UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Landscape Architecture
“In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair” (Emerson, 1836). Nature has often been quoted as a remedy to fundamental human problems. Although research in the field now coined “Green Care” is relatively recent, the healing power of nature has never been questioned throughout history. In spite of this understanding, spaces lack the incorporation of nature in design, particularly in children’s play areas. With population spikes in cities due to “business and social opportunities offered to the people… open spaces that children can use are decreasing” (Acar, 2013). Traditional playgrounds consist of ready-to-play equipment, ranging from posts and decks, compound structures, nets, freestanding structures, and swings. On the other hand, natural playgrounds stimulate development beyond the physical, encouraging “social, emotional, and cognitive development through specific landscape interventions” (Herrington and Studtmann, 1999). In this blog, I will describe the specific natural design interventions I am proposing on the site — for children ages eight to twelve years old — that provide stimulation essential for development.
On the site, one is faced with two distinct mounds covered in dry grass and weeds, scattered with concrete furnishings and wooden logs. The mounds incline and decline steeply on the sides, with a flatter topography on top. There is an existing “desire path,” or unofficial pathway that has been carved out by frequent foot traffic, that I will keep as it demonstrates how users want to move through the space. Currently, the site receives minimal attention, made visible by the weeds that have taken over the mounds. This region of the ranch lacks trees or built structures and receives full sun during the day. Therefore, the plants and structures that are added must be able to withstand both the heat of Zone 9b summers, and heavy rainfall in winters. The owners of the ranch originally designated this site to be used, designed, and maintained by the children that frequent the ranch, and I am keeping their original users in mind with my design propositions.
My first major design intervention is “stump” stepping stones. Using wood that has been cut from trees on the ranch, the stumps will be placed 2 feet apart in a curved pathway. Herrington and Studtmann’s research on the best natural materials for development in young children determined that use of stepping stones “encouraged topological and positional thinking,” and a non-linear pathway “modified the children’s spatial experience and understanding of the yard because it offered a continuous line of movement that was distinct in character” (Herrington and Studtmann, 1999). Not only were the children physically challenged by the spacing of the stones, needing to jump from stone to stone, but they gained a greater understanding of spatial awareness to avoid falling from greater heights.
The second design intervention is a concentrated blend of native grasses, located near the center of the site. The blend would include Muhlenbergia rigens, Nassella pulchra, Festuca glauca, Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster,’ Stipa tenuissima, Muhlenbergia capillaris, with grasses of varying heights and colors for visual stimulation. In the same study, researchers found that “the children used the high grass to play hide-and-seek and to conduct secret meetings” (Herrington and Studtmann, 1999). Seclusion and privacy are factors often overlooked in children’s play. Moore, research scientist at Deakin University, conducted a study on the impacts of outdoor play spaces on wellbeing. Her work uncovered the importance of “quiet, uninterrupted, and hidden spaces” for children to create their own world and allow their imaginations to run free (Moore, 1986). Participants of the study told of their use of natural materials to assist in “manipulating spaces to make places” (Moore, 1986). Native grasses will assist in enriching the children’s experience and provide the opportunity for creativity.
In this blog, I proposed two natural design features for children ages eight through twelve that aid in development: stump stepping stones and a native grass blend. In contrast to the built structures that are often present in city and neighborhood parks, play is not defined by what exists. Rather, use of varying materials and plants will spark imaginative recreation, unique to each user.
Acar, Habibe. “Learning Environments for Children in Outdoor Spaces.” Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, Elsevier, 4 Sept. 2014, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187704281403571X.
Herrington, Susan, and Ken Studtmann. “Landscape Interventions: New Directions for the Design of Children's Outdoor Play Environments.” Landscape and Urban Planning, Elsevier,
5 Jan. 1999, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169204698000875.
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!