Get out and play!

Remember when your mom used to tell you to “go outside and play?” Unfortunately, that’s not happening much anymore.

Children, on average, spend less than 30 minutes a week in outdoor unstructured play. Children’s contact with nature helps to ease attention-deficit disorder, aids cognitive development, enhances creativity, and reduces stress. And of course, with obesity at a critical level in this country, kids need to be running around outside now more than ever. Listed below are useful organizations, books, and articles.

What about children with autism and other special needs?
Here are some resources:

See some of our blog posts on children’s gardens and play.

Links to some great organizations, websites, and blogs about children, outdoor space, and play:

Have more suggestions? Tell us so we can add to this list.

  • Accessible Playgrounds
    The website and home for everything about accessible playgrounds.
  • The Center for Ecoliteracy
    The Center for Ecoliteracy supports and advances education for sustainable living. We believe that schools play a pivotal role in moving us beyond our growing environmental crises and toward a sustainable society.
  • The Children & Nature Network
    Founded by Last Child in the Woods author Richard Louv; one of the best resources out there; excellent articles and lists of links.
  • Children’s Outdoor Environments
    Professional Practice Network of the American Society of Landscape Architects
  • The Child & Nature Alliance
  • Children, Youth and Environment
    CYE is an international, multidisciplinary network of researchers, policy makers and practitioners working to improve the living conditions of children and youth. It supports the sharing of knowledge and experience, while recognizing young people’s capacity for meaningful participation in the processes that shape their lives.
  • The Conservation Fund: Children and Nature
    We believe kids have a basic right to a healthy childhood. With major advances in medicine, education and other fields, kids today should enjoy a higher quality of life than ever before—but too many are developing chronic health conditions like obesity and depression. Researchers suggest that kids disconnected from nature and outdoor activity tend to be less healthy. The Outdoor Foundation’s 2012 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report also notes that most adults who enjoy outdoor activities today first learned them as kids.
  • Discover the Forest: Where the Other You Lives
    PSA campaign by the Ad Council and the USDA Forest Service
  • The Early Years Institute
    The Early Years Institute educates all of us–parents, professionals and the public–about the importance of the early years, and brings together community leaders to make bold investments in young children to give them the best start in life.
  • The Edible Schoolyard
    “What we are calling for is a revolution in public education – the Delicious Revolution. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world.”
    — Alice Waters
  • Forest Schools
    A Forest School is an innovative educational approach to outdoor play and learning in a woodland environment. The philosophy of Forest Schools is to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through positive outdoor experiences over an extended period of time.
  • The Grass Stain Guru
  • The Green Hour
    National Wildlife Federation
  • Green Schoolyard Network
    Dedicated to transforming schoolyards into dynamic centers for teaching & learning, health & fitness, environmental literacy and community life.
  • Inclusive Play Design Guide by Let Kids Play
    Let Kids Play was instrumental in the writing and editing of the Inclusive Play Design Guide. The purpose of the Guide is to offer inspiration and guidance to support the design of an inclusive, universally designed outdoor playground. The Guide’s chapters include planning, layout, access, selecting equipment, play richness and support features. There is also a resource page, a glossary and more information about surfacing.
  • International Play Association: Promoting the Child’s Right to Play (USA Affiliate is
    Among other things, they have published a great document called The Case of Elementary School Recess with facts based on research about why and how recess is vital to children’s overall healthy development.
  • International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA)
    A global network of organizations and professionals working to enrich children’s learning and play by improving the way school grounds are designed and used.  The wellbeing of children and the ecological diversity of their learning landscapes are intrinsically linked. The ISGA aims to support all schools in making the most of the opportunities excellent school grounds afford.
  • KaBOOM!
    They publish research, videos, and podcasts about all sorts of aspects of outdoor play, including the webinar “Nature-Based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Special Needs,” with Naomi Sachs and Tara Vincenta.
  • Learning Landscapes
    Creating Better Community Through Play. Learning Landscapes is a forward-thinking program at the University of Colorado Denver that connects the design and construction of urban public spaces with healthy initiatives.”
  • Learning Through Landscapes
    Learning through Landscapes helps children to connect with nature, become more active, learn outdoors, develop social skills and have fun.
    We operate in Scotland as Grounds for Learning and in Wales as LTL Cymru.
  • London Play
    Nearly half of children in London surveyed say they do not play out as much as they like. We want to change this. A third say they would play out more if it were safer. This is around 10% higher than the UK average. We aim for every child in London to have high quality, accessible and inclusive play opportunities. We campaign for more and improved play spaces and services, and support playwork in the capital.
  • The National Institute for Play
  • Natural Learning Initiative
    Excellent list of resources, links, etc.
    Creating environments for healthy human development and
    a healthy biosphere for generations to come. The purpose of the Natural Learning Initiative is to promote the importance of the natural environment in the daily experience of all children, through environmental design, action research, education, and dissemination of information.
  • NatureExplore

