Nature Playscapes as Healing Spaces

by Jill McKain ALSA,Nature Explore Classroom Designer

Nature Explore Outdoor Classrooms are so much more than extensions of indoor classrooms. They are an opportunity to bring the healing properties of nature into the lives of children and families.

Last month, I had the opportunity to work in Harlem, New York with two shelters funded through the Mary Kay Foundation. Mary Kay  has supported domestic violence agencies throughout the country by offering grants to build Nature Explore Classrooms at 17 residential domestic violence shelters.

The existing outdoor spaces at these facilities reflect the typical dense, urban site conditions of Harlem. Both consist of long, narrow brick and concrete corridors between and behind the buildings with little to no green space or “natural” elements of any kind. In conjunction with Tricia Martin and Winston Ely from local design-build team WE Design, and Domestic Violence Specialists Linda and Michelle Zinke, these spaces will develop into healing environments for children and families who are victims of domestic violence.

When completed, these playspaces, composed of natural elements, will function both as traditional outdoor classrooms as well as therapeutic healing gardens. The Nature Art Area will help facilitate art therapy sessions, group work may be held in the outdoor gathering space, while the option to garden and be outdoors will make the shelter feel more like a home for those who reside there for up to four months.  Familial bonds that have been strained or broken may begin to heal while siblings play side by side in a safe, peaceful space.

Click here to see an inspiring Mary Kay Foundation Nature Explore Classroom