Outdoor Play and Learning Spaces

Bad River Cultural Playground

In 2004, the Environmental Design Lab worked with UW School of Medicine and Public Health professor Dr. Alexandra Adams to build the Bad River Cultural Playground as part of a larger program to reduce obesity and increase heart health in Wisconsin’s Native American communities. The project was funded through the NIH grant Healthy Children, Strong Families, for which Dr. Adams served as the principal investigator.

Dr. Samuel Dennis worked with tribal elders to design a playground using shapes, materials, and forms that hold cultural significance, including a willow lodge and a canoe-like structure.  You can read more about this project in the Fall-Winter 2014 issue of In Common.

Natural Outdoor Classroom Survey

Nature Explore and the Outdoor Classroom Project are among the organizations at the forefront of the movement to create nature-based learning environments in early childhood settings. The Natural Outdoor Classroom Survey was a 2015 project conducted by the Environmental Design Lab with Nature Explore and the Outdoor Classroom Project to evaluate educators’ observations and perceptions related to supporting children’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical development, along with educator perceptions of their own experiences in the outdoor classroom and administrators’ observations of their programs.

In key findings, the majority of educators felt that in the outdoor classroom:

  • They supported children’s emotional, social, and other developmental experiences.
  • They were able to observe children’s interests and needs more than on a traditional playground.
  • Children with differing needs were more engaged in the outdoor classroom than indoors.
  • They saw positive or appropriate developmental behaviors in children.
  • They noticed restorative aspects to children’s behavior when returning indoors.