An empty field behind Raleigh Nursery School has been transformed into an outdoor learning environment that will give the children there a new way to play.
The space now features raised garden beds, a paved circular path for bike riding and games, a new sandbox, an art space and more. The goal is to give the nursery school’s children opportunities for physical activity, healthy eating and learning experiences outside of the classroom.
“They had great times before, but this allows them to explore in a new way,” said Keisha Sanders, the school’s director of operations.
The nursery school applied for and was awarded a grant that covered the design of the play area but didn’t have the funding to build it. That’s when employees from PNC Bank stepped in to help through its “Grow Up Great” campaign.
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Beginning this summer, dozens of PNC volunteers built the new play area, everything from hammering together the garden beds to digging out wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of dirt so the concrete path could be poured.
Several dozen volunteers put in nearly 300 hours of time, and a handful were on hand to watch as the children ran through a grand opening banner last week.
Rajeev Soni, one of the volunteers, said the project was a great chance to learn about the simple ways an area can be transformed for play.
“It doesn’t take tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “It can be a lot of natural elements.”
The new project seemed to have won over the children at the school, who eagerly raced around the new space.
Kiana Cannady, 3, said the gardens and the beach balls are two of her favorite things in the new play area. She also likes how it looks.
“It’s pretty,” she said before heading out to the playground, where she bounced a ball down the path and later clanged together a pair of cymbals.
The school designed the playground with the Natural Learning Initiative, a program at N.C. State.
Sarah Konradi, a design associate at NLI, said that the design of the play space is based on research about how children play. The path, for example, offers clues about how to use the space, allowing children to move easily from one area to another – and it’s also where children get the most physical activity.
“That pathway is truly the backbone that holds the space together,” she said.
NLI has worked across the state on designing spaces that encourage children to eat healthy and get exercise, with the hope of cutting childhood obesity rates.
“We really want children to have the opportunity for outdoor play,” Konradi said.