Webinar: Creating Outdoor Magic: Designing Natural Play and Learning Spaces

Research tells us that time in nature provides many benefits to children’s mental and physical health yet children today are spending less time outside than a generation ago. There is less freedom to roam and less access to wild spaces, so it falls to designers to create spaces that will provide the connection to nature that is essential to healthy human development.

An experienced landscape designer and former teacher shares insights and inspiring images of earth-friendly, child-friendly natural playspaces. Projects include natural climbing and digging spaces, a lush wetlands learning lab, a magical reading garden and more. Participants will learn how schools from preschool to high school have come together to design and build wonderful spaces while building community. The presenter has worked with dozens of public and private schools throughout the mid-Atlantic and beyond to create natural play and learning spaces. She has a well-developed design process that invites the involvement of the school community in the both the initial design process as well as in the implementation of the design. This process, as well as before and after photos of several projects will be highlighted in this session.

Case studies will include:

  • A cooperative preschool that partnered with Arlington County Department of Environmental Services to offer natural building workshops to the community. The workshops provided the labor to build a natural playspace that is a demonstration of natural building techniques including cob, straw bale construction and living roofs.
  • A Title One Elementary School whose muddy problem space on the perimeter of their playground was transformed into The Wetlands Learning Lab—all with funds raised by students, parents and teachers. Volunteers planted more than 500 native plants in the space. The Wetlands was a pioneering project in Arlington County and is now a shining example of outdoor learning. A Title One Elementary School’s new Reading Garden courtyard that not only solved drainage problems in the building, but now provides a peaceful literacy-themed oasis for students, teachers, staff and parents at the school. The space includes a storytellers circle, a river of words, swinging benches, a vine covered bower, and native plants for every letter of the alphabet. Students planted every tree and plant in the space.
  • A high school who’s Greening the Grounds program inspired a dozen clubs, teams and classes to adopt a spot on the grounds. Students have built a dry stream, removed mountains of invasive plants and planted native plants throughout their campus. Learn about the signage that was the key to this success.

Nancy Striniste, MLD, is a landscape designer and a former early childhood teacher. Her specialty is creating earth-friendly, child-friendly natural play and learning spaces. She holds a BS in Education from Wheelock College and a Masters in Sustainable Landscape Design from George Washington University. For more than three decades she’s been creating magical spaces for children and teaching teachers about the role of the environment in curriculum. Nancy serves on the board of NoVA Outside, an alliance of environmental educators, on the Maryland Natural Playspace Work Group, and is a member of the Community Built Association. She is passionate about connecting children to nature. Her thriving design practice includes the creation of sustainable natural play and learning spaces for early childhood programs, public and private schools, public parks, and private residences throughout the mid-Atlantic. She is committed to community involvement in her design process and often in implementing her designs. You can see her work at www.earlyspace.com or on EarlySpace’s Facebook page.