Nature play

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Nature play a critical evaluation of current design guidelines
Wheeler, Daniel R. ( author )
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Denver, CO
University of Colorado Denver
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Nature study ( lcsh )
Landscape architecture ( lcsh )
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This thesis critically evaluates the current guidance provided by four organizations on how to develop nature play areas. Childhood obesity rates and psychological issues such as stress and depression are increasing, and research shows this may be related to a lack of childhood connection to outdoor environments. Fewer children play outdoors and appreciate the benefits gained from understanding their local ecology. Landscape architects are in a unique position to affect design and public policy to create spaces that promote an affinity for the outdoors. This thesis reviews and compares design guidance published by four nature play organizations. Elements suggested for designs are presented and compared. To further understand the implications of differing philosophies, two playgrounds with various levels of intervention are analyzed and compared using diagrams and site visits. Both sites have been designed according to nature play guidelines, but the experiences of play differ. One space appears wilder, and the other seems more controlled. The experience created may have implications for the goals of nature play. Guidance should focus more on a minimal intervention approach, the importance of site selection, and a holistic approach to design.
Thesis (M.L.A.)--University of Colorado Denver. Landscape architecture
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Department of Landscape Architecture
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by Dasniel R. Wheeler.

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NATURE PLAY : A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF CURRENT DESIGN GUIDELINES by DANIEL R. WHEELER B.S., EmbryRiddle Aeronautical University, 2001, Daytona Beach A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado i n partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Landscape Architecture Landscape Architecture 2015




iii This thesis for the Master of Landscape Architecture degree by Daniel R. Wheeler has been approved for the Landscape Architecture Program By Lori Catalano, Chair Ann Komara Joern Langhorst 24 April 2015


iv Wheeler, Daniel R. (MLA, Landscape Architecture) Nature Play: Using Design to Promote Biophilia in Children Thesis directed by Senior Instructor Lori Catalano ABSTRACT This thesis critically evaluates the current guidance provided by four organizations on how to develop nature play areas. C hildhood obesity rates and psychological issues such as stress and depression are increasing, and research shows this may be related to a lack of childhood connection to outdoor environments. Fewer children play outdoors and appreciate the benefits gained from understanding their local ecology. Landscape architect s are in a unique position to affect design and public policy to create spaces that promote an affinity for the outdoors. This thesis reviews and compares design guidance published by four nature play organizations. Elements suggested for designs are presented and compared. To further understand the implications of differing philosophies, two playgrounds with various levels of intervention are analyzed and compared using diagrams and site visits. Both sites have been designed according to nature play guidelines, but the experiences of play differ. One space appears wilder, and the other seems more controlled. The experience created may have implications for the goals of nature play Guidance should focus more on a minimal intervention approach, the importance of site selection, and a holistic approach to design. The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Lori Catalano


v DEDICATION I dedicate this thesis to the past and the future to the memory of my mother, Helga, whose endless hours of gardening inspired me to begin this journey and appreciate the beauty of our world. And to my son Zachary, may he have endless hours of nature play ahead of him.


vi ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thank you to everyone who has helped me bring this thesis to fruition. This would not have been possible without the dedication and guidance of Lori Catalano, who helped me think through ideas and kept me on track. My committee members, Ann Komara and Joern Langhorst, were also inval uable resources that helped me delve further into this topic than I expected. I also would not have been able to complete this thesis without the support of my family. A special thank you to my sister, Wendy, who is always my trusted copy editor. And m ost importantly, thank you to my wife, Pam, who believed in me and supported me throughout all the ups and downs I encountered during this degree.


vii TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION..1 Description of Nature Play ..1 Issues in Childhood Development.2 Objective6 Thesis Organization.7 II. DEFINITIONS9!Nature.9 Play ...10 Nature Play..13 III. THEORIES OF NATU RE PLAY...15!Natural Learning Initiative.16 Green Hearts...18 Evergreen 0 Nature Explore21 Summary..23!IV. RESEARCH.26!Research Question.26 Methods27 Analysis 6 Results.40!V. CONCLUSI ON44!Discussion44 Future Research.47!REFERENCES... .......................... 50!APPENDIX A. Photographs of Case Study Sites 52


1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Advocates of nature play, a playground typology based on interaction with environmental elements claim that todays children are more disconnected from nature than ever. In the past some scholars have downplayed the benefits of nature, but recently research increasingly refutes these claims and illustrates a need for human interaction with outdoor environments. If t his research is accurate, then acquainting todays youth with the natural world is critical. Interaction with nature provides lifelong health benefits to children, and increasing their appreciation for nature can also have a longterm impact on the health of the planet. If this is a value that people adopt then one may wonder about appropriate ways to reacquai nt children with the outdoor world around them. One solution that landscape architects can directly affect is the creation of nature play areas. These spaces allow children to play directly with the natural environment and thereby learn to appreciate nature. Description of Nature Play Nature play takes many forms, but the designs have the common goal of fostering environmental stewardship in children To facilitate this interaction most of these playgrounds integrate several different play elements inc luding loose parts such as logs, sticks, stones, and tools. Permanent structures, if any, are usually built from logs, or sometimes stone, and s ome sort of water feature is usually present from a wat er play table to a small steam. These spaces are usuall y built adjacent to schools, daycare facilities, museums, neighborhoods, and attempt to mimic local ecotopes and include native or adapted plants to attract wildlife. The idea of nature play has evolved over the last couple decades. Identifying the first nature playground, or designer, could prove difficult because of the wide variety in these spaces, but they seem to have originated in the early 2000s as part of a social trend. In 2005 Richard Louv wrote the book Last Child in the Woods which highlig hted a concern about childrens decreased environmental connection and urged a return to outdoor play, and in 2009 congress introduced the No Child Left Inside Act (Library of Congress) These events most likely surrounded the social tone that evolved into what is now known as nature play.


2 The concept of association in psychology may explain the theory behind nature play : as children play with and with in elements from the environment children have positive, meaningful, experiences. These experiences lead to positive attitudes towards ecological processes, and create a set of values that lead to actions of environmental stewardship. In other words, a ssociating positive feelings with nature leads to actions to protect those feelings and what facilitates them. This approach emphasizes the experience of play rather than the typical pedagogical approach seen in most schools today. In fact, a meaningful experience is central to the goals of nature play. S everal organizations have emerged to further the development of nature play areas and provide guidance to parents, teachers, designers, planners, and policy makers. E ach organization works to promote c hildrens affinity for nature, and this mission has become more urgent because of concerns for childrens health and environmental awareness. Issues in Childhood Development Several issues in childhood development have arisen in recent years that could be addressed by nature play. Increased rates of physical and psychological d iagnoses indicate a negative trend in the health of children This section addresses the data illustrating these issues, and how contact with outdoor environments can have a positive impact on them. Physical C hanges Childhood obesity is o ne of the main symp toms that demonstrates an issue with childrens health. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. S tatistics from the CDC regarding childhood obesity include the following: Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 year s The percentage of children a ges 6 11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12 19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period. [ Figure 1 illustrates the cha nge in obesity rates over the past 30 years. ]


3 In 2012, more than one third of children a nd adoles cents were overweight or obese Figure 1: Childhood Obesity Rates 1980 2012 (Center for Disease Control) This information cause s concern when considering that obesity can lead to chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. The CDC also states that in a 2007 study, a population based sample of 5 to 17 year olds [found tha t ] 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. These children also have a predisposition for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological difficulties like prejudices and low self esteem. Psychological Changes Other childhood afflictions fall into the realm of psychological disorders including stress and depression. But, probably the most recognized condition affecting children today is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ( AD HD) A report from t he CDC states the following: Recent surveys asked parents whether their child received an ADHD diagnosis from a health care provider. The results show that: The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011.


