Upcoming Event – Play for Life: Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Inclusive Play

Play for Life: Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Inclusive Play

Here’s one more entry (and our last for a little while – lots of other stuff to be blogging about!) in our series on upcoming events:

Play for Life: Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Inclusive Play

Play brings families, friends and communities together; it keep us fit and makes us smile. Research shows that play is a key element of development and health for individuals of all ages and abilities. Unfortunately, play is being threatened on every front in the U.S. It’s seen as a “children-only” activity, if it’s thought about at all. Furthermore, concerns around inclusive play are primarily discussed among disability experts and are not part of most community agendas. Please join our nation’s leading inclusive play experts for a thought-provoking, two-day symposium that examines the importance of play for all ages and abilities. Play for Life: Exploring the Lifelong Benefits of Inclusive Play will reignite your passion for play and inspire new ways to bring that passion to everyone in the community.

I would especially like to see Pamela Wolfberg’s presentation, “The Importance of Play to Children with Autism.”  Wolfberg is an Associate Professor, San Francisco State University and Autism Institute on Peer Socialization and Play. As you may remember, Tara Vincenta and I collaborated on a webinar this spring, “Nature-Based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Special Needs.” You can read about it, and link to the webinar, from this TLN Blog post.

And to see a bunch more resources, in print and online, about play, children’s gardens, and the importance of nature for young people, visit the TLN’s Get Out and Play! page on our website.

Sponsored by Landscape Structures, the Play for Life symposium will take place on October 23-24 in Minneapolis, MN. There’s a discount if you register before September 20th. Visit their website for registration and more information.

And just after the symposium, the NRPA (National Recreation and Park Association) will be holding their annual congress (this year’s theme is “Connecting Communities”) in the same city, so if you can do both, go for it!

Now online! Nature-Based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Special Needs

Since Richard Louv began his No Child Left Inside campaign, we have seen a wonderful groundswell around the importance of children experiencing the natural world. And at the same time, sadly, we continue to see an alarming rise in children with autism and other related disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism now affects 1 in every 110 American children. This new number is a staggering 57% increase from 2002-2006. Clearly, we need more research on prevention and treatment options, but we also need more ways to help those children (and their families) on the “autism spectrum” who are coping on a daily basis.

One way that we can help is by designing environments that support children on the spectrum, including outdoor play and learning spaces. That’s why Tara Vincenta – Principal at Artemis Landscape Architects and creator of the SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment –  and I were thrilled when KaBOOM! approached us about doing an online training on this very subject. We’ve had a great time collaborating and are happy to announce that the training is now available on the KaBOOM! website, and will soon be up on the SOL Environment and Therapeutic Landscapes Network websites as well.

The free online training is called “Prescription for Play: Nature-based Play and Learning for Autistic and Special Needs Children.” Here’s the description:

Join landscape architects Naomi Sachs, Director of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network and Tara Vincenta, creator of SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment as they explore research and design considerations for creating outdoor, nature-based play and learning environments for autistic and special needs children. Many of the challenges faced by autistic children are shared with a broader community of special needs children, including motor, neuromuscular, cognitive, sensory and communication issues, and visual and auditory impairment. Sachs and Vincenta will share ideas for creating outdoor spaces that allow children to play at their own comfort level, overcoming common challenges in a safe, FUN, nature-based environment that is equally engaging for any child.

Go to KaBOOM’s Hot Topics in Play page to access the training, and if ours is not the first training, just scroll down until you see it. You’ll find other great topics there as well, and once you join KaBOOM (free, of course), you can access any and all. KaBOOM! is a wonderful non-profit organization whose mission is to create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities, and whose vision is “a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America.”

You can also download a pdf of the supplemental materials – a list resources in print and online about this topic – from the KaBOOM website, and we’ll have those on our respective websites soon, too.

Many, many thanks to KaBOOM! (and especially to Kiva) for this wonderful opportunity, and to you, dear reader, for spreading the word (yes, that’s a hint).

