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.
by Missy Benson, ASLA, and Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA
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.
by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA
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.)
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.
by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Missy Benson, ASLA, and Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA
With the recent release of the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, let’s give homage to the iconic late Fred Rogers and his thoughts about play. He said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Our Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (COE PPN) presence at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego fully aligned with Mr. Roger’s sentiments. Here’s how.
It began with a field session, Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning, led by COE PPN Co-Chair Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Park Landscape Architect with the City of San Diego, and Andrew Spurlock, FASLA, of Spurlock Landscape Architects. The excitement and sense of wonder filled the double-decker bus as the this sold out session got started. The first stop was the CDA Hilltop Child Development Center (CDC) in Chula Vista, designed by Ilisa in 2012. Program Director at Child Development Associates (CDA), Susan Holley, and Ilisa led a tour through the Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE), discussing the concepts behind the design, site layout, installation, maintenance, and lessons learned. Highlights included the Habitat gARTen, the mud kitchen, and vegetable garden.
From the Hilltop CDC, the field session headed to the community of Encanto in South East San Diego to visit the EarthLab, run by Groundwork San Diego/Chollas Creek. Education Director Joanna Proctor led the group through the project site, which included a native garden/pocket park, outdoor learning amphitheater, educational creek bed, production gardens, and newly installed accessible pathways. An engaging discussion about partnerships with the school district and community, and curricular connections, took place.
by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA
I think that my commitment to nature all started with my childhood home. I grew up in a very busy Midwestern household, the oldest of four children, with two transplanted Brooklyn, New York academics for parents. My parents’ prior experience with plants and gardening was nil. Nonetheless, upon purchasing our home in Southwest Michigan, they tackled installing a vegetable garden in our suburban home with great zest and enthusiasm; determined to be farmers and to cast aside their collective urban world view. Their interest in the garden rapidly waned, but much to their surprise, their six-year-old daughter (me) took to the dirt with unfettered passion and zeal.
I quickly found that tending to the garden was a means to escape from three pesky younger siblings and find quiet and solitude amongst the veggies. It was my place in our home, a place where I felt most attached and connected and whole. The garden was where I wanted to be whenever I could. When it came time to harvest, I can still recall, half a century later, a sense of sheer wonder and delight in what I, as a little six-year-old girl, had nurtured all summer long. I can point to those early experiences in our vegetable garden as the catalyst for what would ultimately define my professional work and lifelong love of gardening and nature as a means to define home and to enhance the human experience.
As an occupational therapy educator, researcher, and landscape design consultant, my work focuses on how experiences in nature impact health and wellbeing. I am increasingly interested in how childhood experiences with nature can enrich parent-child as well as place attachment relationships and buffer the impact of trauma. We want our children to develop healthy and secure attachment relationships with their caregivers and to home and to be whole. These relationships may be nurtured through experiences in nature.
by Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA
I have been thinking about vending machines since last year when I attended and presented at the National Children’s Youth Gardening Conference hosted at Cornell University. What is my inspiration? Located in the lobby of the Mann Library is a vending machine loaded with fresh apples. Graduate students in the Horticulture Program pick the apples from the Cornell and Horticulture Section’s Lansing Orchards and keep the machine well stocked. Proceeds from sales benefit the Society for Horticulture Graduate Student Association.
What a surprise! I had never seen anything like it. My experiences with vending machines are those full of soft drinks and not-so-healthy snacks. One thing led to another, and I began taking pictures of vending machines, making note of where they were located and what their contents included. Then I started to do a bit of a search for research on their impact on children’s health. Here I share a few thoughts about how landscape architects committed to promoting children’s health and wellness can contribute to a conversation about vending machines.
What about swings? They can provide therapeutic benefit for some children (and adults). The sensory systems most activated when swinging, gliding, or rocking include the vestibular, proprioceptive, and to a lesser extent the tactile. Here is how they contribute to overall sensory enrichment:
Vestibular: refers to the balance system. Located in the middle ear, the vestibular system responds to the position of the head in relation to gravity and movement and helps keep us from becoming dizzy. Our vestibular systems get a work out with the varied planes of movement a swing make take- front and back, side to side, circular, or up and down.
Proprioception/Kinesthesia: located in the muscles and joints, the proprioceptive system provides awareness of where our bodies are in space. When swinging, proprioception and kinesthesia help us understand the relationship of our bodies to the seat, sides, and back of the swing, and to know where to sit or lay on the swing without falling off.