4 Rates of ADHD diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 and an average of approximately 5% per year from 2003 to 2011. (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) In 2010 the American Psychological Association publish ed a report on stress in America stating that, Children and adults alike who are obese or overweight are more likely to feel stress (1), and the National Institute of Health reports that 11% of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18 (Depression in Children and Adolescents ) Furthermore, the American Academy of Family Physicians states that, Depression among children and adolescen ts is common but frequently unrecognized. It affects 2% of prepubertal children and 5 to 8% of adolescents. The clinical spectrum of the disease can range from simple sadness to a major depressive or bipolar disorder (Son and K irchner) These issues are most likely aggravated by the fact that, tweens and teens report that they turn to sedentary behaviors to make themselves feel better when they are really worried or stressed, such as listening to music (36% of tweens and 66% of teens), playing video games (56% of tweens and 41% of teens) or watching TV (34% of tweens and 30% of teens) only 31% think its important to find activities away from the computer (American Psychological Association 1011) These statistics indicate that there are psychological issues that children face today, and at least in the case of ADHD, the rates of diagnosis are increasing. This could indicate the addition of a stressor in childhood development, or the removal of a beneficial element. Furthermore, the coping strategies appear to be inadequate for dealing with stress. Lack of Connection to Nature and I ts B enefits One method recommended for improving these statistics is reconnecting youth with the outdoor s. As the author D.W. Meini g suggests in The Beholding Eye: Ten Versions of the Same Scene, some people o nly see intrinsic value in landscapes as a source of wealth; however, growing research indicates that nature provides real benefits to humans including decreased obesity, stress, and emotional problems, and increased concentration and self esteem (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan and Berman M ). This distancing from the outdoor world could be one reason for the increasing rates of childhood obesity, and ADHD (Bell, Wilson, & Liu, and Taylor & Kuo )


5 Additionally, at least one study suggests that children with more exposure to nature experience more resilience to life stresses (Wells and Evans). These are just a few examples t o indicate how interaction with nature benefits children. E dward O. Wilson an American b iologist, proposed in his 1984 book, Biophilia, that humans have an innate need to commune with nature. He used the term biophilia to describe this connection and defined it as, "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life, but taken more literally it can mean to have a, "love of life, or living systems." Today this term is synonymous with nature connectedness. The previously mentioned research by Berman, Bell, Taylor, and Wells, et al. seems to support the claim that nature provides humans with real health benefits, and should not be treated as a trivial relationship. The trend toward a decreasing interaction with nature has been coined Nature Deficit D isorder by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods He defines this term as, the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses (Louv 36) At the center of this diso rder is a decrease in biophilia This has led s ome researchers to collect data supporting the concern that children play outdoors and understand nature less than previous generations (England Marketing) Regular contact with nature may have a real impact on childhood health, and a nother possible positive association is an increased desire to protect the environment (Mayer & Frantz, and Nisbet, Zelenski, & Murphy). The environmental psychologist, Louise Chawla, has researched why people become motivated to protect the environment. In o ne study she interviewed environmental activists and asked them the r easons for their commitment; two answers emerged: (1) pla ying outdoors as a child, or hiking, camping or fishing as an adolescent, and (2) family role models who demonstrated an appreciation for ecology (145) So, encouraging outdoor play may have real implications for chi ldrens appreciation of, and desire to protect, the environment later in life. The research presented in this section indicates that nature play could provide benefits for both people and the planet. For people, interaction with nature benefits long term


6 physiological and psychological health. For the planet, individuals who act as environmental stewards will help maintain balanced ecosystems in the world for years to come. Therefore, the concept of using nature play to develop biophilia warrants fu rther investigation. Objective Nature play is becoming increasingly popular and m any philosophies exist on how to develop spaces for nature play. Designers who are charged with the responsibility of creating these spaces may be unfamiliar with this play ground typology and turn to the guidance available from one of several resources to help frame their work. Because of the variation between nature play philosophies d esigners should have an understanding of the range of design guidelines their underlyin g values, and when certain approaches might be more appropriate than others. Furthermore, little work has critically evaluated these guidelines to determine their validity. This research seeks to educate designers on the nuances between different nature play guidance and critically examine the guidance itself to determine if, and how, it affords a meaningful experience to children. Research Questions This research examines the range of nature play guidance, underlying philosophies, and how design intent i s implemented in case studies. Therefore, this research will explore the following questions : 1. What are some of the philosophies and guidelines that designers can use to develop nature play? 2. What are current examples of nature play developed from these guidelines ? 3. How does a designers use of site selection, arrangement of play elements and materials affect the experience and accomplish the intent of acquainting children with the outdoor world ? Answering these questions will help to clarify the differ ences between nature play design approaches Questions one and two are used largely in support of answering question three, the main research question.


7 Research Methodology This research uses several types of research methods. Literature reviews reveal the major organizations associated with nature play guidance as well as their specific recommendations and philosophies behind designing nature play areas. Two case studies are investigated in detail and compared using diagrams and site visits This research method allowed for critical analysis of the contrast between two sites developed using different nature play guidance. Research Scope This thesis is conc erned with the design of spaces, and therefore, concentrates on the guidance and arrangement of nature play areas rather than how children use them. This research covers the range of spaces that ca n be developed under the title nature play. The major organizations involved with design guidance are reviewed to understand who they are, and why their guidance may differ. This paper addresses what nature play spaces are, why they are relevant, who provides recommendations for developing these sites, where sites sit on a range of construction, and how they facilitate an experience of nature. Research L imitations Because of the time limits associated with this thesis neither children nor parents were interviewed about their experience of nature play areas. Therefore, the author can only surmise how children would actually use the spaces or how the space s might impact their understanding of an outdoor environment. This research is qualitative and relies on interpretation of images, rather than collection of numerical data. Only two sites were investigated which is a small sample of the sites located th roughout the country. This thesis focuses on implementation of nature play in North America, although these sites are popular in Europe, Australia, and other c ountries around the world. The research examines the current trends in nature play and suggests improvements, and ideas for future researc h, in Chapter Five Thesis Organization This thesis has been organ ized into five chapters. Chapter One introduces the concept of nature play, current issues in childhood health, and how proponents of nature pla y propose a


8 lack of childhood connection to nature affects these health issues. It also outlines the objectives, scope, and limits of the research. Chapter Two defines how the three terms nature, play, and nature play, are used in this research and how they re late to each other and the scope of this work. Chapter Three introduces the four major organizations promoting and providing guidance on the design of nature play areas in North America. The organizations Natural Learning Institute, Green Hearts, and Nature Explore are based in the United States, while Evergreen is based in Canada. The chapter presents and compares each organizations specific recommendations for nature play. Chapter Four presents the research conducted on two nature play sites, Hills & Dales Nature Play Area in Dayton, Ohio, and Schott Nature PlayScape in Cincinnati, Ohio. The chapter displays the diagrams and design elements, used to compare the spaces and then summarizes the findings Chapter Five concludes the document by evaluating the design approaches that best accomplish the goals of nature play in the context of the two case studies, reasons why site selection is critical for nature play, and other aspects of the nature play experience that could use further emphasis i n design guidelines to create a more holistic experience. Suggestions for future research are also summarized here.


