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New UC campus attraction will provide a unique, natural environment for the area's youngest learners

A tree house, a "sensory" garden, a bird-watching hideaway, a small stream and an observation deck for education researchers all of these elements and more will be taking shape around Sigma Sigma Commons at the University of Cincinnati, as construction gets started on a PlayScape outdoor laboratory for young children.

The $401,000 project is a partnership between UC's Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center, Cincinnati Nature Center and the UC Office of the Architect. The project is expected to be completed in early June.

Construction fencing is now up for the project, located on the north side of French Hall on the Uptown Campus. The contractor on the project is Mark Spaulding Construction.

Victoria Carr, associate professor of education and director of UC's Arlitt Center, explains that these rare but emerging architectural designs support unique learning experiences in the great outdoors, and also provide a considerably different setting than typical urban playgrounds.

The PlayScape primarily holds appeal for children aged three to five. The UC PlayScape will be open to children who attend the Arlitt Center as well as the Cincinnati community.

"The children will be able to do some gardening. They'll sample edible bushes and berries. They'll crawl through a log fort, enhancing their gross motor skills," Carr explains. "They'll be playing and learning in 10,000 square feet of nature, and we put a lot in it. Plus, it's all wheelchair accessible," Carr says.

Also, to support mastery of motor skills, the PlayScape has rocks, trees, hills and other uneven terrain that's unlike the flat surface of urban playgrounds. There will be an area for them gather and hear and share readings. The design is the concept of landscape architects Robin Moore and Rachel Steele Robinson. Robinson has children who formerly attended the Arlitt Center.

At the heart of it all is an examination of how children learn, how these natural settings can enhance learning and how these PlayScapes could be opportunities to build stewards of the environment at an early age.

The project is supported with funding from the UC Ada Hart Arlitt Endowment Fund, the UC College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH), The Procter & Gamble Fund and Zeiser Construction.

Frank Russell, director of the UC Community Design Center and the Niehoff Urban Studio, provided support in the professional development of the architects for the PlayScape project. The center also helped with site selection and a feasibility study.

About the Cincinnati Nature PlayScape Initiative

The Cincinnati Nature PlayScape Initiative partnership was initially supported by a grant from the Harriet Williams Downey Fund at Greater Cincinnati Foundation that was awarded to the Cincinnati Nature Center.

The grant was to:

  • Support the preparation of landscape architects in creating Nature PlayScapes
  • Build two PlayScapes in Greater Cincinnati and
  • Educate the Cincinnati USA community about the health and educational benefits of frequent play in nature

A PNC Grow Up Great science grant provided additional support to the partnership.

Cincinnati Nature Center opened its 1.6 acre Marge & Charles Schott Nature PlayScape last August.


Contact: Dawn Fuller
University of Cincinnati

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