The future of this planet will be in the hands of our children at some point in time. If they bond with nature at an early age, they will be more motivated to protect it. Many children in the U.S. live in urban areas and have limited access to nature. They spend a large percentage of their waking hours in preschools and grade schools with after school programs. Providing these children with an early love of nature involves designing school environments to be full of nature.
As a landscape architect in Los Angeles, I have spent the last 35 years of my career learning from educators and child development professionals about what children need to thrive. I then translate their input into landscape design for outdoor play and learning. The challenge is to provide sustainable nature in an often intensely used small enclosed space. By using durable and edible plants, shade trees, and natural materials like stone, wood, sand, earth to replace artificial turf, rubber, asphalt and concrete and by making perimenter fences become interactive play elements and walls of greenery, we can begin to bring a world of nature into our urban schools and preschools.
I was involved with, learned from, and inspired by The Child Educational Center in La Canada Flintridge, CA for the past 32 years and The Outdoor Classroom Project (OCP) for the last 16 years. The Outdoor Classroom Project was formed in 2003 as an initiative of the Child Educational Center (CEC) in La Cañada, California. ( read in more detail: https://outdoorclassroomproject.org/about/our-story/ ). Through the support of an initial five-year $1,000,000 grant from First 5 LA, which completed in 2008, the Outdoor Classroom Project reached more than 630 child care centers and 3,000 early childhood educators in Los Angeles County. Throughout California and beyond, an additional 3,900 centers and 10,100 educators have been benefiting from the Outdoor Classroom Project’s consulting and educational services. The movement has since taken off. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNgq2WOemgg
The Outdoor Classroom Project promotes play and learning outdoors in nature both in preschools and elementary schools and its program provides help to educators in the LA area and beyond in how to achieve a success in this endeavor. This model can be applied to middle school and high school campuses as well.
With EARTH 1 on a Saturday in January, I gave a presentation at a workshop on how to design outdoor play spaces for early childhood at the annual conference of the Outdoor Classroom Project. In addition, Lisa Larson and I set up a learning opportunity booth for one of the sessions focusing on what Carry the EARTH can offer schools. We had 7 of the globes on display and told the attendees all about our project. There was great enthusiasm and some more globes will be launched at schools in LA in the near future. Carry the EARTH is a great way for Elementary through University students to work at different levels to devise actions that address environmental concerns. Carry the EARTH encourages the accomplishment of an environmental healing project by the posting of a story as the end goal. It gives the opportunity to connect with youth all over the world; it provides the means of gaining a sense of pride and feeling empowerment at a time where we feel that the environmental problems are overwhelming; and finally it inspires others to act. A project for Carry the EARTH will hopefully carry through their lifetime. We need to think to the future. After all, the destiny of the earth is in our hands and that of our children and children’s children.