CHILDHOOD’S GATE CHILDREN’S GARDEN
THE ARBORETUM AT PENN STATE
Bridging play, art, and science, Childhood’s Gate is the newest feature and highlight at The Arboretum at
Penn State. The garden is a public venue to further enhance the arboretum’s overall mission: to reveal the
richness, beauty, and diversity of the natural environment. The garden celebrates Central Pennsylvania,
focusing on the region’s unique geology and its relationship to the flora, fauna, and geography of the Ridge
and Valley province. Childhood’s Gate is designed to be an outdoor classroom; a place of unscripted play and
spontaneous exploration that provides a “hands on” educational venue where all senses are engaged. The
garden’s structure offers multiple scales and ways of engaging, from solitary immersion to more social spaces
for group activities. The design intent is to emotionally connect children to the living world, foster a sense of
wonder and curiosity, and instill a passion for nature.
Childhood’s Gate won the 2014 ASLA Colorado chapter Merit Award.
“Where rivers run up against mountains”
When flying over the ridges and valleys of Central Pennsylvania, it is surprising to discover a river running up
against mountains. I had always learned that waters typically run down the slopes of the mountains and follow
valleys, so I became intrigued with the possibility of celebrating the uniqueness of this local landscape. The whole
team responded well to this idea, so we invited a retired professor of geology on the project. Duff Gold revealed
the very dynamic nature of the region, caused by the African tectonic plate pushing against the American plate and
creating folds, some millions years ago. Within the cracks, water would find its way and later carve rivers. We also
learned how what is now a mountain used to be a valley, and what is now a valley used to be a mountain. Out of
this dynamic landscape came the thread of our garden: an engaging and playful environment that reflects on the
beauty of the loci, and its ever changing nature.
-Emmanuel Didier, Creative Director and Founding Principal
Designed as a series of garden “rooms”, Childhood’s Gate orchestrates a dynamic journey through Pennsylvania’s
unique geologic history. The garden is targeted for children of ages 3-12, and composed of three main areas:
1) Entry Court, 2) Central Valley, and 3) Fossil Ridge. The intent behind the garden is to heal the broken bond
between our youth and the natural world. Our hope is to emotionally connect children to the living world, foster a
child’s sense of wonder and curiosity, and instill a passion for nature. Ultimately, the way in which our youth respond
today to the natural environment will shape the future of our world.