Enter at Your Own Risk: Creating Authentic Children’s Gardens in a Built World

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What is the role of the children’s garden within our expanding urban and suburban environment, and how do we design such gardens to ensure authentic, nature-based experiences in a fabricated space? A tension exists between our responsibility to offer a safe and welcoming environment with the ‘risky’ realities of outdoor spaces. During the design process, landscape architects are expected to meet safety codes – with some questionably applicable to children’s gardens – at the same time they are challenged to design for adventure, encouraging hands-on, child-led play. Once built, garden staff must manage the tension between expectations of a risk-free environment with an authentic outdoor experience. Gardens and designers must creatively use this tension to push back against the limits and challenges our overprotective society presents. We know that many of the best childhood experiences involve some risk – and that children learn and grow by challenging themselves. We also know, that experiences in nature are essential to childhood development and long-term quality of life. How can children’s gardens celebrate the authentic, risky realities of outdoor environments while responsibly engaging with safety-related needs and expectations?
Anaheim, CA
Distance Learning
Course Equivalency
Security Design
Health, Safety and Welfare
Learning Outcomes
Attendees will learn 1) how to design a children's garden to meet safety codes/standards while at the same time designing for adventure, encouraging hands-on, child-led play; 2) the process of having to design and build a children's garden while collaborating with other stakeholders to meet expectations and deadlines; 3) innovative examples of recently designed children's gardens that fulfill both safety standards and help children learn and engage with nature.
1) Lee Coykendall is the Children's Education Specialist at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Over the past 16 years, she has built and expanded the children’s education program, making the Garden a rich resource for students and teachers alike. Lee both designs an
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American Public Gardens Association

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