Few activities inspire more nostalgia than the beloved childhood pastime of splashing, running, and squishing in the mud, free of rules and inhibitions. For children and young-at-heart adults, playing in the mud is just plain fun, with a feeling of mischievousness that comes with making a mess. But for children, all that fun also benefits their physical, emotional, social, and mental growth in a variety of ways. When designing outdoor environments that support children’s development, we can promote mud play by creating flexible spaces and by supporting programming efforts such as International Mud Day—and by worrying a little less about the mess.
Benefits of Muddy, Messy Play
Mud play is more than just a fun activity that gets kids outdoors and away from computer screens. Some benefits of messy play, and ways for adults to encourage and support it, are discussed here and we will further examine some of the play-related benefits that mud play can support.
The learning garden is a designed outdoor space meant to help children engage with and learn about the natural world, as well as provide opportunities for physical, mental, and social growth. Spaces that serve this purpose can vary hugely in form, size, and design, as well as programming, funding, and intended users. We are excited to present a three-part series of learning garden case studies to better understand how these spaces come to be, how they function now, and what we can learn from them for future projects.
The first of these case studies is the school garden A.P. Giannini Middle School in San Francisco. We asked Kasey Wooten, the school’s Outdoor Science and Garden Consultant, some questions about the facility and her role in its daily operations. Kasey is an educator with a background in farming, and she brings these skills, along with a personal interest in sustainability and in how young people relate to the food they eat, to enrich the education and growth of her students.
Where is your garden located? Is it a public or private facility?
The garden is located in the Outer Sunset in San Francisco, just 10 blocks from Ocean Beach. It sits in the middle of the school, protected by buildings on three sides. A.P. Giannini (APG) is a public school and the schoolyard, including the garden, is open to the public on Sundays 9am-4pm through the Shared Schoolyard Project.
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.
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.
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
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.