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Landenberg, Pennsylvania, United States
Based in Landenberg, PA PLG offers Landscape Installation and Maintenance to Southern Chester County and Northern Delaware

Friday, April 29, 2011

Designing with Children in Mind

When commissioning a landscape design, it is very important to consider how children view and interact with the world around them.  Children tend to view the landscape through a microscope, tending to focus on details rather than the big picture.  A child’s garden should appeal to all five of their senses (Moore, 1997).  It is important to instill in children a love of nature that will grow into stewardship and environmental sensitivity.  It is important to remember that children are individuals that can add a lot of insight into the design process. 
            A child needs are best met through nine basic elements provided in a design: discovery, water, loose elements, plant life, wildlife, heights, enclosure, movement, and make believe (Dannenmaier, 1998).  Discovery is very important to a child’s development.  Creative, constructive activity occurs through a child’s opportunity to define the parameters of their play.  One of the most desirable elements in any garden but is one of the least provided because of cost and liability issues.  A child’s need for loose elements can be provided by a sand box, or even natural elements such as dirt, twigs, and pine cones.  Playing with loose elements help children develop skills in construction and creation.  Heights provide a sense of escape to children by providing an exciting perspective.  If your site has great differences in elevation you can provide this very easily though if it doesn’t height can be provided by a well designed tree house.  Movement is the most important element to provide for kids.  Movement is satisfied through physical activity.  Provide children with a play-scape, a lawn area, but most of all make it this area very safe.  Allowing children room to be creative within the landscape is very important.  Providing a space for make-believe is very easy.  This space should have elements that children can adapt to their play.  Kids like to play in enclosed spaces.  Growing up we all had that special place in the woods where we built a “fort” or “cottage (girls).”  These special spaces made us feel safe, and allowed us to play privately.  Providing parents with a good sightline to these spaces is an important consideration when designing these spaces.  When choosing plants for use around children they should not have thorns, or be poisonous.  Common plants to avoid are anemone, caladium, foxglove, hydrangeas, lantanas, mistletoe, and philodendron.  The next question to ask is “should we educate our children about the dangers or eliminate these plants totally?”  Choose plants that have bright colors, unusual features, and interesting flowers.  Consider growing vegetables, and involving children in your gardening activities.  Use plants to attract wildlife into your garden or use a bird feeder.  Providing children with the opportunity to observe animals helps to develop a sense of wonder for natural processes.  
            Providing these nine elements within a well designed landscape is a difficult process.  Juxtaposing children’s areas against more landscape elements requires careful design consideration.  Keeping retaining walls shorter, designing stairs with a shorter rise and longer treads, and thinking about safer paving materials.  When designing for children it is important to stay away from abrasive paving materials such as, tumble bricks.  Use smoother materials such as range pattern flagstone.  Provide boundaries for children by using hedges or privacy fencing.  Providing ample area to circulate around pools, grills, and ensuring that a patio is well lit at night are important considerations.  Avoiding pressure treated lumber and wood chips in your landscape.  Using natural materials around your children is the best policy.  When placing sandboxes, playscapes, or tree houses consider sight lines from your house.  Most children are injured when they are out of sight.  Under playground equipment use certified playground mulch, poured rubber, or rubber mulch.  Install this material at least six inches thick to protect the kids from a hard fall.  Poured rubber is installed six inches thick on a concrete pad and come in a multitude of colors.  When doing the original design considering the children will outgrow any play ground equipment is very important.  Designing play spaces with a future use in mind.  An area that once held a sandbox or swing set can be re-adapted to a planting be, or a private, secret garden with a bench and fountain.  If you would like a pond, think about installing a grid a couple of inches under the surface of the water to prevent a child from drowning. 
            If you have children or are thinking about having a child please consider this in your design.  A child’s input is also an invaluable resource for a designer, so consider involving them in the design process.  With a little careful consideration and good design a landscape can be beautiful and safe as well.      

-Matt Bradley, Designer, BLA

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