Play in outdoor natural environments has historically been positioned as a context in which children can grow and thrive. Play in natural environments is a key venue for exploration that offers many possibilities for children to be critical thinkers and co-constructors of their play experiences. On a natural playground the environment offers environmental affordances that attract children to sustained interactions with natural elements.

The playground team is made up of both child development professionals as well as design and building professionals; Debbie LeeKeenan (Former Director of the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School), Prof. George Scarlett (Deputy Chair of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development), Iris Chin Ponte Ph.D. (Eliot-Pearson Alumna 2007), Fang Lee (President of Yunnan Kids International), Patrick Rettig, (Designer for Green Edge Builders), and Robert Scott, (Consultant for Cornerstone Development and Construction).     

Over the past six months the playground team has been working closely with the leadership of the Kunming Social Welfare Institute to design a space that can equally serve children between the ages of zero and twelve and their foster families. An additional challenge is that many of the children that reside in the foster village have a range of special needs. After numerous meetings and a visit to the Eliot-Pearson Natural Playground at Tufts University the team has developed a space they are now calling a “play garden.” This space includes a traditional climber alongside many naturalistic play areas (i.e. garden beds, stump walks, large sandboxes, meandering pathways). All areas have been designed so that children with a variety of special needs can participate. It is the playground team’s hope that by providing this space, children and foster families alike, will have more outdoor play opportunities. Throughout the play garden seating for foster parents has been strategically placed to support caregiver-child interactions to promote positive play experiences. 

This June, a few members of the playground team will be traveling to Kunming, China to meet with the administration of the Kunming Social Welfare Institute regarding the play garden design and deliver the first round of funding. Team members will be making a site visit to re-access the build conditions as well as any final adjustments before the build begins. 

The Kunming Play Garden will symbolize the connection between children that have already been adopted from Kunming and the children that wait. A place to run, explore, play, and laugh. We invite you to explore our drafted design. After working with the Kunming SWI modifications will be made and another design will be posted!

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