Introduction to the Playscape Project

The Cincinnati Playscapes Project implements environmental education by promoting outdoor physical environments for preschool facilities. This collaborative effort brings together two organizations, Cincinnati Nature Center (CNC) and the Arlitt Child and Family Research & Education Center at the University of Cincinnati to model landscape designs appropriate for exceptional early childhood play and development. This project is funded by a generous grant from the Harriette Downey Fund at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. The grant is intended to encourage partnerships between the University of Cincinnati and local non-profit organizations. Nationally renowned playscape designer Robin Moore and educational psychologist Dr. Nilda Cosco of The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) in the College of Design at North Carolina State University, are consultants to the Playscape Project. NLI uses a unique collaborative process involving the stakeholders of the future playscape including children, parents, teachers, and community members.

The project began at the Rowe Woods site of Cincinnati Nature Center where land was readily available. CNCís current master planning process identified the playscape location in January 2009. Members of the Arlitt planning team gained knowledge of the NLI programming process through observation and participation. CNCís current early childhood programs (Little Adventurers, Little Acorns and summer camp) will use their playspace daily. CNC members and visitors will be informed and encouraged to bring children to the playscape whenever the Rowe Woods site is open. CNC is hoping to open a Nature Preschool in the near future which will make regular use of the playscape.

In parallel, Arlitt looked for a site within walking distance to the preschool. Several sites, both on and off campus, were considered. When the most promising off campus site, Classen Park, was taken off the table, Arlitt started working with the University of Cincinnati architectís office to find a space on campus. They conducted a programming workshop with NLI in June 2009. The Arlitt Center is located on an urban campus, in contrast to the CNC this playscape reflects natural play incorporated into existing built spaces. The primary users of the Arlitt playscape are its students, ages three to five, and teachers. In their current facilities the classrooms open to a common outdoor playground that is almost entirely hardscaped. It includes a small track for wheeled toys, a sand pit, and a traditional climbing frame. The current playground does not accord with the Centerís mission as a a learning center based on constructivist teaching methods. The equipment lends itself to predetermined uses rather than undirected, exploratory play. The Arlitt Center has a strong research agenda; the new playscape is conceived of as a laboratory to observe the effects of nature play on young children.

The Community Design Center within the College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning provided site analysis and concept design services to the Arlitt Center and facilitated a training program for local practitioners in playscape design.