    A collaborative project of Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation
    Our goal at Nature Explore is to support your important efforts to connect children with nature. We do this by offering…Outdoor Classroom Design Services; Workshops & Conferences; Natural Outdoor Classroom Products; Family Resources; Sustainability Network; Research and Field-testing
  • NatureGrounds
    NatureGrounds: Putting Nature Into Play is a comprehensive program that provides best practice guidelines for creating and retrofitting play environments for parks and school grounds that integrate manufactured play equipment and the living landscape. The purpose of NatureGrounds is to create a dramatic shift in the standard playground development process by deliberately designing nature back into children’s lives, not only to benefit children’s play but also to engage communities in working together to create richer play experience for all users.
    Their guidebook is very useful.
  • Playground Builders
    “Dedicated to building hope from the ground-up in war-torn areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian Territories.”
  • Playscapes: A Blog About Playground by Paige Johnson
  • REAL School Gardens
    REAL School Gardens cultivates relationships with elementary school communities to create learning gardens that raise hope, spark imaginations and connect children to nature.
  • Safe Routes to Schools
    Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs are sustained efforts by parents, schools, community leaders and local, state, and federal governments to improve the health and well-being of children by enabling and encouraging them to walk and bicycle to school.
  • School Garden Weekly
    School Garden Weekly was created to allow students, teachers, parents, and volunteers the information necessary to start and maintain a successful school garden.
  • Shane’s Inspiration
    “The mission of Shane’s Inspiration is to create Universally Accessible Playgrounds and programs that integrate children of all abilities socially, physically and emotionally, fostering acceptance, friendship and understanding.”
  • SOL (Sequential Outdoor Learning) Environment
    “Our mission is to provide beautiful, innovative, FUN places in which children with autism and special needs can play, learn and grow with the support of their families and caregivers, producing joyful smiles as they connect with nature, each other and the larger world.”
  • What’s Out There
  • Sharon Lovejoy’s list of Children’s Gardens in the United States. Lovejoy is the author of three books on children’s gardens.

Here’s a nice video called “Nature Deficit Disorder: Getting Kids Outdoors” from a 2008 piece by WJZ13 news. Good interviews with Robin Moore, Marti Erickson, and Cheryl Charles (of the Children & Nature Network).

A few must-have books:

Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation by Sharon Danks

A Child’s Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children by Molly Dannenmaier

Designing Outdoor Environments for Children: Landscaping, Schoolyards, Gardens, and Playgrounds by Lolly Tai, Mary Taylor Haque, Gina K. McLellan, and Erin Jordan Knight

Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations by Clare Cooper Marcus and Marni Barnes – Chapter 7, by Robin C. Moore, is devoted to gardens for children.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Plants for Play by Robin C. Moore

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan

Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Environments by Clare Cooper Marcus and Naomi A. Sachs – Chapter 7 is devoted to gardens for children.

A few good references:
We recommend visiting the Children & Nature Network and the Natural Learning Initiative websites for more.

