Sunday, February 28, 2010

Our New Playground

A couple weeks ago I posted some photos of our serviceable, but uninspired Woodland Park Cooperative Preschool playground. Here they are again to remind you:

I wrote then about our plans for revitalizing this underutilized resource. We got very lucky that Thomas and Charlotte's mom Amanda agreed to take the lead in making it happen. No one has ever worked harder, both mentally and physically, for their school than she has these last several weeks. I am on my knees to her as I write this.

All told about half of our 44 families turned out yesterday, a Saturday, to work on the school, while one group focused on giving the classroom a top to bottom scrub, a dozen or so hearty souls took on our outdoor space. They all worked hard according to my favorite work party ethic: "He who holds the tool gets to make the creative decision."

Miriam's dad David carries one of the former fence posts we used to terrance the garden

I hope Charlie L. appreciates how hard his parents Shelly and Chris worked on our new sand pit.

Here's Aedan's dad Louis getting down the crumbs of our huge sand pile

So here it is. These first 3 photos are from the same vantage points as the "before" pictures:

We've located our construction/tinkering station in the corner. We can open the umbrella on rainy days to give us a dryer workbench. Ultimately, we will build storage to replace the blue, plastic tubs. We plan to transplant some fast-growing bamboo in the larger pots, which can be harvested as a construction material. The unicycle merry-go-round is the only "traditional" piece of playground equipment we've kept because kids play on it almost every single day.

That's our new sand pit in the corner. We've simply repurposed the bark chips that used to reside in that corner as a cover for our cracked and uneven asphalt. Our boat has a new home, having been shifted several feet by Orlando's mom Valerie and Violet's dad Eric to make for a larger Little World/art station.

We've paved our garden paths with a mixture of over-roasted, raw, and partially roasted coffee beans generously donated to us by Upcycle Northwest, a business that works with large coffee roasters to reclaim, recycle and reuse good materials that might otherwise be sent to the landfill. They've also donated many other exciting items to the school.

I wish I was a better photographer. This is a beautiful blend of dark brown, carmel and green beans that act very much like pea gravel, but with a much more heavenly aroma. When we poured out the first few bags of it, Ella's mom Jaimee spent several minutes just sitting in it, breathing deeply. I'm going to be standing there with my camera on Monday, just waiting to capture the children's reactions to both these beans and our new sand pit:

We removed the wood chips around the base of our maple and our magnolia and replaced it with our large pile of sand. Since we haven't disturbed the roots at all, we feel pretty good about the trees' prospects, but we all know it's a bit of a gamble. The sand pit is about 9' X 12' and anywhere from 12"-18" deep. We need to come up with a permanent sandbox cover solution, but for the time being we're just using some large sheets of garden fabric that Elliott's mom Elizabeth made in an attempt to dissuade the local cats. Right now I'm leaning toward the idea of stitching together a bunch of the burlap bags Upcycle gave us to create a decent barrier while still allowing rain to get to the tree roots.

I like that the sand pit is immediately adjacent to our construction/tinkering area. I can see a lot of impromptu construction happening in the sand pit since it will be relatively easy to create large structures with this stash of old fence wood that Sarah's mom Lisa scored for us:

By employing the construction technique of sticking planks and garden fencing into the sand or leaning them against the walls and trees, I'm hoping that we get some exciting structures. Lily's dad Greg turned our two pallets into "floors."

The idea is that they become the bases for larger constructions. For instance, we're going to spend the next couple weeks framing in a "house" on one of them, unless, of course, the kids are having too much fun playing on them as they are. 

We purchased and otherwise acquired a decent starter set of hammers, saws, drills, measuring tapes, levels, and other basic tools. 

If you follow this path of logs created by Anjali's mom Reshma along the wall and around the boat . . .

. . . you come to our expanded Little World:

Jaimee got inspired to create this archway from a pair of old curtain rods, a scrap of wire fencing, and lots of twigs, twine and sprigs from our rosemary bush. I would love to transplant a large fern into this shady area. Sadie's mom Medora and Reshma created that incredible bark pathway.

We finally decided the garden . . .

. . . will have a potting table where we used to rot our pumpkins, fashioned from our former outdoor sand table. We'll plant in the beds along the wall, where we get good sun and down the center. We're going to use three or four of our burlap bags as fabric whiskey barrel type planters to position in the center of the garden, dividing our gardening area a bit from our new water area . . .

