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.