Changing the Way Children Play

Dr. Cohan speaking with a kindergarten student about what he would like to see on the playground.

Image Credit: Dr. Steven Cohan

November 11, 2014 Rachael Keeney

Rather than playing outside, many children are replacing landscape greens with handheld screens, a trend that the United States “Come Alive Outside” campaign is trying to reverse.

Dr. Steven Cohan, professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, is collaborating with kindergarteners at the University of Maryland’s Center for Young Children to bring the campaign to campus. He asked the children to draw pictures of what they thought would be fun to have on their playground. From those drawings came plans to build a weather station, stage and amphitheater, suspension bridge, hillside slide, discovery labs, secret gardens, vegetable gardens and a zip line.

“[I wanted to take] the opportunity to engage younger generations in their outdoor environments through the development of innovative, interactive landscapes, encouraging individuals to ‘Come Alive Outside’ and leave their technical devices behind,” Cohan said. “I selected the Center for Young Children as our community project because of its location on the campus and the potential of developing their playground area into an interactive landscape.”

In addition to the many new playground resources, all trees and plants will be selected according to how they may be used in classroom lessons; project materials and funding being provided by the Parent Teacher Association and the landscape industry.

“The children will have new discovery learning experiences and fun activities to engage in during their recess periods,” Cohan said. “They will gain a greater appreciation of nature and an appreciation for outdoor environments.”

Design plans are expected to be finalized this December with project installations beginning in March. Those participating in the project include: landscape management students Zachary Beichler, Bernard Botchway, Gabe Philips, Josh Demers, Eitan Goodman, landscape architecture alum Michael Boeck, elementary education major Camille Batah, as well as kindergarten teacher Stephanie Kain and the center’s director, Francine Favretto.

“I was very interested in this project because I get to work with kids and create a learning experience for myself and for the kids,” senior landscape management major, Bernard Botchway, said. “[I like] the idea of getting kids out of their rooms and playing [outside] like how it was for me growing up, rather than sitting in their room all day playing video games.”

The project’s students will be working to develop a budget for the project’s installations, as well as supervising those installation efforts this spring, giving them an experience similar to what it would be like working for a landscape design company.

“Dr. Cohan has not only been my advisor, but also a great mentor for me as I pursue this degree, so there is no doubt in my mind that working with him on this project will yield an excellent end product,” Botchway continued.

That end product, as Cohan puts it, will teach landscape management students, “how to meet the needs of a family’s exterior environment, extending their lifestyle outdoors and improving their quality of life.”