9 CHAPTER II DEFINITIONS To clarify the intent behind this research several terms require explanation. The three terms nature, play, and nature play require a c ommon understanding to promote clear communication in this thesis An in depth investigation of the terms nature and play and their implications is beyond the scope of this thesis but understanding their meanings as used in this p aper will help to explain the concept of nature play. Nature The term nature is complex and has various meanings to different people and cultures It could mean anything from vast areas of land untouched by humans to urban environments The Oxford En glish Dictionary (OED) defines nature as the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations. This includes biotic creatures such as plants, animals, and insects as well as abiotic features such as sticks, rocks, and sand. This definition speaks to what objects compose nature, but not how they relate to humans. Often we associate nature with wilderness, something out there re quiring travel to experience. While wilderness is viewed as a place separate from or untouched by humans, William Cronon, an environmental historian, writes that the wilderness experience is often conceived as a form of recreation best enjoyed by those whose class privileges give them the time and resources to leave their jobs (85). Cronon makes a valid point that, If we set too high a stock on wilderness, too many other corners of the earth become less than natu ral and too many other people become less than human, thereby giving us permission not to care about their suffering or fate (85). A reas set aside for preservation far from the urban environment are extremely beautiful but more accessible undeveloped areas should be celebrated as well. The elements described in the OED definition can be found in the city and backyards and used in design to strengthen a connection to the non human world. As Cronon puts it, The tre e in the garden is in reality no less other, no less worthy of our wonder or respect, than the tree in an ancient forest (88). Meaning that nature can be found anywhere, including an urban


10 environment. The philosopher Edward Casey adds to this discussion in Getting Back Into Place Rather than thinking of Nature and Culture as antipodes between which we must make a forced choice, we ought to regard them as coexisting in various forms of commixture within a middle realm a genuine multifarious between, in which the partners are in a relation of consanguinity (241) Here again, the author suggests different levels of mixture between human and non human whether in an urban or wild setting, but this relationship always exists. For the purposes of their report the group Play England defined natural environment as, a continuum of humanenvironment influence, ranging from total human designed space to pure wilderness (Ca rver et al., 2002); the phrase is dependent on context and degree rather than a set definition (Lester and Maudsley) Using this definition in conjunction with the OED definition helps us to understand what elements are considered nature and how they relate to humans, but these definitions are broad and may not cover every feature, organism, or process that some may consider nature. This research is aimed at exploring nature play, and the philosophical discussion of what is nature? falls outside the scope of intended investigations. This exercise does help to frame the conversation of how the term nature can be easily misunderstood; and therefore, this thesis will not use the term in a descriptive manner. Nature play se eks to acquaint children with the elements described by the dictionary in a wide range of environments, and like this variation in environments there is diversity in the spaces considered nature play. Play Play certainly allows children to burn energy a nd develop physical abilities ; however, it is also a way that children learn. In the discipline of Early Childhood Education (ECE) many philosophies exist on how to best educate young children. One theory focuses on the belief that children learn best th rough play. Defining play is a complicated issue as some will recall days as a child skipping rope, building with blocks, or playing tag. To understand the concept of play, and purpose behind it, one should understand the foundational theorists in childhood development Many educators have written about play as a legitimate method of teaching youth about the environment. Friedrich Froebel (1782 1852) opened the first kindergarten in 1837 in


11 Blankenburg, Germany. The author of A History of Childrens Pl ay and Play Environments Joe Frost, states that Froebel believed, Education was to grow out of the natural interests of the child and His vehicle of instruction was play (28). According to Tina Bruce who wrote Early Childhood Practice: Froebel Today, Froebel encourage d outdoor play because he believed that, Activities in the outdoor environment aroused childrens curiosity and encourage problem solving, persistence an d respect for the natural world (Bruce 72) Froebels methods are widely accepted today, and not only did he believe in teaching through play, but that outdoor play was important. These same philosophies could be seen in the teachings of Maria Montessori (1870 1952), an educator and researcher in Italy who observed children, and developed several stages that they pass through as they learn and grow. Her observations led her to the belief that children actually learn as they play with toys, and not just trivial i nformation, but basic elemental skills necessary to master before progressing to their next stage of development (Crain). Some people criticize portions of Montessoris beliefs, but schools and educators have adopted her metho ds across the world, and her claims have been largely substantiated. William Crain also notes that, she believed children need to experience nature to develop their powers of observation and other qualities, such as a feeling of connection to the living worldMontessori was among the few scholars ever to take the childs tie to nature seriously (85). Montessori demonstrates another accepted educator who emphasized play in outdoor environments. Two other researchers who emphasized less on play as a method of instruction, but did believe in a child centered development were Jean Piaget (1896 1980) and Lev Vygotsky (1896 1934) These two had similar beliefs as far as childrens developmental stages, but their theorie s differed in the role of teachers throughout these stages. Piaget believed, similar to Montessori, that the children should decide how to direct their learning, and teachers should only act as a guide and help them progress when the child is ready for a new concept. In contrast, Vygotsky believed that it was the teachers responsibility to recognize childrens current developmental states and then push their understanding of concepts to a deeper level. The Piagetian camp contends this limits the ability of children to think on their own, however, the Vygotsky school


12 argues that children would not come to the same conclusion on their own and society should pass on the lessons that it has learned (Crain). These two philosophie s illustrate an issue that remains to this day: the role of the teacher in education. This question becomes increasingly important in the role of nature play. Are children learning by themselves or do they need a mentor to explain and translate events t hat occurred while playing? None of these schools of educational psychology match exactly, but they do have many similar concepts. Table 1 illustrates how the four philosophies discussed above relate to their major concepts. Today most teachers of young children recognize play as an important aspect of physical and cognitive development. A position statement published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) declares that, Play is an important vehicle for developing self regulation as well as for promoting language, cognition and social competence (14). But, what is considered play in the context of ECE? This is one question that researchers in the field have attempted to answer, and Table 2 depicts categories and definitions of certain types of play activities. This investigation identified many researchers with different definitions of play, but these six seem to share traits with much of the literature, and are applicable to nature play Table 1: Schools of educa tional psychology darker colors indicate stronger association to concepts Used nature for learning Playcentered learning Child directed learning Adult enhanced lessons Promoted social interaction Froebel Monetessori Piaget Vygots ky


13 Table 2 : Types of Play (Department of Education, Training, and Employment) Dramatic Children take on roles within pretend games about familiar experiences going on a fishing trip, or sharing a celebration. Fantasy Children create props and use these as they engage in fantasy adventures creating an ocean floor using sheets for water and baskets for rocks in an underwater adventure. Exploratory Children explore the prope rties and functions of materials, equipment and objects experimenting with a tool to find out how it works with clay or dough, using a magnifying glass to view different objects. Manipulative Children manipulate and explore objects, parts and materials threading beads, doing puzzles, or using construction sets Physical Children explore movements and ways to combine movements running and playing ball, jumping climbing, dancing moving on an obstacle course. Games with rules Children follow or creat e rules to reach a shared objective in a game playing outdoor games, following child created games with rules, playing computer, board and card games. The concept of children learning through play is widely accepted. Children do not need guidance for all learning, they can learn through experience. So, free play is a valid method of teaching children about their surrounding outdoor environment. There are several types of play as defined above, which this thesis will focus on. Nature Play Due to the concerns over childhood health, and an increasing separation from the outdoor world, an emerging trend in play is to create nature play spaces. These areas use the concepts of learning and childhood development to teach children about outdoor environments in a fun and interactive way appropriate for their age. Nature play spaces have been developed around the world, including all parts of the United States. The environmental elements used in design depend in part on the geographic location of the space a nd resources available. The


14 organization of each playground depends on the age groups of intended users, and the types of activities desired within the playground Designers may separate areas for small children (e.g. age 25) and older more mobile chil dren (e.g. age 512). P rogramming may include areas for water play, active play (e.g. digging and creating structures) or quiet areas for retreat or arts and crafts. D esign of nature play spaces may seem straightforward but several theories have developed which emphasize different aspects and purposes of nature play. Some groups recommend as little intervention on the site as possible, while other groups favor highly designed and constructed areas. Thi s range of design typologies, especially when cons idering the variable definitions of the terms nature and play themselves, can lead to the interpretation of many playgrounds as nature play. To clarify language and reduce confusion one of the foremost organizations on nature play, the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI), has adopted the definition of nature play as, A designed, managed location in an existing or modified outdoor environment where children of all ages and abilities play and learn by engaging with and manipulating diverse natural elements, materials, organisms, and habitats, through sensory, fine motor and gross motor experiences (Moore 21) This definition will be adopted for the purpose of this thesis and used to distinguish the types of spaces sel ected for analysis. Other terms considered synonymous with nature play are nature play area or space, nature playground, and nature playscape.


