We have put together and Advisory Board to support the Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) Program. The group includes a good mix of professionals from different backgrounds and from across the state. They are meant to help inform the decision-making for the program and advise on best management for outdoor learning environments.

Outdoor Learning Environment Advisory Board

As a way to meet the board members we will highlight a few of them each quarter for the OLE Newsletter. This month we will highlight Nan Bonfils, Education Coordinator at the Iowa Arboretum and Bambi Yost, a Landscape Architecture Professor at Iowa State University.


“I must have missed something,” my mother used to tease. “Were you born under a tree?” She was alluding to a delight in all things outdoors that accompanied my childhood and adolescence.

It exploded with my independence. I went directly from grad school to backpacking the southern half of the Appalachian Trail. Mother nature sustained me across three decades of teaching and sharing my passion for her with youngsters on three continents.

When I repatriated, Iowan by marriage, I reinvented myself to support our organic farm adjacent to Ledges State Park. I’ve emphasized environmental literacy throughout my work with local school districts, public libraries, and non-profits such as Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa Arboretum.

My husband and I steward our farm as a haven for bio diversity. We’ve worked hard with our neighbors to promote conservation practices and establish easements. It’s encouraging to connect with enthusiastic associates through the OLE advisory board. Let’s get going. -Nan Bonfils

The proposed gathering place, an OLE site, will provide a gateway to an expanded children’s garden and art activity space.
This oak savanna, already established but in need of restoration, is another OLE focal point at the Iowa Arboretum.

Bambi Yost has been teaching at Iowa State University for the past several years. She has loads of experience in working with schools and communities on developing innovative playscapes and promoting environmental education. Most recently she has been working on developing green schoolyards in Philadelphia, PA through the design studio she teaches in which her students have won several ASLA awards for their work. She partners with several schools and groups each year to see the projects through design concepts and development.

She recently co-published an article titled, “Making Room for Risk in Play Environments and Play Standards”. Here is the abstract from the article:

Over the past few decades, concerns about safety and liability have led to the elimination of features considered to be “risky” from many play environments. In response to this trend, some researchers are using a mix of a priori reasoning and empirical studies to make the case that risk is an integral part of challenging play, and that certain types of risky play are associated with health benefits and learning. New research and criticism of existing standards and research has encouraged the adoption of new regulatory language in the United Kingdom that acknowledges the value of risk in children’s play environments. This paper introduces the current debate over rethinking American play environments and playground standards to allow for beneficial risks. The authors presented on this topic at the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture conference in March 2016 in an effort to engage academics and researchers in the field of landscape architecture. The paper reviews how concerns about safety and liability have and are influencing play environments in the United States. It critically examines the way that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission collects data on injuries related to play environments and suggests a more holistic approach to collecting and reporting data is needed to inform regulatory and design decisions. Finally, it discusses how landscape architecture academics may contribute to policy debates about risk in play environments, through research and participatory design studios. Some opportunities for future research are discussed.

Read the full article by clicking here.

You can read more about Bambi’s experience by clicking here.

Stay tuned to the OLE Newsletter for information on other board members and more about the program. Subscribe by emailing the coordinator, Annie Fangman at afangman@prrcd.org.