What is a playground? What is its purpose and what kind of activity do we want to encourage there? “In a typical playground, it’s already decided what you’re going to do,” says Tia Smith, manager of the Capilano University Children’s Centre. “You play on the swings, climb up the ladder, go down the slide… We wanted to design a playground that invites children to explore and interact with nature.”

 The Centre’s vision of an innovative and engaging outdoor play space will become reality this summer, thanks in part to a generous donation from Leo and Margaret O’Neill. Their $50,000 gift makes it possible for the existing playground to be pedagogically-reimagined and redesigned to enable children to interact with nature and use the area in active and imaginative ways that change with the seasons. While there are other natural, interactive playgrounds in B.C., it’s unusual for a daycare or preschool to have such a space.

The boundaries of the playground won’t change, but the space will be used better. Work will begin shortly with the removal of 10 small trees to allow more light into the playground, provide better sightlines and open up new areas for play. The salvaged wood will be repurposed throughout the space as seating, log steps, a tree serpent, a bridge, and a log pole maze. Other additions include a rocky stream bed and waterfall that will fill when it rains, a seating circle with a portable fire bowl, expanded sandboxes integrated with boulders and log seating, large planters for growing vegetables, pumpkins and blueberries, and new pathways  that will invite children into parts of the playground that were previously unused.

“There are so many opportunities that come from being outside. Many of the children come into the Centre from age one or younger and are here until they leave for kindergarten, so it’s really providing them with a space that will change throughout the year, and different ways to engage with it,” says Tia, who helped to redesign the new playground along with Capilano U Early Childhood Care and Education instructor, Sylvia Kind and landscape architects from Ron Rule Consultants Ltd.

Other partners on the project include contractors Houston Landscapes and Davey Tree, as well as the Capilano University Foundation and the Capilano U Facilities department, which will ultimately be the stewards of the area.

The idea for the playground resonates with the principles of Reggio Emilia, a teaching philosophy that focuses on engagement with the world, including the natural world. “It’s about working with the natural flow of the space and encouraging the children to be active participants, rather than passive observers of the natural world around them,” Tia says.

While work on the new outdoor space will soon be underway, additional resources are required to fully implement the new plan. The Children’s Centre anticipates that another $50,000 will be needed to complete construction, but Tia is confident that the funding will come as potential donors see the project’s true potential. “This represents an incredible opportunity to support early childhood development in a way that is highly visible, tangible and long lasting. Cap’s unique setting makes it all possible.”

The new playground comes just as the Children’s Centre is celebrating its 40th anniversary of providing child care services for the children of students and employees at Capilano University and the local community. The Centre emphasizes play-based learning which promotes curiosity, initiative, independence, self-esteem, decision-making, problem-solving, and communication skills, as well as positive interaction and respect for others. It’s a great source of learning for university students too, as those enrolled in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) often use the Centre to observe and interact with young children as part of their studies and work experience. Students from Human Kinetics, Psychology and Liberal Studies also benefit from this type of partnership with the Children’s Centre.

“It’s a beautiful point of intersection between the Children’s Centre, students and educators. The project will influence and inspire the ECCE program’s work with children in the Centre and in the classroom. I’m excited to see how children and educators are going to take in the new space.”

Capilano University gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the O’Neill family. If you’re interested in supporting this initiative, contact Tia Smith.

Learn more about the Capilano University Children’s Centre and the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) program.

Submitted by Marketing & Communications