15 CHAPTER III THEORIES OF NATURE P LAY To better understand the definition of nature play and specific desi gn principles this research explored four major organizations in the field of nature play. Although there are mor e organizations in existence an exhaustive list would be beyond the scope of this thesis; however, the groups described here represent a large percentage of the field and cover a range of philosophies on design of nature play. Each body believes in promoting childrens interaction with the outdoor environment, but they do differ slightly in their methods and core design principles. To better u nderstand these differences this chapter addresses the research question, What are some of the philosophies and guidelines that designers can use to develop nature play? Theories range from encouraging play in the least modified space possible, with litt le adult interaction, to areas that are highly designed and constructed specifically to enhance teachers curriculums. Nature playgrounds that are less constructed may sit in, or adjacent to, an existing undeveloped site that uses this native ecotope as the structure for the play area. For example, in a woodland setting trees might be cleared out from the center of the area to make room for play, leaving old growth forest surrounding the clearing and providing additional opportunities for exploration. In a prairie setting, paths might be mowed in the grasses to lead children throughout the site and define internal play elements. Tools and other loose parts help children investigate the surroundings, and trees or other structures might be added for shade. T his theory draws largely on the technique of subtraction to create place, and the concept that, less is more. Other theories focus on development of school grounds. These designs will use plant materials and loose parts to enhance the play experience but there may be additional areas for acting, music, art, or wheeled toys. In some, habitat may be created to provide teachers with visual aids during lessons, or gardens used to teach children about plants. Such designs seem to follow the theories of Vygotsky emphasizing the importance of a teacher to guide childrens learning. Figure 2 depicts where the four major organizations fall on a spectrum from


16 encouraging more adult interaction to less adult interaction. In general this image also displays how each organizations works may require different levels of intervention. Nature Explore and Evergreen fall on the far left of the scale because their designs are used primarily in schoolyards. Green Hearts falls on the right because of their emphasis on allowing children to learn on their own, and the Natural Learning Institute appears in the center because they work with a broad spectrum of designs. Figure 2: Four nature play organizations on a spectrum requiring adult interaction Of course many d esigns fall somewhere in between these two extremes and may be located at museums or local parks, in a city, or more rural areas. Each has a unique arrangement of design elements and the amount of construction varies but all intend to increase outdoor play and foster an understanding, and appreciation of the local environment. This is an important characteristic of all nature play sites: the underlying value that the unbuilt world is important and should be preserved for future generations. To this end, nature play organizations hope to foster environmental stewardship in children. The guidance reviewed for this research either implicitly or explicitly stated this as a goal The following sections review the four major bodies in nature play and th eir recommendations on how to develop sites for this purpose. The organizations include the Natural Learning Initiative, Green Hearts, Evergreen, and Nature Explore. Natural Learning Initiative The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) is an organization run through the North Carolina State University Colleg e of Design with the mission to help communities create stimulating


17 places for play, learning, and environmental education environments that recognize human dependence on the natural world (Natural Learning Initiative). In 2014 they published a national guidelines document, Nature Play and Learning Places, which describes why nature play is important, how children learn, how to design and manage nature playgrounds, and provides case studies of selected sites Furthermore, they believe these experiences are important because, Childhood engagement with nature is more likely to produce conservation minded citizens willing to care for the planet, to protect our natural resourc es, and to recognize them as our most precious economic asset (Moore 18) This statement illustrates their values and motivations behind supporting nature play. NLI promotes the development of nature play areas in a wi de range of spaces including city, state and federal lands, schools, and other education centers, as well as in development densities from rural to urban. Although the guide states that To build a lasting bond between children and nature, opportunities for engagement must be embedded in every place where children and families routinely spend time (Moore 52) one space they do not address is residential homes. This is arguably the space where children spend the majority of their time. The guide provides general advice on materiality such as, Genuine nature play and learning spaces contain mainly natural materials such as plants (trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers), stones, water, dirt piles, fallen trees, hollowed out logs, and a multitude of other natural elements designed to encourage handson manipulation and discovery (Moore 21) Other suggested elements of nature play spaces are listed in Table 3. Table 3: NLI Recommended Affordances and Activity Settings Entrances Pathways Plants Mulch Ground Surfacing Loose Parts Construction Area Play Structures Multipurpose Lawn Meadow Woodland Landform Animals Aquatics Sand, Soil, Dirt Gathering Area Storage Area Performance Area Sig nage Boundaries


18 Green Hearts Another organization committed to nature play is Green Hearts. The nonprofit organization aims to strengthen childrens connection to the environment with the intent that, frequent, unstructured childhood play in natural settings is a crucial stage in the development of life long conservation values -and thus helps lead to adult conservation behaviors (Green Hearts) Their philosophy and objective to instill an appreciation of nature is fu rther described in their guide titled, Design Guidelines for Nature Play Spaces which states that, "...environmental organizations should emphasize, first and foremost, that childrens nature play is a powerful conservation strategy intended to help creat e a larger, stronger future constituency for the environment (2). This statement illustrates their drive to develop environmental stewardship in children. S ome organizations may use nature play as an educational tool, but Green Hearts believes this should not be the goal of the activity. They contend that, Nature play is not about learning, and it is not just a tweaking of traditional environmental education methods. Nature play is about kids falling in love with nature (Green Hearts Incorporated 2) To this end, not only do they provide advice for creating nature play in a community setting, but also in residential spaces with a separate guide for parents. The Green Hearts de sign guide provides core principles for design and specific recommendations for design elements. Overall their guidelines are aimed at creating spaces that have a more wild appearance, and are focused on habitat and ecology rather than play structures. A statement in their guide captures this philosophy well, Create more landscape, less architecture (Green Hearts Incorporated 6) More principles and guidelines exist, but the majority of recommendations can be broken dow n into site design and elements. Site Design One of the foremost considerations when designing any site is appropriate location. Green Hearts suggests that when considering where to locate a nature play area t he space should be integrated with existing habitat whenever possible. For instance, if a woodland setting


19 is preferred then a site should be chosen with existing forest rather than attempting to reproduce this habitat. This helps to create a more authentic outdoor experience and reduces the need for construction. However, this approach can cause conflict when attempting to comply with local building codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To alleviate some of these concerns Green Hearts recommends making the area as accessible as possible They suggest recognizing that not all areas in this type of play will be accessible to every person, and then working with professionals to maximize site accessibility. Another consideration for site design regards the amount of traffic the sp ace may receive. Green Hearts recommends estimating the amount of users and building for the low end of expectations. This strategy reduces costs and environmental impacts from over building. Other suggestions include making separate rooms for different types of play, creating small spaces with outward views and scaling for children. Elements Green Hearts provides recommendations for many elements to include in nature play. The objects should largely be made out of wood or stone, preferably logs or b ranches from trees on site, and stone indigenous to the local area. Climbing elements can come in many forms from trees, including downed remnants, to hills, or boulders, or other built structures. One contrast between Green Hearts philosophy and other o rganizations is their approach on musical instruments. While other organizations suggest including these play elements Green Hearts believes, the best, most appropriate music for nature is play is the music of nature itself (Green Hearts Incorporated 7) This means considering sounds such as the wind in trees, or a burbling stream in design Another method of making noise is attracting wildlife, which Green Hearts believes is best done through the use of native plants. These are the plants of choice although they do recognize that other adapted plants may have their place at times. Turf grass is an example of a plant species that might not be native, but the organization realizes has benefits for play, so they recomme nd using it in limited amounts. Other philosophies in plant choices


