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RE: Organizations that promote the benefits of good school grounds

  • Subject: RE: [cg] Organizations that promote the benefits of good school grounds
  • From: "Honigman, Adam" <Adam.Honigman@Bowne.com>
  • Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2001 15:47:54 -0400

Try these links:



National Clearinghouse for Educational facilities ( Outdoor learning,
playground safety, etc. Keep on scrolling down and clicking):


Children's Environment Research Group:


UMass schoolyard greening:


An interesting article:

Playing with Nature
by Julee Newberger

When artist and toy designer Rusty Keeler moved to the Netherlands to design
playground equipment in 1991, he saw public art unlike anything he had seen
in the United States: art that welcomed children, and included nature.
"There were rich, playful experiences with the natural world," Keeler says.
"Sculptures that you could sit on and interact with." 

Keeler returned to the States in 1996 with a desire to create those kinds of
experiences for children here: "Children needed a new kind of playscape,"
Keeler says, "and there needed to be a new way of thinking about the design
of children's spaces." 

Keeler founded Planet Earth Playscapes of Ithaca, New York, a company that
designs one-of-a-kind, natural, community-built playgrounds for children.
"It's important to bring the cycles of life into children's learning
environment, from watching trees bloom in the spring to apples growing in
fall to harvesting that fruit," Keeler says. 

His company has designed 10 playgrounds in central New York, and one in
Bellingham, Washington. This year, Playscapes is extending its reach to
Texas and North Carolina. Keeler has designed these natural learning
environments for public elementary schools, child care centers, community
groups and farmer's markets, to name a few venues. The average price of a
Planet Earth Playscape is from $25,000 to $30,000, although they can cost as
much as $125,000. It all depends on scale and community involvement. The
more volunteers and donated materials, the lower the cost to the facility. 

The Playscapes Process
The first step in the Planet Earth Playscapes process is observing the
children and the facility for which the playground will be designed. What is
a day in the life of these children like? What are their ages, needs and
current environments? Together with a committee from the facility, Keeler
and his colleagues explore how the history, industry and natural resources
of the area can be incorporated into the design. 

Candy Meacham, an occupational therapist, hired Keeler to design a
playground for the Whatcom Center for Early Learning in Bellingham,
Washington. Meacham wanted an outdoor environment full of sensory
experiences for the center, which serves children with special needs from
birth to age three. The committee decided on a sand and water area, a
textured path, an herb garden, flowers, shrubs and more. 

"Kids don't spend nearly as much time outdoors as I used to growing up,"
Meacham says. "We wanted to provide an area that recreated some experiences
we had access to when we were young." 

Keeler, together with his colleagues and volunteers from the community,
gathered boulders from a local river to construct a sand and water sculpture
and driftwood from Bellingham Bay for climbing and decoration. They used
dozens of native plants to decorate the play area. The emphasis on local
materials is typical of the way Keeler likes to work. "A playground in
Alabama should be different from one in Alaska," he says. 

The process took two years from start to finish, with Keeler involved for
one year. Building the playscape itself took four days, with staff and
community volunteers lending a hand. Keeler says that much of the work is
simple: shoveling and raking topsoil, planting, laying sod and having fun. 

Whatcom's playscape includes a raised herb garden, a slide embedded in
grass, a treehouse and a deck with a trellis. Children can play outside and
explore with the five senses. "Now we have an outside area that provides us
with a real learning environment," Meacham says. 

Although the space is designed for children with special needs, Meacham says
the details, like handrails around the bike path, aren't intrusive. "It's
built so there are no barriers for kids with mobility problems," Meacham
says, "but it's suitable for all children." 

Play in Nature
Keeler's playscapes are part of a growing trend called "schoolyard
habitats." Across the country, more and more schools are creating outdoor
learning environments for children. These schoolyard habitats cut across
curriculum by incorporating nature into students' everyday activities. 

A 1998 study by the State Environmental Education Roundtable, an
organization that works with state departments of education to facilitate
schoolyard habitats, demonstrates that students learn more effectively
within an environment-based context than within a traditional education

The rationale, according to Mary Rivkin, author of The Great Outdoors:
Restructuring Children's Right to Play Outside (NAEYC, 1995), is that
children learn best not from words and pictures, but engagement with natural
things. "Creativity is fostered by natural environment," Rivkin says. 

Edward Klugman, professor of early care and education at Wheelock College in
Boston, Massachusetts, agrees that nature is an important, and increasingly
neglected, part of children's play. 

"We have gotten away from really examining a square foot of environment and
appreciating the grass that grows between the cement, the flowers that come
up... we step on it, we ignore it, we're polluted with noise," Klugman says.
"We don't even look at what is in front of us." 

According to the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, the
amount of free time enjoyed by children aged 13 and younger has decreased in
the last twenty years, from 40 percent of the day in 1981, to 25 percent in
1997. Given a choice, children say outdoor play is one of their favorite
ways to spend time: The 1996 ABC Global Kids Study reports that playing
outside is the second most enjoyable activity for children ages 7 to 12 in
the United States. Forty-six percent of kids ranked outdoor play as their
favorite way to spend time, just behind "vacationing" (52 percent) and ahead
of listening to music (40 percent). 

"Children tend to be taken away from their environment into artificial
environments that we create," Klugman says. Instead of indoor play centers
and TV and video games, kids may benefit from exploring their natural
surroundings-a less expensive and possibly more valuable venture. 

Klugman is co-founder of Playing for Keeps, a national coalition that unites
for the first time consumers of toys with manufacturers, retailers and
distributors. The coalition also includes experts, parents and the media.
Playing for Keeps is working to create a forum for dialog and action by all
those who have a stake in helping children grow and develop through play. 

Organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young
Children have been working to ensure children's right to play as well. They
report that children who have frequent access to outdoors gain competence in
moving through the larger world, and lay the foundation for courage that
will enable them to lead their own lives. 

As a boy, Keeler explored the woods and creeks of upstate New York,
surrounded by the everyday wonders of nature. Today, before he designs a
playscape, he asks adults in the community to recall their childhood
experiences outdoors. 

It helps them to remember the importance of interacting with the world
outside the door. Says Keeler, "That kind of space and freedom seems to be
dwindling these days." 

Additional resources on children's outdoor learning environments: 

Find more information on planet earth playscapes online. You can also call
800-859-4580 or e-mail Rusty Keeler. 

The State Education and Environmental Roundtable works with state
departments of education to help schools integrate the outdoors into their

The National Wildlife Federation is helping schools make kick-ball fields
and flag poles share the schoolyard with wetlands, woodlands, and butterfly
gardens through their schoolyard habitats initiatives.


Julee Newberger is assistant managing editor of Connect for Kids. 
-----Original Message-----
From: Harriet Festing [mailto:hfesting@pps.org]
Sent: Wednesday, August 08, 2001 3:33 PM
To: community_garden@mallorn.com
Subject: [cg] Organizations that promote the benefits of good school

Does anyone know of any organizations - national or statewide - responsible
for promoting well designed, managed and used school grounds.  I'm
particularly interested in organizations that promote school grounds not
just for gardens, but also for physical activities/play etc?

Harriet Festing
Director of Marketing for Project for Public Spaces


A two-day training course experienced
through the neighborhoods of New York City,
offered by Project for Public Spaces

October 25 - October 26, 2001

See www.pps.org for further details

community_garden maillist  -  community_garden@mallorn.com

community_garden maillist  -  community_garden@mallorn.com

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