Tactile: refers to the sense of touch. We make contact with and touch swings by potentially using all body parts, depending on whether sitting or lying down.
I have held the core values of stewardship, social equity, and environmentalism since my teen years. If you had asked me twenty years ago what I would be doing now, I think my answer would have been very similar to the work I do today: fostering community and connecting people to the natural world.
I was introduced to landscape architecture during my senior year at Rollins College. Majoring in environmental studies, I learned environmental issues from cultural, economic, and science based perspectives. During graduate school at North Carolina State University, I sought out classes, mentors, and projects that allowed me to focus my passions. From studying permaculture to the design of children’s environments, I saw the importance of taking an integrated approach to design. Beginning practice in 2002, I looked for meaningful and interesting work. I am grateful to have worked for Spurlock Landscape Architects (formerly Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects). During this time, I was encouraged to bring my knowledge to the table, explore my ideas, and grow as designer, all while learning the realities of landscape architecture and running a practice.
Can you think of a better way to enjoy a balmy mid-summer afternoon? My dear friend and colleague Ben Atchison recently brought his granddaughters Lola (age 10) and Lucy (age 8) Valentin to the Thurston Nature Center in Ann Arbor, MI. Lush and inviting, the Nature Center is a favorite destination for Papa and the girls. Lola and Lucy are delighted to share their photo journal with you.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director
For those familiar with Ann Arbor, Michigan, the nearly 24-acre Thurston Nature Center is next door to both the Thurston Elementary and Clague Middle Schools. Lola, who is in fifth grade and Lucy, who is in third grade, attend Thurston Elementary School, which makes the Nature Center even that much more special to them.
In 1968, the Nature Center was designated a Conservation Education Reserve by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The space is jointly owned by the Ann Arbor Public Schools and Orchard Hills Athletic Club. Fifty years “young,” the Nature Center is used by the Ann Arbor Schools Environmental Education Program and the greater Ann Arbor community. It is maintained and enhanced by the teachers and students and their families at Thurston Elementary and Clague Middle Schools, with help from devoted neighborhood volunteers. This gracious outdoor oasis is enjoyed by young and old alike.
The space hosts five ecosystems; trails; an 8.4-acre pond and a vernal pond that fish, turtles, and muskrats call home; native plants that attract butterflies and birds; and raccoons and skunks. The Center also contains a hickory-oak woodlot, a rain garden, and vine trellis. In 2015 and 2016, students from the elementary school and community volunteers worked to install a native prairie. Many of the improvement projects that occur at the Center help to support the elementary school’s Green STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) program while simultaneously improving the biodiversity of the area. The Thurston Nature Center is a popular destination for Ann Arbor school field trips and outdoor experiential education. Be sure to add The Thurston Nature Center to your agenda should your travels take you to Ann Arbor!
by Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA
Recently, while on a trip to Australia, my colleagues and I had the pleasure of stopping in at a brand-new nature playspace just outside of Adelaide. Located within the 2,058 square-mile Morialta Conservation Park, the Muka Muka Rrinthi nature playspace is nothing short of dazzling. Not to mention, the footprint of the playspace is huge. While designed to be best suited for children ages 5-15, I saw many younger tykes happily creating their own play opportunities. It is easily a full-day, take-a-picnic-lunch destination for families looking for something wonderful to do with their children.
Davis Harte is a wellness design educator at the Boston Architectural College who bridges evidence and practice with work in children’s places, trauma-informed spaces, and also birth units. Visit Paradigm Spaces’ website for more information. We are very pleased to have Davis share her thoughts about the Village School’s boulder scramble—a place for young children to play and be creative, while simultaneously providing a solution for serious erosion issues.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, Co-Communications Director and Past Co-Chair, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN)
Arriving at around lunchtime, I find ruddy-cheeked and joyful children playing on the Village School’s natural playground. The day is unseasonably warm, feeling more like late spring instead of mid-winter in the Willamette Valley. Rex Redmon, the landscape architect who designed the nature playground at the school, and father of two girls who attend this Eugene, Oregon K-8 public charter school, greets me near the entrance. Despite being 18 years old, the school has been in its current location for only two years. The building housing the school on the current campus is the oldest school building in Eugene, dating back to 1920. The property edges a hillside, studded with Douglas firs, ponderosa pines, and speckled in sections with poison oak near the parking lot.
