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.
An exciting step forward is the recent passing of the No Child Left Inside Act H.R. 3036 and S. 1981. The Act requires K-12 school systems to strengthen environmental education curriculums, provide teacher training, and provide federal grant money for schools to pay for environmental education. The NCLI act provides $100 million a year to support this work in participating school systems.
Webinar! "Nature-Based Learning and Play for Children with Autism and Special Needs," with Naomi Sachs and Tara Vincenta.
- Link to the training at the KaBoom! website: Hot Topics in Play
- Read the TLN Blog post about the webinar.
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 Groupgroups.yahoo.com/group/cyef
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.
- 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 Green Hour
National Wildlife Federation
- The Grass Stain Guru
- International Play Association: Promoting the Child's Right to Play (USA Affiliate is www.ipausa.org).
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.
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."
- 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.
- NatureGrounds, Putting Nature Into Play
- 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 Designplaygrounddesigns.blogspot.com 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.
- 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) Environmentsolenvironment.org
"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:
A Child's Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children by Molly Dannenmaier
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
- "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.")
- "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 www.landscapeonline.com/research/article/11315.
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.
Good examples of built works for play:
Image courtesy of Guy Ambrosino
"Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold."
- Joseph Chilton Pierce
"Thank you for putting me in touch with Naomi, which led me to revise my plans for my autism school and we are now looking to incorporate a Healing Garden in the horticutural program."