— from Vala Ross —
Over the past few years, early learning centers on Orcas Island and across the state have used Early Achievers tools to measure the quality of their programs. One area where Kaleidoscope Preschool and Child Care Center had not reached threshold was their outdoor environment. Although the area was larger than necessary, the safety standard of equipment had updated. The play structures were no longer compliant, and the groundcover was insufficient throughout.
Designing a natural playground space became a collaborative effort between Kaleidoscope and Griffin Yard Works. While meeting Washington Administrative Codes and best practice for safety, the landscape transformed into a play space that allows children to explore their surroundings using all their senses. Natural elements are key to creating great spaces for kids. They range from a slide built into a grassy hill, to stages for pretend play, trike trails, and potted herb and strawberry gardens. Boulders, trees, flowering bushes, and wood materials contribute to the authenticity of this natural environment. The sandboxes were made from repurposed row boats, subtly introducing to the children aspects of island life.
With Kaleidoscope participating in Early Achievers, and as an extended-day ECEAP preschool, the children spend a substantial portion of the day outdoors. Research has shown many positive benefits of outdoor play and connecting to nature. Spending more time outdoors is vital to the overall health and development of children. Those benefits include enhanced cognitive abilities, increased physical activity, encouraging good nutrition, creativity and problem solving, self-discipline, and reduced stress. Interaction with the natural world is a powerful way to teach them about patterns, textures, and continual change, making it an optimal learning environment.
Amber Paulsen, Kaleidoscope Director, says “Our community perception is consistently improving. Having our outdoor environment being truly attractive and appealing will go a long way to further that perception. We have put a lot of energy into the improvement of our professional staff, but it is also important to make that investment in our learning environment as well.” Community is an imperative part of what keeps Kaleidoscope thriving. Our organization would like to take the opportunity to thank the many supporters of this project. Ron Griffin worked with local businesses to obtain materials, including Island Hardware and Supply, Harvey Logging, and Sea Island Sand & Gravel. The quality of craftsmanship that went into the playground renovation ensures that it will be enjoyed by Kaleidoscope kids for many years to come. Bicycle helmets were also donated by Orcas Island Fire & Rescue, so that each child has a helmet that fits them correctly and meets best practice for health and safety.
The children are thrilled to have a space that incorporates natural elements with pre-existing play structures. Vala Ross, Assistant Director, says “As early learning experts, we understand the value of nature-based play. It stimulates creativity, allowing children to deepen their relationships with peers and heighten inventiveness of thinking.”