January 1, 2019
Energize kids outside

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Energize kids outside

Take a moment to sit back, close your eyes, and think about your favourite childhood memories … chances are they have something to do with being outside. When we recall these memories, typically doing something outdoors with friends and family, our senses are keenly awakened to the feeling of being outside … the warmth of the sun on our face, the wind through our hair, the sound of water rushing by. The sensory stimulation of being outside is what makes being outdoors so universally appealing.
It’s the same emotional response we feel when we’re in a great garden. We’re drawn in by our senses. Great outdoor spaces engage all of these; the sight of varying colours and textures, the sound of birds and leaves rustling, the earthy smell of the soil mixing with the fragrance of flowers, the taste of fruits, berries and vegetables we pick, and the compelling appeal to reach out and touch the natural world around us.
The sedentary lifestyle that that defines our society has brought about a host of related health issues. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that for the first time in over 200 years, this generation of children may have a shorter lifespan than their parents — by as much as five years! The media is filled with reports of not only the health impacts brought about by this sedentary lifestyle, but also the significant benefits to children and adults alike of spending more time outdoors. What we urgently need as a society is less screen time and more green time!

Working with the Come Alive Outside (CAO) movement (comealiveoutside.com) to create awareness, intention and opportunity for our clients and communities to live healthier lives outside has focused our team on the meaningful work we provide in the landscape profession.

We recently completed our fourth CAO Design Challenge, working with university and college landscape students to engage elementary students in a design charette to improve their playground. This process engaged the entire school community; the students who brought uninhibited creativity to how they want to bring nature and play back into their schoolgrounds, their instructors and administration team who were full participants in the process, and senior school board members who supported and attended the three-day event.

Scott Wentworth

When asked how they can bring nature back into their playgrounds, kids think big! Every one of the students had an opportunity to present ideas to students, teachers and the board … the landscape students then took these ideas and worked late into the night (and next morning!) to develop design concepts and presentation boards. The results were truly magical! Over 300 parents and students took time out of their Saturday morning to come see the results of the design charette. Using an Open House presentation format, the five design teams greeted families and walked them through their designs. Some of the grade three students took such a high level of ownership that they voluntarily stood alongside the teams and sold “their design” to the public.

Over $100,000 in funding has been secured to build the winning design next summer. The schools enthusiastically embraced this competition, and the winning school design team will be announced at Landscape Ontario’s Awards of Excellence Ceremony.

Being involved in the Come Alive Outside Design Challenge and Green Street Challenge has been tremendously energizing for our team. Embracing its principles has focused our efforts on this truly meaningful work. It’s created a higher level of relationship with our clients and the communities in which we live and work. The next generation of our workforce has enthusiastically embraced the role that the landscape profession has as an agent of change to meet this high calling.

The landscapes we create are more than the sum of what we’ve designed, built, and maintained. More than the plants we’ve grown and products we supply. More than the craftsmanship of our outstanding teams. It’s what our clients and communities feel when they’re in these spaces. It’s how these landscapes engage their senses in a compelling way, and the wholeness they experience when they’re embraced by them. It’s providing the awareness, intention and opportunity for them to live healthier lives outside … and giving kids those five years back!
Scott Wentworth operates Picton, Ont.-based Wentworth Landscapes. See his presentation “Pop-up Play Design Challenge” at the Designers Conference preceding Congress 2019. Register at LOcongress.com.