing. Those of us working on promoting nature play can thank Richard Louv and his brilliant marketing of the concept of “Nature Deficit Disorder” which, if you have read his best-selling book (Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder), you will know is a made up term cleverly designed to get the attention of the public and of professionals, about how little time our children spend in nature and what developmental costs that is having on them. It worked.
So if we know that nature play is good, and we also know that children’s exposure to nature is plummeting, how do we get kids outside, exploring nature? How does a public park agency start opening up to and implementing new ideas on play areas to support this need? The following is a case study on a project which opened in 2012 in Minneapolis, the first project built by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (Park Board) to re-shape the typical play area to integrate more nature play and how it has re-shaped play area design moving forward.
Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) Meeting
Sunday, November 8, 9:15 – 10:45 AM in PPN Room 3 on the EXPO floor
Join us for our annual PPN meeting during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago, which will provide learning opportunities with short, lively, and inspiring presentations by speakers from throughout the country who are passionate about play environments. A keynote presentation will be given by Robin Moore, Hon. ASLA, from The Natural Learning Initiative. Topics and presenters for our PPN Meeting include:
Where Design Comes into Play: Designing Innovative Play Spaces
Alexa Bosse, Associate ASLA, Program Associate of Community Design Collaborative
Building Mounds. Building Play Diversity.
David Watts, ASLA, Associate Professor of Department of Landscape Architecture at California Polytechnic State University
Risky Play Elements in Play Design
Shannon Mikus, Associate ASLA, Family-scape Designer with Master of Landscape Architecture 2014
Engaging Youth in Creative Place Making
Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Principal of Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting
San Diego Children and Nature Schoolyard Habitat Workshops
There are many facets to the Children and Nature Movement, from natural playgrounds to family nature clubs, each having the goal of connecting children to the natural world. As many landscape architects have recognized, design is a key component to bringing nature into the everyday lives of children. What better place to do this than in the place our children spend most of their waking hours…the schoolyard!
Since its inception in 2009, San Diego Children and Nature (SDCaN) has offered professional learning opportunities to teachers, parents, administrators, and designers on the why’s and how-to’s for integrating nature into schoolyards. Thanks to a grant from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE), SDCaN, San Diego Master Gardeners, and Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting partnered to host four training workshops in 2015 on Creating Schoolyard Habitats for Play and Learning. The 100+ attendees learned how to design and utilize schoolyard wildlife habitats.
Play is a primary occupation of childhood and an important contributor to healthy development. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights acknowledges play as being the right of every child.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children play or exercise outside for 30-60 minutes a day.  Despite this recommendation, a study of nearly 9,000 preschool children found that almost half of them don’t go outside even once per day. 
Outdoor play encourages physical movement and social and emotional interactions. It fosters thinking and creativity. The quality of outdoor play activities depend upon children being able to experience and to be in an environment that is safe, inclusive, engaging, fun, spontaneous, and arouses curiosity and creativity. When children play outside they can learn to enjoy their own company, take turns and listen to the perspective of others, create and follow and break rules, understand the consequences of their actions, take risks, learn, role play, challenge themselves, problem solve, move, and have fun. Arguably, what happens in outdoor play and exploration is equally as important as classroom learning. To deprive any child of opportunities to be outside and in nature is simply wrong.
We are looking forward to the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago this November. Join us for a high energy PPN meeting to spark creativity and create new connections! We are honored to have Robin Moore, Honorary ASLA, and Nilda Cosco, PhD, Affiliate ASLA, as our meeting keynotes.
Our presentations last year were a hit with record meeting attendance. We are continuing the dialogue of new ideas with another round of presentations, and we invite you to take part. Participants can look at broad issues like universal design, safety, emerging health issues for children, etc. or focus on a specific project. A presentation can be about process, innovations, trends—whatever you want to share.
Interested in presenting? Submit a title, short summary paragraph, and brief outline for your slides (one to two words per slide) to Lisa Horne at lhorne (at) rviplanning.com by Friday, August 28.
For inspiration, check out the amazing work done by the Campus Planning and Design PPN in 2013 and 2014.
We look forward to seeing you in Chicago! The Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN meeting will take place on Sunday, November 8 at 9:15 AM.
Designing Play Spaces that Support Healthy Cognitive Development in Children
How do you remember the playgrounds of your childhood? Do you rediscover your five-year-old self hiding under a slide, experimenting with mixtures of sand and water until your attention is captured by the sounds from a nearby game of tag? Play spaces have a strong identity that pull on our nostalgic heartstrings. Play is more than a means for children to pass the time and expend their energy. It is a realm of fantastical and cryptic adventures that cradle and nurture the child, molding them into individuals who can think, grow, and connect with others to the best of their abilities.