20 include using shrubs or trees with edible fruit rather than a vegetable garden becaus e they require less maintenance and offer more benefits for infrequent users of the space. The recom mendations for play elements are similar to other organizations, but have slight differences that influence designs to take on a slightly less refined, wilder appearance. Green Hearts suggested elements in a nature pla y area are summarized in Table 4 Table 4 : Nature Play Elements Recommended by Green Hearts Loose Parts Climbers No Musical Instruments Dirt Water Native Plants Limited Turf Grass Edible Shrubs/Trees Fence Tools Storage Evergreen (Canada) T he group Evergreen addresses the challeng e of teaching children in Canada about their outside environment Their guide, Landscape and Child Development focuses primarily on creating nature play spaces on school grounds. These spaces can be used for play, but also as teaching aids for educators. The guide also emphasizes using a holistic design approach, which focuses on the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children. Evergreen believes in the importance of connecting children to the environment because, From a very early age, children are curious about nature. By closely exploring their own outdoor space they begin to develop a broader sense of connection to th e world beyond their playground (Evergreen 14) Overall, the group stat es that this can be achieved through designs that incorporate temporary and fixed play features that incorporate organic materials. Site Design Evergreen recommends several key areas including an active play space, which can vary in topography, challenge competencies, and develop body awareness and physical health. Individual spaces support quiet, reflective moments, observation, and listening. Gathering areas help foster social interaction, communication, and sharing. Experimental areas act as the lab of the play areas and are used for discovery, exploration, and hypothesizing, which supports


21 creativity, construction, building, and testing. Finally, an ecological area contains vegetation and attracts animals so children can observe their interactions. The design should be based on local ecology and community, and contain a diversity of spaces, as well as multi purpose elements. To expand on learning opportunities Evergreen recommends working with staff and building on the existing instructional uses of the site. In relation to site maintenance they suggest that this can be part of the sites learning objectives because stewardship, helps children to learn about responsibility and to care for each other, their surroundings and the natural world (Evergreen 23) These examples illustrate the organizations philosophy on integrating play and learning, and how they value actively teaching children about the environment. Elements The elements that Evergreen recommend s for inclusion in nature play spaces are similar to those in the previous organizations, although some have less of an emphasis on being from an organic origin. For example, the section on loose parts suggests using found objects such as balls, hoops, an d hockey sticks, and tires are listed as a site amenity for play or use as planters. Table 5 describes many of the elements that Evergreen proposes for use as elements in nature play designs. Table 5 : Nature Play Elements Recommended by Evergreen Garden s/Habitat Areas Vegetable Garden Loose Parts Learning Tools Storage Shade Trees/Shrubs Hard and Soft Surfaces Sand Play Water Play Paths Seating Gates and Fences Signage Nature Explore Nature Explore is a collaborative program of the National Arbor Day Fou ndation and Dimensions Research Foundation. The program takes a similar approach to Evergreen in that they focus on developing play spa ces in conjunction primarily with schools or day care centers. The organization reports that, Through our ongoi ng research and fieldtesting we have learned


22 that a thoughtfully designed and wellplanned outdoor classroom becomes the framework or backdrop that supports holistic development and learning. It is a space where children grow and learn socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually during everyday inte ractions with the natural world (Nature Explore). Nature Explore uses different areas to deve lop nature play spaces. Each area contains unique elements, which reflect the use of each space. Their guidance also recommends naming the areas and posting signage to differentiate between spaces. Tools should also be provided to enhance childrens learning experiences. Some of the key recommended areas include an entry featur e, which welcomes users to the space and provides a distinctive mark of the place. An open play area would include turf grass for imaginative or active play. Messy materials and building/construction areas allow children to get dirty and loose parts such as lumber or tree limbs to construct forts, while a nature art area provides a quieter more intimate interaction with organic art pieces such as leaves, acorns, or flowers. A garden area with a path through it leads children through plantings, and could be as simple as a mown path in tall grass. The music and movement, and gathering areas allow for children to express themselves with music or acting, and provide an outdoor classroom for lesson s from teachers Two supplemental areas that seem to have l ess to do with environmental education and more to do with play are wheeled toys and swings. Because Nature Explore targets schools and daycare facilities these elements might add to the number of play options at these locations, but they do not necessari ly facilitate an interaction with other biotic organisms. Combin in g these elements in a creative and cohesive manner would allow children to transition between traditional active play and activities more in line with the goals of nature play. Table 6 out lines Nature Explores suggested play areas.


23 Table 6 : Summary of Nature Explore s recommended play areas. Primary Areas Entry Feature Open Play Climbing/Crawling Messy Materials Building/Construction Nature Art Music and Movement Garden and Path Gathering Storage Supplemental Areas Water Dirt Digging Sand Wheeled toy Swings Greenhouse Summary These organizations comprise the majority of nature play proponents in North America. Although one may assume that nature play is a straightforward concept meaning that children play with abiotic elements (e.g. sticks and stones) while surrounded by multiple species of plants and wildlife this idea can be translated very differently depending on how an individual interprets it. The guidance provided by the organizations ranges from minimal construction requirements, such as a log for balancing, to highly constructed elements such as landforms, or water features. This range of construction can lead to spaces that feel ve ry different despite all being designed for nature play. Furthermore, not only will nature play differ depending on the intent of each designer, but also on what philosophy they use to guide their approach to design. Table 7 displays a summary of some of the major elements each organization addresses in its guidance. There is concurrence on some elements (highlighted in green), but they suggest different approaches to implementing many elements. For instance, all groups recommend including edible plants; however, Evergreen does not recommend using trees or shrubs with edible fruit because of concerns with children eating poisonous berries. In contrast Green Hearts argues that infrequent visitors gain little from a vegetable garden, and therefore, recommend using trees and shrubs with edible fruit to teach children the benefits of these plants. Similarly, Green Hearts discourages the inclusion of musical


24 elements, but Evergreen and Nature Explore recommend them. Designers and planners should be aware of these differences and adopt the strategy that works best for their situation. Table 7 : Summary of nature play guidance (n/a = not addressed) Green indicates concurrence on elements. Evergreen Green Hearts NLI Nature Explore Animals Support observation of animals in natural habi tat Attract wildlife Wildlife and farmyard n/a Art Areas for art/drama classes, display art in site Paint/crayons listed as part of tools Drama in gather spaces, art as signage Nature art area Climbing Features Recommended Recommended Affordance of tree s Recommended Construction Area Recommended n/a Recommended Recommended Digging Material Recommended Recommended Recommended Recommended Edible Plants Vegetable gardens recommended. Edible shrub/tree s not recommended. Vegetable garden option, but edible shrub s /tree s preferred Edible shrub, trees, and vegetable gardens recommended Gardening area recommended Fence/Borders Recommended Recommended Recommended Recommended Gathering Area Recommended n/a Recommended Recommended Landforms Recommended Climbin g option Recommended n/a Learning materials/T ools Recommended Recommended Recommended Recommended Loose Parts Recommended Recommended Recommended Recommended Meadows Recommended n/a Recommended n/a Multi purpose Lawn Recommended Limit use of turf Recom mended Recommended Musical Instruments/ Area Recommended Not recommended No guidance, but recognized as important self expression Recommended


25 Table 7: Continued Native Plants Recommended Recommended Recommended Plants recommended, guidance for native plants n/a Wood/Stone Play Structures Recommended Recommended Recommended Recommended Wood Ground Cover (e.g. mulch) Recommended Recommended Recommended n/a Storage Recommended Recommended Recommended Recommended Water Recommended Recommended Recommended Recommended Wetlands Recommended n/a Recommended n/a Wheeled Toys Recommended n/a Use mentioned as benefit of hard surface paths Recommended Woods/Tree Groves Recommended n/a Recommended n/a


