Welcome to Planet Earth! Designing Nature into Early Childhood

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ASLA online learning opportunities are open to all. ASLA members may purchase this presentation at a reduced rate.
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Olmsted’s notion of landscape architecture as a health promotion profession has potential as never before to exemplify the fundamental HSW mission of ASLA to integrate human and environmental health. This webinar will present early childhood landscape design linked to community-based strategies for increasing preschool physical activity and food awareness by restoring natural diversity to childcare outdoor learning environments through evidence-based best practice design principles.

Why is direct experience of the natural world so important for children? Why start in the first year of life? Where can landscape architects intervene to create opportunities for rich, nature-children engagement as part of daily life routines? The majority of children of working parents are in some form of childcare arrangement. There are approximately 330,000 licensed childcare facilities across the US, including well over 100,000 childcare centers, not including Head Start centers, nursery schools, and independent schools such as Montessori. Such facilities occupy 100’s of thousands of acres of land, much of it degraded and far from meeting sustainable sites best practice. The large majority of facilities occupy sites that easily satisfy square-footage requirements per child with ample space left over for nature play, vegetable gardening, and permanent edible landscapes.

Add to this base of potential practice, millions of households with young children having possibilities of creating nature play spaces. At community level consider hundreds of thousands of local parks, playgrounds, and school grounds, most of which are used by families with young children, although often not designed to serve the needs of little people and adult family members. Consider too, the multitude of recreational/nonformal education family destinations, including museums, botanical gardens, nature/environmental education centers, zoos, aquaria, historic sites, and state, regional, and national parks, visited by multi-generational families with young children each year. Intergenerational landscape design is a key to success.

The significance of this diverse array of everyday spaces and family destinations has only recently come to the fore because of their health promotion potential, recognized by public health professionals and related groups concerned about the deteriorating physical health of children and the population at large. It has become imperative to improve conditions of the everyday built environment to create compelling places that “pull” children and families outdoors to pursue active lifestyles in places that offer safe, fun, enjoyable experiences for all.

An enormous potential practice market lies at the feet of landscape architects with design proficiency in early childhood (birth to seven years old), who will then become effective leaders in the children and nature movement, able to promote landscape design as an evidence-based preventive health strategy. The market extends beyond US borders to many other countries where childhood is undergoing rapid cultural change. The webinar will identify opportunities for landscape architects to be involved in creating nature-based spaces in early childhood institutions. Key design concepts, strategies, and principles will be introduced that lead to successful design solutions.
Distance Learning
Course Equivalency
Accessibility / ADA
Horticulture / Plants
Sustainable Development & Design
Water / Stormwater Management
Health, Safety and Welfare
Learning Outcomes
• Understand the potential magnitude for influencing environmental literacy and stewardship ethics by creating early childhood nature play and learning spaces.

• Review latest research findings supporting strategies to increase young children’s physical activity and consumption of fresh produce in designed environments.

• Become conversant with the principles for designing and managing effective early childhood outdoor spaces and their role in healthy child development.

• Learn about successful North Carolina strategies to educate childcare center regulators about design and management practices to increase quality of the Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE).

• Understand how landscape architects can partner with public health and child development sectors to contribute to healthy child development and expand practice options.
Nilda Cosco, PhD, ASLA and Robin Moore, Dipl. Arch, MCP, Hon. ASLA
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American Society of Landscape Architects

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