Play spaces can and should be designed to support emerging behaviors and developing skills in children, from infancy to adolescence. If we design landscapes in a way that is relevant to how children interact with their environments as they grow up, we can transform valuable open spaces into places that are impactful for children.
This past April the San Diego Children and Nature Collaborative (SDCaN) hosted its fourth annual Pop Up Nature Play event at the San Diego Earth Fair in Balboa Park. Over one hundred children and their families from across San Diego spent the afternoon creating what can only be described as a mini village of magical structures with nature’s loose parts.
During this one-day event, children of all ages are invited to engage in unstructured outdoor play with the collection of natural materials including bamboo poles, sticks, tree cookies, pine cones, shells, and palm fronds. From teepees to fairy houses, children work together to bring their ideas to life.
Knowing that children’s experiences in nature matter, landscape architects can look to—and get involved in—an organization that strives to advance children’s nature experiences.
The Children & Nature Network serves as a vibrant resource and advocate for improving children’s access to nature, and its April conference in Texas attracted well over 400 international and interdisciplinary participants. The ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) officers Lisa Horne, ASLA, and Julie Johnson, ASLA, were among them. With a conference theme of “Inspiration and Action for Healthy Communities,” several concurrent sessions offered insights on and case studies of children’s learning and play in nature. And the opportunities to informally meet and learn from other conference participants during breaks and meals enabled meaningful conversations.
Nature Play & Learning Places: Creating and Managing Places Where Children Engage with Nature touches on nearly every topic at the forefront of the children and nature movement. As the primary author, Robin Moore, Hon. ASLA, a professor at NC State University and internationally recognized expert on outdoor children’s environments, led a team of specialists. The extensive list of project staff, project steering committee, and five subcommittees is a who’s who of influential individuals and organizations in the movement. The guidelines were underwritten by a grant from the US Forest Service and supported by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative at NC State College of Design.
The audience is broad. The guidelines are for “professionals responsible for outdoor spaces used by families and children” (10). Many fit within this category: policy makers, advocates, system managers, site managers, program developers, educators, and design professionals. Landscape architects are in the final category.
Scalability as Driver of Schoolyard Greening Initiatives
Childhood obesity and the widely acknowledged and worrisome trend of urban food deserts are major health concerns facing Los Angeles and other communities today. According to the Mayo Clinic, unhealthy lifestyles marked by poor food choices and inactivity are the leading cause of obesity in children. Latino youths suffer disproportionately from obesity, and Los Angeles contains 4.9 million Hispanics (9% of the nation’s Hispanic population). At the same time, there is a groundswell of professional interest and research in the topics of Children’s Outdoor Environments and provisions for opportunities for organic, spontaneous, natural play. Add to this equation the vast, underused asphalt expanses of typical urban schoolyards, and the problem-solver in each of us begins to see a window of opportunity.
The Kitchen Community (TKC) was founded in 2011 with the goal of connecting children to nutritious food by building Learning Gardens at schools and community centers across the country. TKC was established as the philanthropic arm of The Kitchen restaurants in Boulder, Colorado, and rapidly expanded to Chicago, Los Angeles, and Memphis. TKC has built over 200 Learning Gardens across the country to date.
TKC’s early goals for expansion include build-out to 100 Learning Gardens in each city. This scale will establish a presence that will enable TKC to enter into larger conversations with school district decision-makers and funders about fundamental shifts in policy that will change the way schools influence the physical and emotional health of our youth. Chicago was the first city to reach this goal, reaching scale in just one year within Chicago Public Schools. As the third-largest school district in the nation, this was an incredible milestone that exemplifies the possibilities of reaching scale in other cities. Los Angeles is now nearly midway to reaching scale, with most of those 100 Learning Gardens anticipated to be built on Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schoolyards. LAUSD, the second-largest school district in the country, is demonstrating its support for schoolyard garden projects with a publicly-funded bond that will provide the infrastructure for outdoor learning environments at over 160 schools within the District.
This year, my kindergarten age son is learning about the five senses. His excitement for learning is nothing short of contagious as he analyzes daily interactions with the world based on which senses he is using. He correctly notices that an interaction with a tablet requires sight and touch and that his morning cereal feast results in taste and touch sensations.
At times, however, he is confused about which sensory system to attribute certain sensations. After an epic living room floor tickle battle he can correctly note that our laughter is attributed to the auditory sense but cannot quite describe the tickling sensation or his need for water. This may be attributed, in part, to a lack of recognition by society and elementary age educational programs that there are additional sensory systems beyond the typical five.
