Let the kids go wild | Cincinnati.com | cincinnati.com

21/08/2012 6:06
Let the kids go wild | Cincinnati.com | cincinnati.com

Interesting design. They also discuss risk in play, which has been all but annihilated by fear of potential litigation. An interesting addendum to this article may be Children’s Risky Play from an Evolutionary Perspective: The Anti-Phobic Effects of Thrilling Experiences.

The full article can be read from the link above  

One of the healthiest places for a child to play – the great outdoors – is also a place where parents fear to leave their kids alone.

“Research has come out showing the significant benefits for healthy child development in unstructured play in nature, which has taken place for children for millennia,” said Bill Hopple, executive director of Cincinnati Nature Center. “But there is a sense today among parents that it’s unsafe for children to play unsupervised.”

That’s why the Cincinnati Nature Playscape Initiative, of which Hopple is a leader, is trying to graft a slice of wild and unpredictable wilderness on a safe, secure playground near you. There, children can messily explore streams, rocks, wild grasses, bushes, branches and hilly mounds – even if the rugged, varied topography has to be newly constructed atop an otherwise plain landscape.

They allow for risk in play, but don’t let the stress on freedom fool you. “I tell everybody the irony is that probably the most important feature is the parameter fence that provides a sense of safety,” Hopple said.

The area’s second professionally designed playscape, at University of Cincinnati’s Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center, opens at 10:30 a.m., Wednesday. It will primarily be for children ages 3 to 5 and will be open to those who attend Arlitt, as well as the community-at-large.

The first such place, for a broader age range at Cincinnati Nature Center just outside Milford, opened a year ago. And Hopple says two more are under discussion: in Madeira and at the renovated Lower School at Indian Hill’s Cincinnati Country Day School. “We want to facilitate creation of these playscapes in areas all over the city,” Hopple said.
Money for playgrounds got boost from grant

The Arlitt playscape was a $401,000 project, done with money from various UC and private sources. But the seed money for both it and the Nature Center’s come from a $150,000 grant from the Harriet Williams Downey Fund at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Cincinnati landscape architect Rachel Robinson worked on the project with Robin Moore, director of North Carolina State University’s Natural Learning Initiative, and the University of Cincinnati’s Architect’s Office.

Because of its location, and the fact that it is for very young children, the new wheelchair-accessible playscape at UC’s Arlitt Center is much smaller than Cincinnati Nature Center’s – 10,000 square feet to 1.6 acres. But it nevertheless will have some unusual features, such as a tree house, a large pipe that serves as a tunnel, and an observation deck – just outside the fenced-in area — for UC researchers to watch the children play.

Victoria Carr, Arlitt Center’s director, explained that it’s critical for positive development in young children to develop their sensory experiences in an outdoor environment, and a nature playscape can do that better than a traditional playground. “They need to touch leaves, dig dirt, walk up and climb on rocks,” she said.

“This is a social justice issue,” she said. “We have a lot of children here who are urban dwellers. Their access to green space and nature is far more limited than families with money to join the Nature Center, for instance, or who live in the suburbs.”

Yes, but is this playscape better than a Cincinnati park such as Burnet Woods or Mount Airy Forest, both of which are reasonably near to UC? “We’ve tried to design a more compact and diverse space than they would have in the woods,” Carr said. “But the bigger thing is it’s fenced, so parents feel their young children are safer. … You don’t have that in the parks.”

The Cincinnati Nature Playscape Initiative works closely with Leave No Child Inside, a local collaboration co-chaired by Betsy Townsend (see sidebar). Both have their origins in a 2005 visit to Cincinnati by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” Both groups also are part of a larger, national movement.

Leave No Child Inside’s Townsend said there are other, more grass-roots “natural playgrounds” sprouting in this area, too. She estimates some 40 such playgrounds or school gardens have been started in the six years of her group’s existence. “They are not as elaborate as those two (playscapes),” she said. “Those are high-end, professionally designed. But sometimes all it takes is a pile of dirt.”

Tess Michaels