26 CHAPTER IV RESEARCH Research Question s Each organization describes their own unique philosophy of how to design nature play, and the design elements that should be included or excluded in those designs. However, a compilatio n of all these elements produces a long list of design elements with agreement and conflict when compared across organizations Ultimately a list of design elements does not necessarily produce an evocative space that children will return to on a regular basis. This requires an understanding of spatial arrangement, procession, scale, and materiality among other things all combined in a way that honestly represents biotic and abiotic elements in the local environment Therefore this chapter addresses the research questions, What are current examples of nature play developed from the guidelines? and How does a designers use of site selection, arrangement of play elements and materials affect the experience, and accomplish the intent of acquainting children with the outdoor world ? The experience of outdoor environments is a holistic idea which not only includes interacting with and observing ecological elements, but also creating a sense of exploration and discovery, as well as a sense of freedom, and opportunities for social interaction Methods Several nature play areas were considered for investigation based on research; from these, two sites were selected based on their adherence to predetermined criteria. Using two sites allowed for comparison of the range of constructed play environments according to Figure 3. Although both sites adhered to the design principles set forth by nature play design guidelines, one appeared to be a more constructed environment, and the other less constructed. Using a list of recommended nature play elements plus other elements deemed pertinent to this research the author mapped and analyzed diagrams of how these elements were located within the spaces and how they related to e ach other. Additionally, the author visited each site to analyze integration of each element contextually.


27 Selection of Sites An initial invest igation of nature play areas le d to seven sites within Colorado, Ohio and New York These sites were all designed with the intent to facilitate childrens contact with nature, but they ranged from sites that were heavily constructed (rooftop garden) to sites that required little intervention (clearing in the woods of a park). Figure 3 illustrates these sites and where they fell on a spectrum on construction. Figure 3: Range of playground options on a scale from more constructed to less constructed. These sites were further refined using the selection criteria in Table 8 This reduced t he final selection sites to the Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colorado Schott Nature PlayScape in Cincinnati, Ohio and Hills & Dales Nature Play Area in Dayton, Ohio The latter two sites were selected because of their geographical proximity.


28 Selecting one site from each end of the construction spectrum in Figure 3 allowed for a comparison between the design typologies, and more specifically, their arrangement of play elements, use of materials, and facilitation of types of play. These two areas were developed intentionally for nature play, and therefore, c onform to much of the guidance available on designing these spaces. Both areas allow children to explore the local ecology on their own, without adult guidance which places them among the philosophies of Froebel, Montessori, and Table 8 : Selection C riteria Criteria Rationale 1. Adheres to definition of nature play as defined by NLI. This thesis uses the NLI guidance to define nature play. 2 One site considered more constructed and one less constructed according to the scale in Figure 3. To compare nature play typologies two examples are required, one from each end of the construction spectrum. 3 Use of natural construction materials as defined by the NLI. Less refined construction materials are a key element according to all NP desi gn philosophies. NLI guide is the most robust guidance available. 4 Loose parts available for play Loose parts are a key element according to all NP design philosophies. 5 Water used as play element Water is a key element according to all NP design philosophies. 6 Space designed with intent of NP This thesis seeks to investigate design practices, so the space must have been mindfully developed for use of NP. 7 Free play This thesis seeks to investigate spaces where children play without adult guidance for learning, so lessons will not require interpretation 8 Location The author will reside in Colorado and Ohio during thesis research, so sites in these areas are preferred.


29 others. Additionally, the NLI uses both locations as case studies in their guide indicating that they are respected examples of nature play. Hills & Dales Nature Play Area Hills & Dales Nature Play Area (NPA) is located in Dayton, Ohio within Hills & Dales MetroPark. A suburban development surrounds the park as well as two golf courses. The NPA is approximately 3 acres in size and was developed in 2008 by Five Rivers MetroParks with the help of Green Hearts Institute as a consultant (Natural Learning Initiative) The main features in the NPA include loose parts, tools to aid in exploring the site, and a stream. Adjacent to the site entrance is a small playground with some elements that also comply with general nature play design guidance including perennial plant beds, wood mulch ground surfacing, and a sand pit surrounded by stumps. The main area where activities such as fort building and digging take place is at the center of the site on top of a hill. A small stream runs along the east and north borders and forms an informal boundary for play. An old growth forest covers the rest of the site providing habitat, shade, and additional opportunities for play. Figures 4 -7 depict Hills & Dales NPA. Figure 4: Hills & Dales Nature Play is locat ed within Hills & Dales MetroPark, outside Dayton, Ohio (Photo Google Earth)


30 Figure 5: Location of the Nature Play area within Hills & Dales MetroPark. (Photo Google Earth) Figure 6: Aerial view of interpreted nature play boundaries at Hills & Dal es MetroPark. (Photo Google Earth)


31 Figure 7: Pl an diagram of Hills & Dales NPA


32 Schott Nature PlayScape Schott Nature PlayScape (NPS) is located outside Cincinnati, OH within the Cincinnati Nature Center. The nature center covers over 1,000 ac res of multiple landscape types and provides 16 miles of hiking trails as well as a visitors center (Cincinnati Nature Center) Schott NPS is approximately 1.6 acres in size and was developed in 2011 by the nature center with the help of NLI as a design consultant (Natural Learning Initiative). The main features of the site include a woodland area with loose parts for building forts, a prairie area, turf meadow, wetland, early childhood area, and a stream running through the center of the NPS. A looping path meanders through the multiple ecotopes within the NPS and spurs provide options to reach play structures and cut directly to other areas. A slight slope climbs to the top of the turf meadow where a bridge crosses the steam and returns down to the prairie. Many types of plants exist in the space from native to adapted species, and grasses to trees. A fence runs along the outside of the site to delineate the NPS from the rest of the nature center. Figures 8 11 depict Schott NPS. Appendix A displays photographs from each site. Figure 8: The Schott Nature Playscape is located within the Cincinnati Nature Center, outside Cincinnati, Ohio (Photo Google Earth)


33 Figure 9: Location of the Schott Nature Playscape within the Cincinnati Natu re Center. (Photo Google Earth Figure 10 : Ae rial view of Schott Nature Plays cape (Photo Google Earth)


34 Figure 11 : Plan diagram of Schott NPS


35 Analysis Criteria Several elements were investigated using plan views and photograp hs of the sites taken during in person visits. These views were used to analyze how specific pieces were arranged within each site and how they related to each other as well as a comparison between the sites to determine similarities and differences. Plan Views Plan views analyzed the relationships of setting s, affordances, types of play, and circulation. According to the NLI affordances can be defined as, a quality of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action. They can be described as, playable, runnable, jumpable , climbable, etc (40). Settings can be defined as, as subspace with affordances that offer a predictable type of activity (42). In other words, affordances are objects children play with or on, and settings are where they play with them. Types of play were analyzed using the descriptions on page 13, and spaces in the nature play areas were scrutinized to determine what types play most likely took place there. Specifically, the types of play considered were fantasy, manipulative, exploratory, and physical. Dramatic play was considered similar to fantasy, and therefore, collapsed into one category. Games with rules are situationally dependent, and therefore not consider ed because this type of play could appear anywhere within the play areas. If two play types could overlap a hatch pattern marked the dual use of these spaces. Circulation routes indicate the primary, secondary, and tertiary paths throughout the site. A lso considered are elements that create a stopping area, or spaces that children will have reason to stop and play at a specific location. Site Visits. Site visits were used primarily to investigate the use of materials in site design. P hotographs documented the designers use of primarily wood, stone, and plants in many different ways. Using sidebyside analysis of pictures allowed the author to interpret how different materials were employed in the design of elements.


36 Analysis Plan View Analysis Figures 12 14 on the following pages depict the results from plan view analysis of each site. The methods described in the Analysis Criteria section were applied to determine the location and relationship of settings, affordances, types of play, and ci rculation. Figure 12 : Plan view analysis of Schott NPS.