  • Research Shows a Walk in the Park Improves Attention in Children with ADHD,” by Frances E. Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor, 2008. Click HERE to read the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release.
  • “Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings,” by Andrea Faber Taylor, Frances E. Kuo and William C. Sullivan (2001). Environment and Behavior, Vol. 33, Issue 1, pp. 54-77.
    Click HERE to read a summary of this article by InformeDesign.
  • “Children with Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park,” by Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. Kuo (2008). Journal of Attention Disorders, Vol. 0, August, pp. 1-8.
    Click HERE to read a summary of this article by InformeDesign (“Nature Improves Concentration for Children with ADHD.”)
  • “Children in the City: Reclaiming the Street,” by Lia Karsten and Willem van Vliet (2006). Children, Youth and Environments, Vol. 16, Issue 1, pp. 151-167.
    Click HERE to read a summary of this article by InformeDesign (“Outdoor Spaces with Greenery, Low Traffic Levels and Places for Play are Important for Children in the City.”)
  • “Childhood Experiences Associated with Care for the Natural World: A Theoretical Framework for Empirical Results,” by Louise Chawla (2007). Children, Youth and Environments, Vol. 17, Issue 4, pp. 144-170.
    Click HERE to read a summary of this article by InformeDesign (“Childhood Memories and Environmental Stewardship.”)
  • Increasing Physical Activity Through Recess,” Active Living Research Brief through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Click HERE to access the pdf.
  • Neighborhood Greenness and 2-Year Changes in Body Mass Index of Children and Youth,” by Jeffrey Wilson and Gilbert Liu (2008). American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Vol. 35 No. 6.
    Summary by Research Design Connections: “The amount of green space near their homes is related to the weights of inner city children. Children living in inner city neighborhoods with more green space (as determined from analysis of satellite photographs) have significantly lower body mass index changes as they grow taller than children living in areas with smaller amounts of green space.”
  • “Seeking Restorative Experiences: Elementary School Teachers’ Choices for Places that Enable Coping with Stress,” by Gowri Betrabet Gulwadi (2006). Environment and Behavior, Vol.38, Issue 4, pp. 503-520.
    Click HERE to read a summary of this article by InformeDesign.
  • “Neighborhood Greenness and 2-Year Changes in Body Mass Index of Children and Youth,” by Janice Bell, Jeffrey Wilson, and Gilbert Liu (2008). American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Vol. 35, No. 6. Summary from Research Design Connections: “The amount of green space near their homes is related to the weights of inner city children. Children living in inner city neighborhoods with more green space (as determined from analysis of satellite photographs) have significantly lower body mass index changes as they grow taller than children living in areas with smaller amounts of green space.”
  • “Perspectives from the Ground: Early Childhood Educators’ Perceptions of Outdoor Play Spaces at Child Care Centers,” by Susan Harrington (2008). Children, Youth and Environments, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 64-87.
    Click HERE to read our blog post about this article.
  • “Designing a Playground for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Effects on Playful Peer Interactions.” by Nicola Yuill, Caroline Roake, Ruth Aspden, and Brenda Todd (2007). Journal of Autism Development Disorders, Vol. 37, No. 6.
    Click HERE to view or download the pdf.
  • Accessible Play: No More Watching from the Sidelines,” by Stephen Kelly, Editor, Landscape Architect and Specifyer News. This article features 7 playgrounds designed for universal play. Read the article online at
    Full citation: Kelly, Stephen (2008). “Accessible Play: No More Watching from the Sidelines.” Landscape Architect and Specifyer News, October, Vol. 24, No. 10, p. 62.
  • Resurrecting the ‘Adventure-Style’ Playground,” by Daniel Jost, ASLA (2010). Landscape Architecture, Vol. 100, No. 3, March, pp. 44-63.
    “Two new playgrounds in Central Park honor the past and offer hope for the future of playground design.” Includes a conversation with M. Paul Friedberg, “the father of adventure playgrounds in the U.S.

Here’s a comment we received from our blog post on the Huntington Children’s Garden:

Namaste – good grief, we could use this in the UK….

I have a young son with autism, he loves to be outside, but he is strong and can be very violent, so there are no toys I can afford to purchase for him that he cannot destroy. And even though he loves gardens and gardening, lights and sensory waterfalls and all sorts of things, I couldn’t possibly afford to buy these things for him. Even the disability grants we have in this country see gardening and landscaping as “luxuries” and yet a therapeutic garden would be perfect for him….

I live in hope that someday it would be recognised that a beautiful interactive outdoor space is just as necessary for an autistic child’s wellbeing as the latest technology indoors. If you ever want to take on such a labour of love, by all means look me up…I’m willing to try anything these days and if it means finding financial backing, then I’ll find it.

R. Skye