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    Postcard from Lisle, Illinois

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    A giant acorn as play structure at the Children's Garden, designed for the Morton Arboretum by the Hitchcock Design Group. Photo: Hitchcock Design Group

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    Sure, education should be fun, and fun should be educational, but what does it take to create a playground that helps kids see it that way? The answer may be found at the new Children's Garden at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. Landscape architects from the Hitchcock Design Group collaborated with engineers and educators in designing a park that teaches kids about nature in a four-acre (1.6-hectare), interactive learning environment.

    Under the leadership of Herb Schaal, FASLA, a principal with the landscape architecture firm EDAW, the garden was designed to encourage entire families to play together. Beyond focusing on basic site elements such as circulation and vegetation, the landscape architects have embedded educational messages in dynamic, functioning site features. The garden offers a variety of experiences that challenge physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Children can scale to a canopy, follow stepping stones through a pond, and crawl across a net suspended above a prairie.

    Play equipment imported from Germany that is shaped like acorns, roots, and tree trunks gives children an up-close view of botanical components while they have fun at the same time. A functioning water runnel system invites cooperative play. While one child operates an old-fashioned hand pump, others can manipulate the water with their hands, sand, and dam blocks. Children naturally love to play in water, and while doing so here, they learn about the water's relationship with the garden's fauna — several thousand trees, shrubs, perennials, and aquatic plants.

    The arboretum reports that its attendance has increased 25 percent since the garden opened in September 2005.

    On the road in Illinois,
    Alex Smith

     

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    The water runnel system. Photo: Hitchcock Design Group

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    Children's' Garden, Morton Arboretum. Photo: Paul Schlissman Photography

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    The "stem house" teaches kids about trees. Photo: Hitchcock Design Group


     
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