Nature’s Call For a Playground

A Facebook thread began a movement for the creation of a unique nature-based playground for a small rural community of 2500 people in Fountain County, Indiana. Scheduled to begin earthwork on Earth Day (April 22), the Covington Community Playground is truly one by the people, for the people and of the people.

We spoke with Amanda L. Strawser, a mother of three who is the co-founder of Friends of the Covington City Park and president of Covington City Park Board. In her words, “I’m a nurse by education and an avid runner. I’m also a rookie; this is my first experience creating a playground.”

1) How did the idea for the Covington City Park Playground Project come about?

A local mother, with two young daughters, made a public post on Facebook regarding her concern with the condition of the ageing playground equipment at the Covington City Park.

Leah Keele, another mother, asked me to get together to fundraise for a few new pieces of equipment for the park. I invited another friend, Linda McGurk to join us in our endeavor since she is a nature-loving person, a Swedish native, and an outdoor enthusiast. Linda was a crucial element to this project. Learning about the Swedish culture which encompasses the outdoors and unstructured play really transformed this project from a commercialized playground into something more than that.

3) How is it different from other playgrounds?

Our vision for this new play space is three-pronged:

  1. a) Adventurous: We want this play space to benefit children’s physical and mental development by providing features that are unique, fun and challenging, like climbing structures, tunnel slides and rope courses.
  2. b) Natural: We want this play space to encourage children to connect with nature by incorporating natural play elements and integrating vegetation in the landscape design. Log steps, natural balance beam, rocks, sand pit with loose parts and native shrubs will have a home in this playscape.
  3. c) All-inclusive: We want this play space to be accessible and attractive to children of all ages and physical and mental ability by including a splash pad, sand table, wheelchair-accessible paths and ramps.

Since all aspects are accessible, it creates a multi-generational play opportunity, where grownups can play with children. To create a balance we’ve also included an element of risk-taking (which statistics have proven, is key for development), such as a large net climber, ropes up the side of the mound, and a parkour course.

4) How will the nature-based play be beneficial to children and grownups who visit the park?

Studies have proven that there is a substantial benefit to children and families spending time outdoors, connecting with nature, playing in the dirt, making mud pies or collecting flowers, rocks, and sticks. It impacts growth and development in a positive way. In this particular park, children and families will be able to walk through the native vegetation, on a winding path, pick a Cone Flower, watch a frog hop along the grass, see honeybees do their job pollinating, flower to flower. Children and grownups may choose to hop on the parkour course, which creates a continuous flow circuit. We’ve left a significant space open, unobstructed to utilize the soft and luscious natural grass, so families can spend a day, perhaps have a picnic or rest on a blanket. Summer days in Indiana do bring excessive humidity but in our playscape will have several mature maple trees, which provide shade and a rest from the sunlight.

Life lessons can be learned from nature and I feel this playground is promoting that theme.

5) Do you have a special event taking place for Earth Day?

Earth Day is our official ‘groundbreaking’ ceremony for the new playground. Our goal is to “celebrate the earth while cultivating community”. The local elementary school chorus will be singing a song and we will discuss construction plans. Everyone in attendance will have a chance to flip dirt with our upcycled shovels, as earthwork begins.

This milestone includes Earth Day Yoga for families and children. Local Master Gardeners will be planting seeds (of Indiana native plants to be included in our gardens) while subtly teaching how marvelous vegetation can be. We will encourage children and grownups to get dirty since the playground area will be a blank slate of dirt mounds and grass, a space to run wild and free. An opportunity for natural painting will be provided by using sticks and flowers or leaves as a paint wand or paint brush. Large boxes, boards, old paint, sheets, tires and what would appear to be “junk” to the average person, will be provided for children to experience imaginative play, more commonly known as a Pop-up Adventure Playground.

 

6) What kind of involvement have you seen from kids and grownups?

There has been incredible, unbelievable community support for this project.

A notable moment was the two-week Pennies for the Park Campaign. We visited every classroom to talk about the playground plan and how students could help or volunteer by doing something seemingly small to make a “big change”. We discussed the need for volunteers to plant flowers, and spread mulch when build-day rolls around, and discussed bringing in loose change or donating pennies. We gave the children the opportunity to raise money for a classroom brick and many classrooms doubled or even tripled their goal. When communities get involved like this, it creates a feeling of belonging or ownership of the park. Those same children, who raised money or drew a picture of their dream playground, will respect the new space, keep in clean, be an advocate for the playground, because they were part of making it happen.