Landscape designer Leslie Davis joins Rex and me as we pore over the master plan for this natural playground. Our focus today is the boulder scramble, located on the northwest side of a large graded field, book-ended by a fenced-off beehive and a wooden playhouse built by third graders and volunteer parents for a previous theater production. The unique landscape design feature is the needed partner to a 3-foot wide, 15-foot long metal slide, which echoes this section’s slope.
Leslie Davis and her partner and husband Aaron Davis, of Whole Gardens, conceived of and implemented the boulder scramble as the primary star in this particular story. It serves the purpose of erosion control and dry access, as well as a place to play. The slide was a ‘must-have’ for a 1st/2nd grade teacher, whose classroom door opens a few steps away from the top of the slide. The sloped area spans about 210 feet across, and was covered in invasive ivy before the transformation. The whole slope was underutilized until the slide was added last autumn just before the 2017/2018 school year began. The boulder scramble was added during winter break.
The therapeutic garden group takes place each week on the adult inpatient psychiatric unit. It is an integral part of programming for acutely ill patients in recovery from a range of psychiatric diagnoses including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.
The program was started as a quality improvement project through the 4 East Unit Practice Council, which is multidisciplinary (Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers) using a quality improvement methodology called A4 Lean, which is one of the quality improvement tools used at UCLA. This methodology gives clinicians a structure to assess the current state of service provision and then implement changes.
Back in October 2017, I had the honor of participating in a trial of the Let’s Get Ready Project (LGR) disaster resilience game with students at the Dixon primary school in the Yarra Valley outside of Melbourne, Australia. The disaster education game was developed and delivered in Queensland, Australia by Jennie Schoof. Jennie moved to Melbourne and commenced work as the Emergency Management Project Coordinator for the Maroondah, Knox and Yarra Ranges Council Cluster Project. In this role, Jennie adapted the game to be used for the LGR project and to meet the needs of a Victorian (Australia) environment in partnership with emergency service agencies. Jennie and Andrew Williams, Emergency Management Coordinator for the Knox Council, worked with me to prepare this Field post.
The overarching objective of LGR is to engage with youth and schools in a broad exploration of resilience and to prepare today’s children and youth to become informed and resourceful adults. The disaster resilience game, a 3 x 3 meter interactive game, is best played outdoors on a school play yard or community green space. The game comes with all resources required for a facilitator to implement the scenarios: a game token, large game dice, team signs, game and scenario cards, a facilitator guide, score sheets, and game pieces (3D bushfire, cyclone/wind, volcano/landslide, earthquake, tsunami, and floods).
The inquiry-focused, immersive approach of the training game assists in planning for, responding to, and recovering from disasters and emergencies. The project challenges participants to think about what they need to know in order to prepare for and respond effectively to natural disasters and emergencies. It encourages teamwork, leadership skills, negotiation skills, exercise, excitement, and education. The hands-on and engaging immersive teaching methods for disaster resilience education as a fundamental life skill can easily be translated into children’s local environments. The interactive participant-focused activity urges investigation of effective methods for youth and their families to prepare for, cope with, and recover from natural disasters and emergencies.
With the game facilitated by youth leaders, I observed firsthand (while playing the role of a community member along with other local emergency service personnel), that the game was FUN! While the message was serious, it was set in play, a most effective way for children to learn and retain knowledge. It tapped into team building and collaboration, two skills vital for effective decision making in a disaster situation, while also enabling youth the opportunity to develop their leadership skills.
Content on The Field is authored by members of ASLA and organized by ASLA’s 20 PPNs, which cover a wide range of practice areas. The PPNs provide opportunities for professionals interested in the same areas of practice to exchange information, learn about current practices and research, and network with each other—both online and in person at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO.
The Field was created to give members who work in landscape architecture a place to exchange information, learn about recent work and research, and share their thoughts about current happenings. We invite you to join the conversation!