New Research Summary on Outdoor Play Spaces at Childcare Centers

Image of Buffalo PS90 courtesy Joy Kuebler

If you’re relatively new to this blog, then you may not yet have heard me rave (in a positive way) about InformeDesign. This is one of the best resources for evidence-based design (EBD), and it’s still free, and you can sign up to have new research summaries emailed to you.

One summary this week that seems particularly appropriate to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network is of an article by Susan Harrington, “Perspectives from the Ground: Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Outdoor Play Spaces at Child Care Centers.”

Previous studies have indicated that outdoor play spaces have the potential to support physical, emotional, and social growth in children, and the author chose to focus on Canadian outdoor splay spaces, from the point of view of Early Childhood Educators (ECEs).

The finding that most interested me was that outdoor play spaces with plants got more positive comments than those with no or little vegetation. Furthermore, ECEs working at centers with vegetation tended to make more positive comments about seasonal change (fall color, plant cycles, etc.) than those in centers with no vegetation, where comments regarding seasonal change were more negative (hot asphalt and slides, wet equipment, etc.). Cue all landscape architects, designers, and plant-lovers whispering “yes!” in victorious unison.

And for those of you who are especially interested in children’s play environments, I’ll also call your attention to a recent blog post by Shawna Coronado on creating gardens for children: “Fantasizing About Spring: A Garden Built for a Child.” Lots more information on the TLN’s Get Out and Play! page as well.

Full citation: Harrington, Susan (2008). “Perspectives from the Ground: Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Outdoor Play Spaces at Child Care Centers.” Children, Youth and Environments, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 64-87.

The image above is of Buffalo (NY) Public School 90 Early Childhood Science Center Magnet, designed by Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect. It was featured last month on Playscapes, a great blog about playground design.

Design Inspiration from the Huntington Children’s Garden

Sorry about the formatting on this post – didn’t quite make it over well from our old blog post address.

This year, the American Horticultural Therapy Association‘s annual conference took place in Pasadena, and we were so fortunate to have the Huntington Library and Botanical Garden as our host and conference setting. Designers of children’s gardens for healthcare could take a few (or more) pages out of the Huntington Garden’s children’s garden. I’m going to keep the verbage to a minimum with this post and simply provide you with images from my recent visit to this inspiring place of discovery, learning, and play.

Huntington Children's Garden. Photo by Naomi SachsThis door, and the footprints leading up to it, say “this place is for kids!”

A child-sized “green house”…
window boxes and all…  

Green animals! Many of the plants in the garden are what I call “Dr. Seuss plants” – trees and shrubs that are strange and fun. Also lots of plants, such as lamb’s ears and Artemisa Powis Castle, to touch and smell for sensory exploration.

Myriad fountains. Upon seeing some leaves in one fountain (see the short video below), a youngster (probably about ten years old), exclaimed, “Look at the leaves are swirling around in the fountain! That’s so COOL!”

This sculpture might look a bit imposing for a children’s garden, until you see – or I should say hear – it in action.









Comfortable, shady places for parents and grandparents to relax. Beautiful combinations of plants for even the most sophisticated plant-lover.  

But most important, plants designed for young people to run, explore, and play under, over, and through.

Morton Arboretum’s New Children’s Garden

Image courtesy of

The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL (25 miles west of Chicago) has just opened a new Children’s Garden, and it’s getting rave reviews, including this one by Leslie McGuire for, “The Best Backyard in the World.”

Designed by Herb Schaal of EDAW Fort Collins, the four-acre garden is intended to “spark children’s curiosity about the natural world” in a safe place that “combines different experiences that challenge physical, cognitive, and emotional development in delightful ways while teaching all about natural systems.”

McGuire goes into depth with descriptions of the various areas of the garden, including Backyard Discovery Gardens, Tree Finder Grove, Kid’s Tree Walk, Adventure Woods, and the Central Plaza. It’s a good read, with lots of pictures to spark the imagination.

