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Cazenovia Children’s House unveils new Windy Willow Playscape

Outdoor classroom is fruition of three-year community-supported project

CCH students played on the new playscape last Wednesday, Aug. 20, during the official unveiling and celebration of the school’s new outdoor classroom.

CCH students played on the new playscape last Wednesday, Aug. 20, during the official unveiling and celebration of the school’s new outdoor classroom. Photo by Jason Emerson.

— 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.

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The Diana family points to a donor brick that bears their names at CCH last week. Joey, right, is a former CCH student and Sophie, middle, is a current student.

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.

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