CREATE, IMAGINE, and EXPLORE:
The Story of a Natural Play Area For Young Children
Swinging in a hammock, exploring the music wall, ringing the pipe chimes, pretending in a rowboat, watering the flowers and vegetables, digging with the crane in the building & construction area, or making chocolate mud cookies in the mud kitchen are all possible for young children at the Lake Ann United Methodist Church’s NATURESCAPE.
Planning and development of this unique play area for young children began in September, 2016. The Great Start Collaborative (GSC) of Traverse Bay’s Executive Committee selected the Lake Ann 5 to ONE Neighborhood Center as a nature playscape demonstration site (currently referred to as a naturescape.) The NATURESCAPE is an outgrowth of the GSC & Lake Ann UMC partnership which established the first 5 to ONE Neighborhood Center playgroup in 2015.
The church’s Community Center did not have any playground. The playgroup’s proactive advisory group was eager to support families in the Lake Ann area and became fully involved in the NATURESCAPE effort.
Surveys to determine the top ten play elements to include were voted on by playgroup parents, church members, and children. Parents, church members, consultants, and GSC staff met to plan together, to analyze data and to collaborate in the NATURESCAPE design.
Initial funding began with three grant awards totaling $6,500. Sources of funding were the UMC District’s Missions and Ministries Grant and two Community Foundation grants. The remainder of the budget was raised through fundraising activities like a Movie & Pizza Night open to the community, through families volunteering to donate and build many of the structures, and with financial donations. A Boy Scout from our church troop is building an entrance arch as well as an information kiosk for his Eagle Scout project. Many church members and parents volunteer to plant, weed, water, and mow. Two new structures will be added in summer, 2019 – a framed Plexiglas art easel and a low 10 x 10 platform for dramatic play.
The NATURESCAPE opened to the community in June, 2018. It is open daily until 10pm for families with young children to enjoy and even have lunch at the picnic tables. The playgroup meets the 2nd & 4th Friday mornings, from 10-11:30am, and often gather under the pergola for snacks and a story.
As a demonstration site (only the second play area of this type in the Grand Traverse area) we are eager to have people interested in early childhood natural outdoor play areas to visit, bring children and observe them as they create, imagine, and explore!
NATURESCAPE VISION STATEMENT:
“Our vision for the naturescape is to provide natural learning spaces that inspire wonder in young children, where they can imagine, create, and explore using all of their senses. Experiencing this way of learning about God’s world may serve as a path for children to begin to find their place in it.”