Children’s gardens in arboreta, botanical gardens, and other parks are often so creative. Unlike your average playground with a bunch of plastic equipment on some rubber surface, these children’s gardens are all about making discovery and learning full of fun, wonder, and delight. I just visited the one at the Huntington Gardens and was so impressed. I’ll be blogging about that soon. I only wish that that same imagination could be employed more often in children’s gardens in healthcare facilities. Why is it not? Do we lack the budget? Are we scared about litigation? Are we creating generic “healing gardens” that are designed as contemplative spaces instead of as places where kids can run around, play, be distracted, and blow off steam? What do you think, dear reader? Also, if you have a favorite children’s garden, in a healthcare facility or not, please share by leaving a comment; we’ll add it to our growing list on the (new improved!) Therapeutic Landscapes Network website.

Image courtesy of

First Children’s Outdoor Environments Newsletter

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.”
– Joseph Chilton Pierce

The ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) has published its first newsletter, and it’s an indicator of many more good things to come from this group, formed last year by Jena Ponti (the Chair), Robin Moore*, and others. To link to the newsletter, click HERE.

Encouraging children and teens to play outside, to interact with nature, is so important. Our future – and more importantly, their future – depends on it. I’ve blogged about Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, his organization the Children & Nature Network, and his work on passing “No Child Left Inside” Legislation (sign the petition HERE!).

If you’re interested in this topic, here are some other really good organizations, websites, and blogs to get you started (have other suggestions? Leave comment and we’ll add it to this list).

Robin Moore’s Natural Learning Initiative
The National Institute for Play
The Green Hour
The Grass Stain Guru
The Child & Nature Alliance
Playscapes: A Blog About Playground Design

What’s Out There

Our ASLA conference is coming up in a little over a week, and several education sessions focus on children’s outdoor environments and play. See this blog post to learn more about those.

*Robin C. Moore is also the author of my favorite book about plants for children’s gardens, titled – aptly – Plants for Play. In addition to an extensive list of ideas about what to plant, he also provides a good list of what not to plant – plants that are potentially harmful. Good to know!

Thanks, Aryeh, for the picture!

New ASLA Professional Practice Network: Children’s Outdoor Environments

Here’s another sign that people are recognizing the importance of outdoor environments for kids: The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recently approved a new Professional Practice Network (PPN) on Children’s Outdoor Environments. The Healthcare and Therapeutic Design and other PPNs have touched on this subject, but it’s high time it had its own PPN, so kudos to Jena Ponti, this year’s chair, for making it happen. Here’s her guest blog post about the new ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN:

“Landscape architects play a critical role in advocating and designing a variety of places for children to play, learn, and develop a relationship with the natural environment to carry with them into adulthood and citizenship.  The movement to (re)connect children with nature has been steadily growing and gaining momentum.  

In a time when children, on average, spend 45 hours a week “plugged in” and less than 30 minutes a week in outdoor unstructured play, our profession has no option but to act.

One exciting step forward is the recent passing of the No Child Left Inside Act H.R. 3036 and S. 1981.  This Act symbolizes recognition on a federal level of the movement to uplift ecological literacy in schools through enhanced environmental education curriculum.  The NCLI Act requires K-12 school systems to strengthen environmental education curriculums, provide teacher training, and provide federal grant money for schools to pay for environmental education.  This Act will provide $100 million a year to support this work in participating school systems.”

For more information on the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN please contact Jena Ponti, RLA at or click HERE. 

Many thanks to Jena for this guest post, and to A.S. for the photo of his lovely daughter.

The Importance of PLAY

Did you know that there’s a National Institute for Play? ( How cool is that? There’s been a lot of talk lately about play: Its importance not only for early childhood development (which is very important), but for people  – and animals, too – of all ages. The new book by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan called Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul has been getting a lot of press, and for good reason. We need play, and just as Richard Louv uncovered that kids are not getting outdoors enough in Last Child in the Woods, we are not playing enough, either. So, if we’re suffering from nature-deficit disorder and play-deficit disorder, wouldn’t the perfect antidote be some outdoor playtime?

