Our Summer Visit to the Thurston Nature Center

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

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

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

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

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

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Australia’s Morialta Playspace

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

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

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

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Boulder Scramble: A Creative Natural Playground Feature

by Davis Harte, PhD

The Village School Boulder Scramble / image: Davis Harte

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

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

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

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

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Therapeutic Gardening for an Adult Inpatient Psychiatric Unit

by Nancy Wicks, OTR/L

image: Nancy Wicks

Two days before the start of the 2017 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO, Nancy Wicks, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at the University of California Los Angeles, hosted Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affiliate ASLA, and Melody Tapia, Student ASLA, then a landscape architect student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The goal of the visit: to participate in a therapeutic garden group with patients on the adult inpatient unit.

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.

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The Let’s Get Ready Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Outdoor Environments word cloud / image: WordItOut

Have you…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Interview with Lolly Tai, FASLA

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

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

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

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

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Learning in the Garden, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Learning in the Garden, Part 2

A clever adaptive reuse of pallets / image: Memory Trees

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

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

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

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

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Sensory Gardens

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

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

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Designing for All Children

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

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

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Our Moms Were Right!

Exploration in nature encourages socialization, creativity, and inquisition. image: Amy Wagenfeld
Exploration in nature encourages socialization, creativity, and inquisition.
image: Amy Wagenfeld

Play

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. [1] The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children play or exercise outside for 30-60 minutes a day. [2] 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. [3]

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.

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