37 Figure 13 : Plan view analysis of Hills & Dales NPA. Figure 14 : Exploded layer view of Schott NPS (left) and Hills & Dales NPA (ri ght).


38 Photographic Analysis The images in Figures 15 18 depict the results from photographic analysis of each site. The methods described in the Analysis Criteria section were applied to determine the uses of different materials Figure 15: Analysis of use of wood at each nature play area Figure 16: Analysis of use of stone at each nature play area


39 Figure 17: Analysis of use of plants at each nature pl ay area Figure 18: Analysis of use of water at each nature play area


40 Results Although the plan view analysis provided limited information when comparing the two sites together the site visits and side byside photographic analysis proved to be helpful for identifying key design differences. The two sites v aried in the amount of construction of play area elements, which coincides with each philosophys design guidance. Although the features at Schott NPS were constructed of wood or stone, they displayed a more refined appearance than those found in Hill & D ales NPA. Likewise the types of plants at Schott NPS varied significantly compared to Hills & Dales NPA, as well as the design of the water features. Both nature playgrounds used materials according to their guidelines, but the philosophies behind these guidelines seemed to drive significant differences in the appearance and feel of the spaces. Wood The use of wood at Schott NPS generally fell into two categories: as a structural element, and as a play element. As a structural element wood functioned as a bridge, defined portions of the site boundary, and formed some permanent structures used in the fort building area. As a play element wood exists largely in the form of loose parts, and these loose parts seemed to be used mostly for building forts. Most wood elements were minimally manipulated after being cut from trees, but their arrangement for some uses, such as the entry gate, is largely decorative. At Hills & Dales NPA wood was used mainly as loose parts and as mulch. Loose parts appeared to be used mainly in the fort building and stream areas, and a downed tree created an element for climbing and balancing. The wood mulch was used as a ground cover and a digging pile. Other than these two uses no other wood was brought on site, and it was n ot used as a structural element. Other than cutting, or in the case of mulch, chipping, the wood underwent very little manipulation. Both nature playgrounds used similar strategies for balancing or climbing elements and loose parts. These objects were logs or branches cut from trees and left for children to use as they desired. One significant contrast in the use of loose parts was that at Schott NPS two permanent structures were built to facilitate fort building.


41 Stone Similar to the use of wood, s tone appeared to have a more refined use at Schott NPS. The designers introduced this material as a ground cover, structural material, and as loose part s As a ground cover a flagstone terrace expands from the entrance and invites visitors to move throug hout the site on crusher fine paths. Stone also creates the structure for some play elements as well as being a play structure itself in boulder form. It is also used as a retaining wall near the head of the water feature. Throughout the stream stones a ppear as a loose part for children to make dams or other creations At Hills & Dales NPA the use of stone is largely limited to its use at the water feature as a retaining wall and for loose parts. However, one boulder is located in the central loose par ts area, which could be used for play or seating. At the stream a stone retaining wall holds back the grade of the main path and envelopes the pipe from which water emerges. Other stones are used as loose parts in the stream for play. Stone is used simi larly in both designs as loose parts, retaining walls, and boulders. The shape of the aquatic stones themselves appears simila r between the two sites. However, the stones at Schott NPS aid in defining the edge of the stream, whereas at Hills & Dales the only structure they add to the creek is to support the headwall where water the begins. This creates a looser, less formal appearance. Plants The types of plants located at Schott NPA are much more varied in appearance and species than at Hills & Dales NPA. Although identification of all plants in these spaces went beyond the scope of this thesis, the plants located at Schott NPS appeared to be a mixture between native and adapted species. Some ornamental grasses framed the bridge at the top of the str eam, and a turf grass hill runs along the northern side of the stream. On the opposite side of the stream prairie grasses cover a large area, which had been mown at the time of investigation. Other ground cover in the NPS appeared to be low growing nativ e grasses. Mature forest covered the west end of the site where fort building and digging occurred, and the eastern end where early childhood activities took place.


42 The use of plants at Schott NPS fell largely into three categories: as a primary feature for children to learn from, to define edges and borders, and openings cut into the forest to make room for activities. Plants in the sumac, prairie, and wetland areas provided primary features that children interact with and play within. Additionally, these areas create d ecotopes for children to learn about. These may be spaces that children played within, but they allowed for children to investigate specific plants, their growing habits, and the habitats they created. Other plants helped to define th e borders of play areas, such as shrubs behind a digging pit, or at the intersection of paths to discourage cutting corners. This is another way that a material is used in a structural way plants define the structure of paths and open/closed spaces. The removal of trees from the mature forest at Schott NPS for fort building defined the space used for this activity. Similarly, the method of subtraction was the only use of plants to create space at Hills & Dales NPA no plants were added to the site, although some perennial beds did exist in the play area immediately adjacent to the site. This strategy created the feeling of walking into the forest and discovering a clearing. Additionally, it preserved the wild feeling of a forest and a sense of awe produced from largescale mature trees. In both designs plants were a critical part of the design, and created interactive features and attracted wildlife for children to observe. But, the sites varied in their approaches to adding plants, and the purposes of the plants. The wide array of plants used at Schott NPS indicates the intention of teaching children about multiple types of ecosystems in a small area, whereas at Hills & Dales NPA the focus was on the ecology of this specific site. This critical difference illustrates the philosophies behind each groups guidelines: NLIs being toward more construction and enhancement of the site, and Green Hearts a less is more approach. Water The use of water also pro duced an interesting contrast between sites. At Schott NPS the stream acted as a central organizing element around which all other activities took place. As noted earlier, the use of stone creates a more definitive edge for the stream and a more refined appearance in general. Stacked stone also suggested the construction of the stream. At the base of the stream a closed off area with posted signs reminded users that the stream


43 recirculates the water and that dams should be removed at the end of play to allow the water to continue circulati on. A constructed wetland sat at the base of the stream, to collect stream overflow and site runoff. Although it is separate from the stream it could also be considered a place for water play; however the wetland was not investigated for the purposes o f this thesis because there was no comparable element at Hills & Dales NPA. In contrast the stream at Hills & Dales NPA lies on the border of the play area. This stream appears to come from an underground stormwater drainage pipe, which the park opened to create a play feature. The water flows around the edge of the site and then under a road continuing off site. Here the only definition of the stream banks was from the retaining wall at the head of the stream. The rest of the banks slope gradually, o r in some spots steeply, to the water and trees and underbrush line the edges of the channel. Although the creek originates from a manmade source the slope of the earth to meet the water creates a more unrefined appearance as if the water trickled out of the source and created a path of its own. Similar to the clearing in the trees this creates a feeling of a left over remnant that one has happened upon. Water created an important part of the nature play experience at both sites, but like the use of plants, each site developed the use of water as a stream in very different fashions. At Schott NPS the stream lends a more crafted appearance, and promotes interaction throughout the site and with adjacent play spaces. The stream at Hills & Dales NPA did no t recirculate, nor did it shut down during winter months, so its constant activity and interaction with an organic streambed may attract wildlife and support aquatic biota throughout the year.


