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American Society of Landscape Architects


December 2005 Issue

Good (Not so Clean) Fun
Hamill Family Play Zoo encourages children to use their imaginations in adventure play.

By Clare Cooper Marcus

Good (Not so Clean) Fun
courtesy MIG, Inc

Remember building a den, a fort, a hideaway that was ‘kids only’?” asks a sign at the edge of an enclosure at the Hamill Family Play Zoo and Play Gardens (HFPZ), part of Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago). “Kids crave their own spaces, yet freedom to discover them is limited by busy schedules, manicured yards, and the habit of playing indoors,” the sign continues. Putting its money where its signs are, the HFPZ is the first children’s zoo in the country to adopt adventure play as the core concept of its program.

Instead of the relatively passive activities we have come to associate with petting zoos, here children learn about animals and nature by role-playing as animals, creating animal habitats with natural materials, searching for bugs, and participating in animal care. There are few animals but lots of imaginative activity. The HFPZ is the first component of Explore! A Child’s Nature, which when completed will cover 10 acres and incorporate a full range of settings for children and youth. The landscape architecture firm for this lively and engaging facility is the Berkeley, California-based Moore Iacofano Goltsman, Inc. (MIG), long at the forefront of innovative environments for children (see “Go Out and Play,” Landscape Architecture, March 2005).

The HFPZ has become a popular, repeat-visit destination for families, schools, and youth organizations from the Chicago region. Its broad goals are to generate a caring, emotional relationship toward nature and animals and to allow children and their parents to learn about the biosphere through engaging, hands-on activities. When Brookfield Zoo decided to renovate the original children’s component, it chose to create something entirely new and to focus on emotional development rather than on the cognitive—to get to children’s hearts before their heads.

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