Sensory systems which help us understand our bodies and the environment include the vestibular (balance & pressure), proprioceptive (spatial understanding) and interoceptive (internal organ) sensory systems. These systems are just as real and important as the traditional five, but receive much less attention. As past articles I have written focused on the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, this article will focus specifically on interoception and how it relates to play and recreational environments.
Lisa Horne, ASLA, reviews Birthright by Stephen Kellert, giving insight into how his exploration of humans’ relationship with nature is distinct from that of his predecessors and contemporaries. This analysis touches on the intricacies of Kellert’s arguments, including the role of design in this broad and complex arena, and how connections between humans and nature can be beneficial to both. Kellert’s approach is nuanced, balanced, and honest, providing sound academic reasoning as well as a human perspective on what is, after all, a fundamentally human issue.
–Brenna Castro, Associate ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer
Book Review: Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World
As the keynote at the 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Boston, Stephen Kellert gave a provocative presentation for the profession. “Biophilia” is a relatively new concept in design and Kellert’s recent work Birthright gives a heartwarming survey of ideas with relevancy to design and theory.
Birthright provides a basis for incorporating nature into our lives. Kellert leaves classifications of nature open-ended and defines biophilia as a love of life. We have an innate desire for nature, which is “a birthright that must be cultivated and earned” (Kellert xiii). This attitude neither advocates a return to an Arcadian past nor forecasts apocalyptic doom. Instead, he asserts that humans will recognize their own self-interest and benefit from investing in the environment. An audience of academics, leaders, policy makers, and professionals interested in biophilia will appreciate the pace, text, and reasoning.
A necessary requirement of children’s outdoor environments is a provision for gross motor planning and muscle development. Climbers have long been a method of providing the various movements to accomplish this development. Recent advances in technology and building materials, however, have opened up additional opportunities. Andris Zobs and Ian Glas are leaders in the industry of artificial climbing structures, having built and installed many of these structures in playground environments. They have kindly written the following article to highlight the need for climbing in play environments.
–Chad Kennedy, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair
As any parent knows, children climb anything, from the dresser drawers to the first time they awkwardly wrap themselves around a tree trunk. Teenagers scale walls and adults seek out remote mountaintops. When we are at our strongest and most confident, we climb.
The Outdoor Industry Association puts total participation in rock climbing in the United States at 4.7 million to 6.9 million people, and the Climbing Wall Association estimates that there are 600 climbing-specific gyms and thousands of climbing walls within larger facilities and camps.
While the popularity of rock climbing seems to have peaked in 2002 to 2006, there has been an explosive growth of nature-themed climbing in playgrounds and parks. With improvements in the manufacture of climbing structures and sculptures, accessibility and safety has improved, making climbing a sport with widespread appeal across age groups and skill levels.
Playground designers and manufacturers have recognized that traditional post and deck structures and climbing events don’t fully satisfy the urge to climb that we all feel. In recent years, the industry has stepped forward to meet the challenge with climbing sculptures that have added a new dimension to playground activity, with more realistic surfaces, more challenging athleticism, and creativity in forms. New technology has enabled complete creative freedom; climbers are no longer limited to walls and boulders. Playground designers can now create expressive sculptures that combine the health benefits of climbing while also providing a venue for imaginative play.
It was a noteworthy year for the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver, with record-breaking meeting attendance and stirring presentations. Highlights and links to session notes are below.
Annual PPN Meeting
With well over 35 participants, the annual meeting broke PPN records for attendance. The meeting started with a call for more volunteers to join the leadership team and kicked off with three PechaKucha-style presentations by Joy Kuebler, John McConkey, and Alison Kelly. Topics ranged from pop-up parks to pilot studies on play spaces addressing developmental disorders to schoolyard gardens. Lois Brink, a founder of Learning Landscapes in Denver, gave the keynote with an original perspective on funding for schoolyards.
Environmental planner Sharon Gamson Danks is CEO of Green Schoolyards America and principal of Bay Tree Design in Berkeley, California. She is the author of Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation, which was featured as a book review in the Children’s Outdoor Environments (COE) PPN section of The Field in January 2013. Her work transforms school grounds into vibrant public spaces that reflect and enhance local ecology, nurture children as they learn and play, and engage the community. The COE PPN is thrilled to have her work published here on The Field. –Chad Kennedy, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair
The Power and Potential of Green Schoolyards
Public school districts are one of the largest landowners in almost every city and town across the United States and around the world. In the United States alone, over 132,000 schools in more than 13,000 school districts serve more than 50 million pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students each year [1, 2]. Choices made by school districts about how they manage their landscapes profoundly impact their city and generations of local residents whose perspectives are shaped through daily, outdoor experiences at school.
