On a sunny spring day children play in the sand pit at Marquand Park. They drive the ever-evolving collection of misfit Tonka trucks over and around the surrounding small boulders. This may seem like a simple play space, however it is a carefully constructed playground which reflects current trends in children’s play design despite being conceived decades ago.
Eleanor Forsyth (1928-1983), a member of the Marquand family, designed the space in the early 1970s. She worked with local architect Jerry Ford carefully selecting stones from local rivers and streams to define the space. A preschool teacher at the Institute for Advanced Study, Forsyth was a thoughtful educator who understood how young children play and explore the world around them.
These days, buzzwords such as “risky play,” “nature-based challenging play,” “malleable, non-static and child-owned experiences” perfectly match the way generations of children have played in the sand pit. Children are free to experiment with jumping off boulders and digging in the sand. Their imagination is allowed to run free while at the same time they learn to focus on a task in an immersive activity. All while their parents and care-givers sit close by or join in the fun.
A recent design guide published by the San Francisco Children and Nature focus group states:
Through play and in learning each child is pushing the boundaries on their cognitive abilities, which are essential for formative development of executive function and language skills. A child develops these essential skills while developing self-control, flexible thinking and working memory. Without executive function, a child may have difficulty focusing, following directions or handling emotions. Additional cognitive and intellectual skills include problem solving, risk assessment, design, construction, organizational skills, planning and sequencing.
We also see young people developing important skills in the Children’s Arboretum. Some of the activities include drawing on our chalkboard table, building forts with sticks and branches, and digging in the soil transplanting seedlings. We often leave rounds from fallen trees for kids to play with. Here we can find the principles promoted by educators and playground designers in so-called “Loose parts play.” Inspiring Scotland’s Loose Parts Toolkit Guide this is defined as:
Loose parts create richer environments for children, allowing them to do what they need to do, to follow their interests and go where their curiosity takes them. Environments full of loose parts lend themselves to a blurring of distinctions between learning and playing, allowing children to experiment, enjoy and find things out for themselves.
At Marquand Park visitors are always learning, whether it’s toddlers in the sand pit, young visitors in the Children’s Arboretum. or adults exploring our collection of rare trees. After all, our park is named for a renowned educator and his family who strive to continue this mission.
On October 16th we held our second in person OAKtober Festival. Last year we offered a virtual tour on Google Earth which you can view here. This year's event featured a scavenger hunt where visitors could find oak trees in the park. We gave out delicious oak leaf and acorn cookies to all who participated. Everyone had an opportunity to take home a white or scarlet oak.
We had great weather - luckily the rain held off until later in the day.
Our event was featured in the Town Topics with the question of the week. Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate the oak tree and enjoy the park!
In July we gathered for a wisteria pruning workshop with Janis Napoli, horticulturist at the Grounds for Sculpture. Former board member Welmoet van Kammem and her husband Dan organized our workshop with additional help from some of their friends. Janis brought some staff and interns from GFS so we had a good number of trainees learning how to tackle and untangle our wisteria pergola. We learned that summer is the best time to prune the vine. Pruning should focus on runners and suckers which are unlikely to produce flowers. It is important to thin out areas where the growth is very dense to provide sunlight for future blooms. Most of the pruning on top of the wisteria can be done with a good pruning tool that Janis demonstrated. We really appreciate Janis’s help with the pruning of the wisteria and Welmoet for organizing the workshop and returning to finish the job!
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