This cast-iron pump and water run is a brilliant jerry rigged apparatus employing our former slide, a muck bucket, bungie cords, and 10' plastic house gutters. Amanda and Kimberly really deserve the credit for this inspired contraption. We're hoping to figure out a way to divert the roof gutter so that it will fill the bucket, but in the mean time we'll just fill it by hand from our current rain barrel. That's our blue barrel in the upper left of the picture below:

One of the more brilliant moves of the day was that of Benjamin's dad Andrew (who had a hand in just about every aspect of the project) to build a down and dirty wood chip "keeper" from pieces of tree rounds and old fencing planks. It will help keep our smaller asphalt area at least a little tidier:

We needed a little paved area for the unicycle merry-go-round and while he was at it, he gave us a clear walkway from the main gate to the school doorway. Yes, the children will likely stumble over it for awhile, but I think they'll eventually get used to it, like they would a stair.

I'm not going to try to name all the families who donated materials and cash to making this happen, but I feel like we've approached 100 percent participation. The results are so much better than I ever imagined. There were brilliant, on-the-fly creative ideas and problems solved. I'm so proud to have been part of making this happen. We're not finished yet, of course, there are still lots of things to do, but what we've done so far has been Herculean.

It's a present we've worked hard to make, and next week the children get to unwrap it, play with it, a start making it their own.

Bookmark and Share


Unknown said...

Wow, Tom! This is beautiful! It is so great to see the teamwork you inspire. I just can't say enough---I'm glad you realize what a lucky guy you are to have such dedicated families in your school! I, too, consider myself fortunate to have such great parents (although I don't know if they would come out in droves in Seattle weather to work as hard as yours! :))

Kat said...

Looks incredible! Happy playing!!!

Unknown said...

I prayed yesterday morning that you would have a productive and wonderful day. It looks like you did!

I can't wait to see the faces of the children when they see it. I know they will be beyond excited!

Unknown said...

Hats off to you and your remarkable community - I am blown away by what this dedicated group has accomplished!

I sometimes find myself telling my four year old daughter that she should feel proud, to recognize that full-hearted feeling she has when she does something to be helpful and bring joy to others - this group probably doesn't need to be reminded but I feel compelled to say "You should all feel so proud!" - for this environment that you have created for your children and the children that will experience this magic filled place for years to come. I am in awe of your community! (And I can't wait to see the excitement and wonder on faces this week.)

Noah said...

Oh wow.

You all did such wonderful stuff! It looks like a really really really fun place to be. Thanks for sharing the great photos and super breakdown of how things went.

Great community work - 100% participation! That rocks!!!! You are all so inspiring!

Can't wait to hear about the kids' reactions!

jenny said...

Tom you and the parents all did so much in one day! The transformation is a credit to you all, and I bet you can't wait to see the kids playing in it.

I love the idea of the stumps around the sandpit - ready made table surfaces for sandplay! Our creation station is outside too, and like you said it offers so many opportunities for kids to make connections into other outside areas. We often have kids running to the table to make something for the outside play.

The water play area is my favorite. Man o man, what I wouldn't give for one of those. I've copied the photos to add to our own outdoor file. I'd love to see some photos of the kids playing here.

Such a wonderful example of all that can be done in a relatively small space! I hope you are all giving yourselves big pats on the back :)

Jess said...

What a wonderful project!!! Looks GREAT! Enjoy playing with your children!

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

This transformation is really testimony to your leadership. Clearly your creativity, kindness, open-ess, flexibility, organization, values and ability to accept diverse ideas and opinions are the foundation of this big project. I'll bet more than the space got transformed...what an incredible group of folks. You should feel so proud.

Michelle said...

What an incredible job!! You have created a magical place, that any child would fall in love with. I hope you spend many wonderful hours playing and creating in your new space!! Kuddos to your community for pulling together and getting it done!! Have Fun tomorrow :)

Deborah Stewart said...

Tom - this is awesome. Your parents are just too cool to give up a Saturday and pitch in.

Vicki Ehlers said...

A beautiful and creative use of space! Wish I could see the children's expressions when they first experience their new outdoor learning environment :)

Regency Kindergarten said...

how did you guys do that????? I think David Copperfield came to visit you yesterday :)

Anonymous said...

This is really fantastic Tom! We love the new water feature; the children are going to have a wonderful time exploring here! Hats off again to your fabulous parents!!

Scott said...

What a fun place to play and explore! At every photo, I would think, "That's great! I want that!" I can't wait to hear how the kids like it.

tour and travel said...

Nice information, this really useful for me. There is nothing to argue about.
Keep posting stuff like this i really like it. Thx.

Anonymous said...

What a great playground it is now! We didn't apply to Woodland Park in 2008 because of your outdoor space, but look at it now!

Nathan Lee said...

amazing Tom! wish i had a garden to do something like this... hope your kids enjoy it, if not ill take mind around.