On Friday Morning, September 18th, The West Studio was not immersed in usual office activities, but was making quite an exciting commotion as their enthusiasm for healthy children’s environments spilled out onto Hiawatha Place South. A vibrantly green display was taking shape in the form of an adventure nature playground. It was PARK(ing) Day 2015, an international event that takes place during Seattle’s Design Festival Week, and allows the public to take over city parking stalls and turn them into temporary public park-lets.
So what is adventure nature play? Adventure play allows kids to actually create and form their own play spaces. While nature play incorporates the surrounding landscape, bringing it into and making it part of children’s daily outdoor play and learning environments. This type of play revolution provides the experiences that are missing in the concrete jungles of many educational institutions.
Our jungle themed adventure nature playground, the antithesis of the Urban Jungle, had three main areas. A river painted with hues of blue chalk led you from our office door, across the sidewalk, down an ADA accessible river ramp, and into the Piranha Pool, an area set out for exploring water play. Then there was the Jungle Village, an open area for free construction and exploration; and at the north end, sheltered by log rounds and greenery, was the Mini Jungle Scene area for creative imaginative play and building in miniature size.
All visitors were welcomed; from adults on their lunch breaks and some who used the park for conducting a meeting, to children ranging in age from 2-12 years enjoying the park-let. We even had a resident Jungle Lion who delighted the kids and ate cornbread muffins from the palm of their hands.
In the Jungle Park-let there were many adventures to be had and no rules but kindness. As the kids explored the materials provided; bamboo stalks were transformed into fishing poles, imaginary glass blowing poles, and timbers in their hut structures; cardboard and cloth were erected into tunnels and roofs. Even parents joined in on the fun.
Even toddlers had many things to do as they crawled through the tunnels and huts, walked the jungle paths, and explored the Mini Jungle Scene area making homes for the jungle animals with materials like moss, blocks, shells and sprigs of bamboo.
The West Studio is a strong advocate for accessible, inclusive nature play areas and incorporating different types of adventure play whenever possible. We have strong evidence that children who have to the opportunity to consistently interact with diverse nature-based play environments have better health and educational outcomes. We know that children who play in natural settings play in more diverse, imaginative and creative ways, learning skills that build math, science and social competencies.
Natural, irregular and challenging spaces help kids learn to recognize, assess, and negotiate risk while building confidence and competence. Nature is also the great equalizer in children’s play; there is no pressure to meet gender roles, no visible hierarchy of class, and no preference of race. Kids who play in nature learn to discover themselves and benefit from a greater sense of well-being encompassing mind, spirit, and body.
We understand how to balance creative use of quality, open ended play equipment with careful integration of natural elements and plantings to create accessible, inclusive play environments that give our children the best of both worlds; and acknowledging and addressing liability concerns, especially within institutional settings such as the public school system.
Interested in more information on the benefits of nature?
Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators, David Sobel
Designing Outdoor Environments for Children, Lolly Tai & Mary Taylor Haque
Environments for Outdoor Play, Theresa Casey
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louve
Moving the Classroom Outdoors: Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning in Action, Herbert W. Broda
Nature Kindergartens, Claire Warden
Nature’s Playground, Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield
No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society, Tim Gill
Nurture Through Nature, Claire Warden
The Potential of a Puddle, Claire Warden
Risk and Adventure in Early Years Outdoor Play: Learning from Forest Schools, Sarah Knight
Smart by Nature, Michael K. Stone and Center for Ecoliteracy
LOCAL ADVENTURE NATURE PLAY ENVIRONMENTS
City of Mercer Island Adventure Playground http://www.mercergov.org/Page.asp?NavID=2768
This play area allows kids to create their own play adventure. Nestled in the wooded forest of Deane's Children’s Park, children are provided toolboxes, various building supplies, safety items and the freedom to create build-it-yourself play zones with the guidance of Staff.
Redmond Bike Park http://www.redmond.gov/PlansProjects/Parks/RedmondBikePark
The Redmond Bike Park is a story of the formalization of the ultimate adventure play, 20 years of gorilla pump track building, now a safe and sanctioned park which kids push the limits of their BMX bike skills in a wonderful wooded corner of the larger Hartman Park.
Eagle Rock Elementary Outdoor Classroom and Nature Trail http://theweststudio.com/portfolio-view/eagle-rock-elementary-outdoor-classroom/
Eagle Rock Elementary enjoys their nature trail leading to an outdoor classroom. Built by volunteers, the trail includes signs describing the ethnobotany of the plants as it winds through the woodland setting.