Aug 26, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
After more than three years of work and vast amounts of community support, Cazenovia Children’s House last week officially unveiled its new Windy Willow Playscape — an outdoor play and learning area designed to incorporate academic curriculum and physical and social development for preschool and elementary school age children.
Nearly 100 people — school students, parents, supporters, contributors, teachers, administrators and board members — came out Aug. 20 on a rainy evening to go on tours, play on the playscape and enjoy a dinner picnic.
“Literacy and language arts, science and math, music and movement, art and, of course, physical education all occur in our natural playscape,” said Penny Noll, CCH director. “Gone are the days of stationary playgrounds dictated by adults. The natural playscape is important for children because they put themselves into it. I like the way it meets so many needs of childhood development: cognitive, motor, creative, social and emotional.”
The Windy Willow Playscape started with an on-site design workshop with expert Rusty Keeler, author of “Natural Playspaces: Creating Outdoor Play Environments for the Soul.” Keeler guided a group of CCH staff, parents and board members in the creation of a design specifically for the Route 20 facility. The design incorporated the wide range of developmental stages and interests of the children and was based on current research in the benefits of outdoor education.
“Our ‘Natural Playscape’ is unique in Upstate New York but part of a growing trend in early childhood education centers and schools around the world,” Noll said. “We visited outdoor play areas at Syracuse University and in Skaneateles and Ithaca to help guide our design. These playscapes incorporate experiences for children to use all their senses and create life-long happy memories and a deep appreciation for the natural world.”
Scott Shannon, dean of the graduate school of SUNY ESF and parent of a CCH alum, converted the sketch of the playground to a detailed blueprint that showed the topography, trees and design elements.
The playscape is an area of hills, pathways, trees, sand, water, plants, playground equipment and music. It includes nature gardens, vegetable gardens, a fairy garden, a willow hut, a willow walkway, a tricycle track, playground structure, an open sand pit with water feature, a grassy berm with a slide and, in the center of it all, a “whimsical” Dr. Seuss-like house wooden playhouse.
When it was time to build, the materials, skills, resources and manpower used were nearly all local.
Cazenovia High School sculpture and environmental students, and their professors Claudia Johnosn and Bill Paben, helped create a willow hut and willow walkway —both made from local willow branches; local teen Connor York created a music education area that also has a ball bounce wall on the opposite side as part of his Eagle Scout community project; local architect Paul Manion created the play house and the wooden fence; and a grant from CORE Federal Credit Union paid for scooters and helmets. CCH supporters donated funds and materials, and many showed up to help build the playscape.
“It’s been a wonderful collaboration among the community and the Children’s House; most of our donors have been community businesses,” said Laurie Cornell, CCH director of development. “It’s been slow, steady progress; all the work had to be done on weekends when the children were not on-site.”
As the new playscape came to fruition over the past three years, the children (ages 3 through 11) were able to use the parts of it as they were completed. Now that it is all done, the children are excited about it, Noll said.
“It’s a delight to watch the different age groups go out and explore, build things, work together,” she said.
But the kids are not the only ones excited — so are the teachers and parents.
“We just got the sand in yesterday, and today the kids are having a ball,” said CCH teacher Virginia LaRose, who works with 4- and 5-year-olds. “It’s nice to have the loop path for the kids to run and trike … the kids are really enjoying it.”
Teacher Donna Lauzon agreed. “They’re always, always excited to go out there,” she said about the playscape. “I love the natural [setting]. It’s very interactive, but the kids have to use their imaginations because we don’t have traditional toys out there.”
CCH parent Erin Diana said she was impressed by the new playscape. “It’s great, very creative,” she said. Her 4-year-old daughter Sophie, a current CCH student, can’t wait to try out the new slide, she said.
Diana’s son Joey, age 10, and a former CCH student, said he liked the playscape a lot. “It’s just different since I was here; they added so much. It was really small and now it’s huge,” he said.
CCH parent Kyriel Poulin said her 5-year-old son Liam likes the playscape so much that he never wants to leave when the day is over. “You know they have a good time here,” she said.
For more information about Cazenovia Children’s House, visit cazenoviachildrenshouse.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.