What ever happened to the environments we all remember playing in as children? It seems that whenever you open the latest manufactured play equipment catalog your senses are bombarded by plastic and metal structures meant to emulate some futuristic sculpture surrounded by vast open areas of mulch or rubber safety surfacing. While these playground elements have their place we believe that most of us have fond memories of playing in the woods, digging in the dirt, or exploring streams. These are the places that afforded us the settings in which we could run, climb, pretend, or hide.


At the 2015 Ohio Parks and Recreation Conference and Tradeshow, our team of design and education professionals will be presenting The Need for Nature in Play.  The presenters, who recently collaborated on the development of Marge and Charles Schott Nature PlayScape at the Cincinnati Nature Center, are Landscape Architects Steve Kolwicz and Sharon Floro, along with Dr. Victoria Carr, whose current focus studies how children learn through play in designed outdoor environments.  Using the Nature PlayScape as a case study, this team will demonstrate how we have the ability to positively impact generations of children through contact with nature.  Building on the important discourse for more successful play environments that studies have shown reduced stress, decreased rates of behavioral disorders and other positive health benefits for children who interact with green spaces.


This team of experts believes that we can have the best of both worlds in creating engaging outdoor environments for children of all abilities. We believe we can create unique play environments by combining carefully selected manufactured components with natural features of hills, pathways, plants, open spaces, water, boulders, sand and more. We can create places for discovery, adventure and reflection; places that inspire the imagination, stimulate the senses and introduce children to natural wonders that surround them. And we can create them together through a collaborative design process that includes children, parents, teachers, recreation professionals and designers.



Dr. Victoria Carr, Associate Professor in Early Childhood Education and Human Development at the University of Cincinnati, is Director of the Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center where she serves as Executive Director for the Head Start Delegate program in the laboratory preschool. She is co-founder of the Nature Playscape Initiative and Senior Editor for Arlitt Instructional Media. Dr. Carr studies teacher efficacy, children with challenging behaviors, and outdoor environments for play and learning. Her research on informal science learning in playscapes was supported by the National Science Foundation. Currently, she is expanding that playscape research to include a focus on additional aspects of early development and learning, including STEM learning, social interactions, and connecting primary school-aged children to nature via Minecraft video gaming. She serves on local advisory boards for Cincinnati Nature Center and 4C for Children.


Steve Kolwicz, Principal and co-founder of POD Design. In his twenty years as a landscape architect in private practice, Mr. Kolwicz has made an early impact with creative solutions to a diversity of design challenges.  He has assisted communities throughout Ohio in the planning and design of parks, open spaces, recreational facilities, and PlayScapes. From initial public input sessions and concept development, through design development and construction detailing Steve understands the many complex issues that occur throughout the life of a park, playground or open space project. He was a participant in the 2009 PlayScapes Fellowship conducted by the Natural Learning Initiative and University of Cincinnati, and has lead the design and implementation for numerous award winning facilities including: Millstone Creek Nature Play in Westerville, Ohio, Gentile Park in Kettering, Ohio, The Sisters’ Garden at Inniswood Metro Park of Franklin County Metro Parks, the Honda Wetland Education Area at Glacier Ridge Park of Franklin County Metro Parks and the OPRA Governors Award winning Green Veterans Memorial Park.


Sharon Floro, Senior Project Manager with POD Design.  Sharon’s projects range from mini pocket parks and PlayScapes to large scale system-wide master plans.  Most importantly, Sharon understands the important role that open space plays within the fabric of the community and the natural habitat.  She was a participant in the 2009 PlayScapes Fellowship conducted by the Natural Learning Initiative and University of Cincinnati and as an extension of that program served as the prime team principal for the Marge & Charles Schott Nature PlayScape at Cincinnati Nature Center.  Additional design accomplishments include the City of Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Avenue streetscape rain garden system, construction documentation of the University of Cincinnati’s Arlitt Child & Family Research & Education Center PlayScape, master planning and play setting design for Historic Glendale Elementary School, Rothenberg Elementary School and Woodlawn Elementary School,  and design of the Doherty School Children’s Playground Garden.


**Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Nature Center


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