44 CHAPTER V CONCLUSION Discussion This investigation le d to a realization about designed spaces and how site selection and the arrangements of elements can contribute to a more holistic experience. T he following sections discuss design approaches that best accomplish the goals of nature play in the context of the two case studies, reasons why site selection is critical for nature play, and finally, other aspects of the nature play experience that could use further emphasis in design guidelines to create a more holistic experience This discussion further addresses t he research question, How does a designers use of site selection, arrangement of play elements and materials affect the experience, and accomplish the intent of acquainting children with the outdoor world ? Accomplishment of Nature Play Goals The tw o sites sit on different ends of a spectrum of intervention Both sites integrated many of the suggested elements of nature play, and utilized many features to instill an affinity for playing in outdoor environments. So, did one accomplish the goals of nature play better than the other? This depends entirely on what the goals of nature play are. Schott NPS filled a small space with many ecological systems, but many of its features lend something more of a museum like feel to the space, which is appropri ate when considering its association with the Cincinnati Nature Center. However, if the goal of nature play is to recreate a genuine experience of going for a walk or playing in the woods then Hills & Dales NPA is more successful As stated earlier one of the underlying values of nature play is to preserve unbuilt areas in the world, and nature play aims to accomplish this by fostering environmental stewardship in children By making a fun experience children create a positive association with the outdoors and seek to repeat, and preserve this experience. Based on this goal, a genuine experience is a better avenue to accomplish the goal of nature play. For example if a group of people seeks to instill a love of the woods in children what is bette r than a walk in the woods? Or short of this, providing an experience that closely approximates it. Nature play should attempt to simulate the experiences provided by playing outdoors in the local region


45 Many of the features at Schott NPS attempt to s imulate features and processes found in the local landscape, but do not recreate them. For instance one could imagine the flagstone terrace appearing similar to a rock slab and the stacked stone corrugated metal tunnel appearing similar to a cave. But, these features do not replace interactions with element s found in the local landscape. T he best example of this is in the stream. Because the stream is a recirculating water feature it does not run through the winter, and the streambed itself appears t o be clean crusher fine or pea gravel. In contrast, the stream at Hills & Dales NPA runs as long as there is local stormwater runoff, and the mud streambed lined with trees and shrubs allows for more organic ecological processes to occur. This design wou ld also most likely form a habitat for certain aquatic plant and animal species, as well as attract other animals living in the forest. So, while the stream at Schott NPS provides an excellent and safe place for children to play they may interpret more a bout local ecology from the stream at Hills & Dales NPA. This distinction between the two spaces illustrates the idea that for design of nature play areas less is more. Because the site at Hills & Dales NPA consists of a small clearing in the woods ecol ogica l processes already exist on site, and therefore, provide a more genuine experience of playing in a forest. If the site had been completely cleared, graded, and reconstructed it would provide an entirely different experience as the site recovered and regrew. A key concept that nature play guidelines should consider is that less intervention on the site will result in a better display of local ecology to children as they play in these spaces. Site Selection This leads to an important point in the de v elopment of nature play areas site selection is critical. Whenever able designers should choose sites that require the least amount of intervention, or adjust their design strategy to reduce intervention. Building in, or adjacent to exi s ting ecotopes creates a more authentic experience because ecological processes already occur at the site. Not all sites have these processes available, so if possible, designers should investigate alternates and select a more appropriate site. If other sites are not available, then examining the current conditions of the site might reveal existing ecological processes that can be preserved in the new space.


46 Although some nature play organizations such as Green Hearts, do touch on the importance of site selection, t his point should be more heavily emphasized in their guidance. Site selection creates the foundation for the experiences of nature play, and creating an accurate representation of ecological processes helps children better understand their environment F acilitating one or two ecotopes in a quality manner may be more important than attempting to simulate as many as possible because ultimately the goal is for children to appreciate un built environments, not necessarily understand every ecological relationship. Holistic Approach N ature play is not entirely about learning ecology and the interaction of biotic organisms, and abiotic features. As identified in the research by Chawla one reason people became driven to protect the environment was playing outd oors during youth, but she uncovered many other reasons as well. I nvestigating other reasons children enjoy playing in wild settings and attempting to replicate them in nature play would have an important impact t his would create a more holistic approac h. At least one other reason that children enjoy outdoor play is a sense of freedom. When truly outdoors there is a lack of boundaries that allows children to feel free from their parents. They have the ability to explore their surroundings on their own, and take risks that might otherwise be discouraged by an adult. Furthermore there is an important social component; m ost children spend time outdoors with friends creating a bond and developing social skills. Most nature play guidance recognizes at lea st some of these components but they are understated. When considering ideas such as freedom and exploration some other design methods may be as effective at getting children to appreciate outdoor environments. Providing spaces that allow children to feel just outside the grasp of their parents m a y afford them with the feeling of freedom that they seek. Integrating spaces that foster curiosity, and allow for surprise help to promote the feeling of exploration. Although these design goals could be ach ieved through nature play, they could also occur through the use of relics or follies such as an abandoned building foundation. Setting this object in a landscape with minimally developed paths would give the impression that this relic is happened upon, a nd perhaps is in a somewhat forbidden area.


47 These feelings of freedom and exploration will pique childrens interests and curiosity and gives them the impression that this space is theirs. Setting this stage in a more wild backdrop associates this feeling with local ecology, and helps to promote the connection between ownership and outdoor environments. The current guidance on nature play recommends features and materiality within nature play areas, but there is little guidance on creating an experienc e. Furthermore, the list of design elements described in the guidelines does not necessarily create a holistic experience for users Although there are certainly some important pieces to include there may be many that are unnecessary, or others that are overlooked. This checklist approach to design guidance should be reviewed so that guidance is aimed more at exper ience, rather than materiality, because experiences are what will keep children returning to these spaces. Additionally, nature play guidan ce li mits the selection of materials. This guidance should be reviewed to determine if or when other materials might be appropriate. If a handrail is made of metal, or a bench of concrete, but the playground is filled with native plants that attract wild life then children may still have a beneficial experience. Likewise, post industrial parks may also create an experience that fosters environmental stewardship in children. The role these sites play in the development of environmental stewardship should not be overlooked simply because of materiality. Future Research The goals of nature play are important; and therefore, these spaces should be further studied to help designers in the future include relevant spaces and features The following are suggestions on what research would be beneficial to nature play. 1. Relationship of Nature Play and Environmental Stewardship The goal of nature play is to create stewards of the earth, and currently much of the guidance on nature play purports this as a benefit of playing in these spaces. But, little research has been done to support this. While some work exists to support the hypothesis that people who grew up playing outdoors are more likely to take action to protect the environment, little research has been done specifically on nature playgrounds. This may be in part because the


48 idea is relatively new, but longitudinal studies on children who grow up playing in these spaces would help to determine the legitimacy of claims made by nature play advocates. The frequency of nature play required to develop a sense of stewardship should also be considered. A onetime trip to a nature play area may be memorable, but most likely will not create a sense of stewardship. Effects of long term engagement with natu re play should be studied along with the effects of frequency of play. 2 Integration of Nature Play Into Urban Environments Another area worth researching is how more nature play areas could be integrated into urban environments. Children in cities, especially underprivileged areas, may have the hardest time accessing undeveloped ecosystems, but may benefit the most from this contact. Nature play could occur on an unbuilt parcel of land, or in a larger park such as Tear Drop Park in New York City. De velopers and planners should research ways that these areas could be incorporated into the city to promote nature play for urban youth. 3. Development of Nature Play Guidance Based on Experience The checklist approach to design guidance should be reviewed so that guidance is aimed more at experience, rather than materiality. Research should identify the most popular features of sites, how children use the spaces, and what experiences encourage return visits. This information could be used in the developme nt of new nature play areas to ensure the most popular elements are included so that the sites are successful and promote repeat visits by children. This guidance should also help designers to facilitate experiences like freedom and exploration in nature play. 4 Development of Nature Play in Various Ecosystems Another aspect of nature play that this thesis did not investigate was how nature play could be adopted in various ecosystems. Although nature play occurs throughout the US much of the guidance is east coast and woodland centric. Creating guidance for designers in desert, coastal, prairie, and mountainous regions would help to promote further development of these sites. A network of sites would further increase public awareness and appreciation of local


49 ecology across the country and remind people that ecosystems exist everywhere, not just in the woods.


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52 APPENDIX A Photographs of C ase S tudy S ites Figure 1: Hills & Dales NPA Figure 2: Hills & Dales NPA


53 Figure 3: Schott NPS Figure 4: Schott NPS