A lot of play does occur outdoors – in “wild nature,” in backyards, in playgrounds, even on sidewalks and cul-de-sacs. When people think of “therapeutic landscapes,” they often imagine a quiet, contemplative healing garden with a bench and a fountain and pretty flowers. And this is absolutely one example of a restorative landscape. But a landscape for health – a landscape that facilitates health and well-being – can be so much more. Under this broader definition, any outdoor space that allows and encourages play would be a landscape for health. 
I’ve recently come across a slew great websites, blogs, and articles about play and playgrounds, so this seems like an appropriate post to list a bunch of them:
National Children & Youth Garden Symposium, July 23-25 at the Cleveland Botanical Garden in Ohio, sponsored by the American Horticultural Society. Sign up now (and please take notes so you can report back to us)!
Of course, the Children & Nature Network has great information and resources about getting kids active outside, as does the National Wildlife Federation’s Green Hour.
The Grass Stain Guru is Bethe Almeras’ brand-new rockin’ blog. Check it out for a great list of other play-friendly sites (I won’t list all the ones she does – just go take a look). Bethe, I’m going to get you on here for an interview one of these days!
Kaboom, a national non-profit organization that empowers communities to build playgrounds. Also a great resource for news and information about getting kids outside to play.
ASLA has a new Professional Practice Network called Children’s Outdoor Environments, chaired by Jena Ponti, ASLA.
The Krasnoyarsk Playground Project: A project to build a new playground in the birth home of Alex Griffith (now living with his adoptive family in Forest Hill, MD). Alex took this on as his Boy Scout Eagle Scout project after reading his adoptive father’s journal of their experience in Russia. “The journal mentioned a playground at Hospital #20 in great disrepair. The playground had one rusty swing with a rotten wooden seat, a sandbox mostly covered in dirt and mud, and a small gazebo with a picnic table.” Alex spent six months researching and planning the project and has gotten a huge amount of support. Very inspiring!
Playground Builders (, a non-profit organization devoted to building playgrounds in war-torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and the West Bank and Gaza. 
SOL, or Sequential Outdoor Learning Environment, was developed by Tamara M. Vincenta of Artemis Landscape Architects as a sequence of outdoor spaces designed to meet the needs of children and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Tamara began this project for her Healthcare Garden Design Certification at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and she has created something really beautiful and powerful from it.
Learning Landscapes (“Building Community Through Play” – A project with The University of Colorado Denver and the City of Denver to “connect the design and construction of urban public spaces with healthy initiatives. Since 1998, in partnership with Denver Public Schools, we have transformed 48 neglected public elementary school playgrounds into attractive and safe multi-use parks tailored to the needs and desires of their neighbors and communities.”
Robin Moore’s Natural Learning Initiative. Moore’s book Plants for Play is one that I refer to again and again. 
If you can get a back issue, Landscape Architect and Specifier News had a great issue devoted to play in October of 2008 (Vol. 24, No. 10), even with articles on playgrounds in healthcare facilities. 
“Working in the Margins: A non-traditional approach to the practice of landscape architecture creates a much-needed playground in a women’s prison.” by Daniel Winterbottom, ASLA Landscape Architecture Magazine, December 2007, Vol. 97, No. 12, pp. 38-47. This article is about the construction of a playground at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York.
“Reclaiming Outdoor Space for the Digital Generation,” by Helle Burlingame (of the Kompan Institute), Landscape Architect and Specifier News, December 2008, Vol. 24, No. 12, pp. 28-30.
Most of these references are about kids, but play is important for us grown-ups, too. If you have some great resources about the benefits of play in the outdoors for people over the age of 12, I’d love to add them to the list. Anyone out there have stuff specific to seniors? That, too, would be great. Submit comments and I’ll add them here or in another blog post. Please and thank you!
Thanks also to Guy for the great picture of E. at Storm King Art Center.