A movement to green school grounds and connect students to nature is gaining momentum in the United States and around the globe, weaving the ideas of urban sustainability and ecological design together with academic achievement, public health, children’s wellbeing, sense of place, and community engagement. Green schoolyards bring nature back to cities and suburbs by transforming barren asphalt and ordinary grass into vibrant environments for learning and play, set within the context of the rich, local ecosystems that nurture wildlife and the natural processes that underlie and sustain our urban infrastructure. Green schoolyards foster children’s social, physical, and intellectual growth and health by providing settings for curiosity, collaboration, imagination, exploration, adventure, and wonder. Continue reading →
Healing and Empowering Syrian Children in the Za’atari Refugee Camp
In the midst of refugee camps and suffering from difficult journeys necessitated by war, Syrian children suffer from traumas, uncertainty and unhealthy environments for their growth. Early adversarial exposures can change the development of the brain and can lead to subsequent psychological problems that make it harder for children to effectively immerse themselves in the education process as they grow. A close look at most refugee camps around the world reveals constraints in physical environments that impose and limit the natural development of children.
This post is a summary of a thesis project titled “Oasis of Resilience.” This thesis examined the Al-Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan, which is home to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, and proposed a design to better the environment for children in general.
Within this camp, children constitute over half of the population, yet there are few designated places to escape the camp’s stressful life and to provide safety. Safety and respite from harsh conditions are essential to childhood development. However, in order to support children to overcome their trauma and empower them to move forward, design thinking should be integrated to enrich the few opportunities they have.
The goal as landscape architects was to redesign Za’atari’s children’s places around experiences that enable them to develop necessary skills, which strengthen their resilience and support their natural growth needs. “Oasis of Resilience” is a project that aims to enhance design content and implications with an increased understanding of child development, psychology and pedagogy science. The project highlights relationships between children’s health and design and identifies needed facilitator parties in creating children’s places in refugee camps.
As I observe young toddlers playing in the park, at their homes, or at school, I often contemplate their seemingly innate need to run from one activity to the next. Despite the fact that they trip, fall, break and bang into things, running is the preferred method of transition, regardless of the activity or endeavor. How many knees are scraped, glasses of milk spilt, and cranial contusions occur each day because of this reckless behavior? It is almost physically draining to watch as an observer!
An attentive onlooker, however, might learn a thing or two from this unlearned drive to engage in physical vigor. If toddlers only continued to engage in similar forms of vigorous movement as they grew into adolescence and adulthood, the issues of obesity and lack of physical health that face our society today would certainly not exist. The reality is however, that most of us slow down as we age, finding it more of a burden than an advantage to exert a toddler-like level of energy, often leading to less than healthy weight and activity levels. This leads to several questions. How big of an issue is obesity in the United States? Are there ways to combat the obesity trend by keeping children interested in active behaviors as they grow older? What can parents do to help?
Lois A. Brink is a professor at the University of Colorado and principal leader of the Learning Landscapes project in Denver, a $50 million design and construction initiative that in 2012 completed 96 elementary schoolyards over a 12-year construction schedule. She is a leader in the industry examining the sustainability of schoolyard redevelopment through many programs and research projects. She will be presenting this topic in detail at the ASLA Annual Meeting this November with a field session on Denver’s Schoolyard Learning Landscapes.
–Chad Kennedy, ASLA
School in the Yard: The Story of Denver’s Learning Landscapes
In the last analysis, civilization itself is measured by the way in which children will live and what chance they will have in the world.
–Mary Heaton Vorse, 1935
Denver was at a turning point during the 1990s. The city’s schoolyards primarily consisted of asphalt and pea gravel, with few play structures and limited green space. Most did not meet ADA requirements, provided little protection from the sun, and had limited lighting. They were underutilized, and gravel-related accidents were common.
This post is a heads-up for educational opportunities for members of the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN and for all ASLA members with an interest in this practice area. We would like to remind our members of an upcoming webinar and sessions that will be of interest at the Annual Meeting in Denver.
Risk management is a paramount issue in the design of nature play and learning areas. This presentation provides background on the dominant standards-based approach to risk management in children’s play areas, considers its application to nature play areas, then presents an alternative approach to risk management based on analysis of actual risk. The presenter is a coauthor of the recently released guide for the design of nature play and learning areas, Nature Play & Learning Places: Creating and Managing Places Where Children Engage with Nature.
Children’s Outdoor Environments at the Annual Meeting:
November, and the Annual Meeting in Denver, is just around the corner. There is a field session, numerous education sessions and several networking opportunities that will be of particular interest to members of the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN.