Playing in nature is a proven way to improve a child’s development.
With that in mind, Johnson High School students in early childhood education classes, construction classes and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America are working on a project to add natural play elements to the playground at Redwine United Methodist Church in Oakwood.
“If you’ve ever climbed trees, made forts, climbed rocks, dammed up water or had fun outside in other, similar ways, you’ve experienced a natural play environment,” said Mary McGovern, early childhood education teacher and FCCLA adviser at Johnson High. “Studies show that this type of play contributes to the overall physical, cognitive and emotional development of children. It also helps them score higher on tests for concentration and self-discipline and helps them exhibit less aggressive behavior.”
McGovern said the state Department of Education has an early childhood standard, the ET-ECEIII-2 Standard, which recognizes the benefits of nature-based outdoor environment and play.
The Johnson High students began the natural play updates to the Redwine playground by completing a safety check, scrubbing equipment and clearing debris.
They also surveyed teachers and parents to determine the parts of the playground of most concern.
“After the surveys were completed, it was clear that along with overall safety, parents and teachers alike were hopeful that natural play elements would help their children develop a better sense of balance and spatial awareness,” McGovern said.
The students are thus installing tree coins, or pieces of trunk, for balance, extra mulch for safety and flower boxes for natural and spatial awareness.
“The construction department here at our school makes toolboxes that we’re using as flower boxes,” she said. “The girls have painted and decorated those, and we’re waiting on a company that’s going to donate dirt and flowers for those.”
McGovern said she and her students have long had a relationship with Redwine United Methodist Church, and the project was begun with the help of Senior Pastor Andy Witt.
“We have participated with Redwine Church before, because my students go teach their Parents Morning Out Program,” McGovern said. “And they are right next to our school, so we can walk through our parking lot to their playground.”
She decided to combine the playground inspections with the lesson on natural playground standards to create this project.
The participating students partnered with Castillo Landscape and Orosco Lawn Care of Gainesville to make the updates to the playground possible. Winter weather postponed construction, but McGovern said they hope to have the playground finished soon.
The project is part of an FCCLA Community Service competition, and students Alondra Gomez, Andrea Rodriguez and Gabriella Sepulveda will present the project at a regional competition Saturday.
“These three students were really excited about the project and they were also in FCCLA,” McGovern said. “... This has been a wonderful educational experience for all involved.”