The meeting began with short summaries of the past year from leadership of both the COE and HTD PPNs. Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, transitioned from current to past co-chair, with Ken Hurst, PhD, MLA, RLA, ASLA, CLARB, CPSI, stepping into the co-chair role with Brenna Castro, PLA, ASLA, CPSI. Amy, along with Chad Kennedy, PLA, ASLA, CPSI, LEED AP BD+C, will be serving as communications co-directors for the PPN. Over the past year, we have continued to be busy. The COE PPN logged nine blog posts for The Field, hosted three Online Learning webinars (one jointly with the HTD PPN), and have averaged three new posts per month for the PPN LinkedIn group. And, Ken Hurst was a mentor for one of the Student & Emerging Professionals SPOTLIGHT presentations that took place this summer.
While we are busily organizing several great webinars and Field posts for the upcoming year, we extend an open invitation for you to consider sharing your knowledge by presenting a webinar or writing a blog post (or several!).
Following these PPN updates, Joanne Hiromura, ASLA, RLA, Director of Landscape and Outdoor Playspace Design at studioMLA Architects in Brookline, MA, and Naomi Sachs, PhD, ASLA, EDAC, Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, provided keynote presentations.
An Interview with Lolly Tai, PhD, RLA, FASLA, author of The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design
Lolly Tai is a very busy person. In addition to serving as Professor of Landscape Architecture in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at Temple University and maintaining a landscape architecture practice, Lolly is the recipient of many awards, has authored numerous articles, wrote the highly praised 2006 book Designing Outdoor Environments for Children, and is author of the newly released 2017 book The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design.
Published in 2017 by Temple University Press, The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design is a must-have book, and this is not just for landscape architects, students, and designers. Anyone who interacts with and cares about children—parents, grandparents, childcare staff, teachers, and therapists—will reap innumerable benefits and inspiration from reading this gem of a book. It is a rare book that crosses over between textbook and general interest book, and this is one. Landscape architecture and design students will be inspired by the case examples. The general public now has a guide for must-visit children’s gardens, because as we all know, letting children do what they do best—engaging in spontaneous play, learning, and exploration—can happen in an outdoor space designed just for them.
Debbie Lee Bester, Executive Director, is a co-founder of Memory Trees, a 501(c)(3) social impact organization with a mission of “Giving Back Life…In Abundance.” Memory Trees is moving the social needle on food insecurity and inspiring healthier communities by focusing on: education, social change, food donations, female empowerment, sustainable food,entrepreneurship, public/private collaboration, urban farming, self-sufficiency, and microlending. We are very pleased to have Debbie share her thoughts about the Highridge garden project that Memory Trees developed and continues to facilitate.
Where is your garden located? Is it a public or private facility?
The Highridge Facility for at-risk youth is located on a Palm Beach County-owned property in West Palm Beach, FL. This residential facility accommodates approximately 72 youths, aged 9-16, in six individual dormitories (12 youths per house).
Please tell us more about your garden facility—what is the total size, and what types of amenities and spaces does it include, such as garden beds, prep area, or an outdoor classroom? How many children use the garden?
There are two garden facilities: a 3-bed, above-ground planter setup for the commercial kitchen, and one planter alongside each of the 6 dormitories, as described above.
The planters for the commercial kitchen are approximately 100 square feet in total size, and the planters built next to each dormitory are about 16 square feet each.
Debbie Lee Bester, Executive Director, is a co-founder of Memory Trees, a 501(c)(3) social impact organization with a mission of “Giving Back Life… In Abundance.” Memory Trees is moving the social needle on food insecurity and inspiring healthier communities by focusing on: education, social change, food donations, female empowerment, sustainable food,entrepreneurship, public / private collaboration, urban farming, self-sufficiency, and microlending. We are very pleased to have Debbie share her thoughts about the De George Boys & Girls Club garden project that Memory Trees developed and continues to facilitate.
Mention a sensory garden and what often comes to mind is an outdoor space resplendent with aromatic plants and lush plantings abounding with splashes of color. While certainly part of the picture, it is perhaps not the complete one. In this post, we share strategies to create gardens that nurture and enrich all of the sensory systems. Our ideas to create a naturalized outdoor space for sensory exploration and enrichment are general. If you have the opportunity to create specialized sensory gardens for children with complex sensory integrative challenges, we recommend teaming up with occupational therapists with extensive training in sensory integration (it was introduced and the theory was developed by an occupational therapist, A. Jean Ayres), to make it as usable as possible. Because occupational therapists are also well versed in child development, it is a bonus for great sensory garden design.
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.
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.