Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter Discoveries in the New Playscape

The garden in winter is a whole new experience for children.  They at first act shocked and slightly worried that the plants are dying and there are no more tomatoes for the picking or green beans to munch on.  Soon they accept this and crunch through the transformed snow and leaf-covered landscape that once housed so much life and food.

Being in this space with children is such a delight.  Sometimes children's playgrounds are spaces where they play "IN" nature, but interact with very few actual natural items.  When I stand and watch children play at Elm Tree I see them shoveling, digging, hauling, running on and over, through and in between many, different natural elements such as: willow, grass, rocks, trees, logs, dirt, sand, herbs, vegetables, hills and paths.  Leaves, sticks and stones are often hauled from one location to another.  Or piled about the yard in various configurations that slowly transform and move from place to place over time.

Here children have freedom to play in almost anyway they wish in a gorgeous, interesting, varied terrain.  Music, flowers, art, herbs, bridges and stones, gardens and dirt for the digging.

I sat one day just watching children leap from a boulder to the nearby top of a little hill.  then run a short obstacle course through the willow hut/tunnel, into the teepee tent and back up the boulder and then do it all over again.  Some young ones slightly challenged by the older children's physical skills joined too, modifying the activity slightly to accommodate their less-refined gross motor skills.

The hill, what a great thing to have around!  Sometimes children like to stand on top of the hill and shout across the yard.  For new walkers, the hill is a monumental feat that requires days of practice to conquer.

The tree stumps are walked on, crawed over, ridden on, and sometimes just stood upon in silent repose.  There is this one tree stump that is exactly the right size and height for one child to sit or stand on .  They stand and gaze across the yard, sometimes binoculars in hand.  I like to think of it as a perspective-gathering spot.

The bridge also seems to be a beloved feature of the yard.

Children think of as many ways to cross it as possible, pushing cars, then a stroller, dump truck, wagon and so on.  They might use shovels to pile the bridge high with pea gravel or load up a wheelbarrow.

Flowers and edible plants grow throughout yard including what will soon become a sensory herb garden near the water play area.  Spring is on the horizon, though it is hard to believe, we can start even now to anticipate it and plant some bulbs here and there so when we have just started to forget about them, out pop some beautiful tulips, crocuses and daffodils!  Anyone interested in donating bulbs for this playground planting project please contact us!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Building the Playscape - Hill and slide with dry creek bed area

Phase 1 was to remove all the plastic climbing toys from the pea gravel area and replace them with logs and stumps.  (Thank you Parker Tree Service in Longmont for the materials!)  But that was just the midway step, until funds could be raised to complete the work.  

After the fundraiser on September 18th, we had enough to hire a skid steer driver and purchase sod and top soil to make the project happen!!!  
First we had a most helpful and enthusiastic driver who came and put in a whole lot of work one day, he pushed the pea gravel aside and dug down into the ground to make a river bed for our pea gravel.

We began building a hill using the leftover fill dirt from the river bed.

Now we had a very changed landscape and it still needed a lot of work before the kids could come explore:
We installed a sprinkler system under the newly-dug area
20 years of compacted dirt was not easy to dig up!!!

After that, top soil and sod were placed along with flagstones and it quickly transformed the appearance and use of this area:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Neighborhood Concert & Artwalk

Let the fundraising begin!!!
We've booked some really great musicians to come play for our fundraiser next Sunday, the 18th!

At 2:00 Mutt & Pug Dog will start things off with their mandolin/guitar duo.  

At 3:00 will are fortunate to welcome The Magpies Duo who bring the element of bluegrass, country and old-time Appalachian fiddle tunes.  

4:00 will begin with the local band Pot O' Gold featuring skilled guitar playing and tight harmonies in the folk and celtic genre.

5:00 will bring us the fabulous children's musicians and performers Jeff Kagan & Paige Doughty, who are entertaining for all ages and write really wonderful songs with an earth-friendly message.

And at 6:00 we will welcome K.C. Groves and her band The Jaspers.  K.C. has been part of the local music scene for many years, she puts on the Bluegrass Jam at Oskar Blues every Tuesday night and was a founding member of the internationally-known band Uncle Earl.  She has generously agreed to come play at our fundraiser and you will be blown away by how amazing these women sound when they sing and play together, like angels, truly.

Lauren Dartt

We also have some great artists coming to share their work at the event.  Lauren Dartt will have her paintings on display, Dorje Dolma will bring mixed media, pen and ink and also some jewelry that she makes and Laurie Dallenbach is going to share her sculptures.  Also part of the artwalk will be the eight mosaic murals that have been made entirely by the Elm Tree teachers.   Each piece represents something the children experience when they are in our playscape, and include the four elements: water, earth, air and fire.

Laurie Dallenbach

Dorje Dolma
Other fun things to do at the event include getting your face painted (thank you Samantha Cole-Johnson!!), making art in the Children's Nature Art Zone, participating in painting a mural for our playscape, snacking on some hors d'ourves or sipping a drink while listening to some great music, taking a tour of our playscape, enjoying the art on display, bidding in our silent auction or buying a CD or two to take home!

No need to RSVP, unless you want to volunteer for the event!  Just show up at 1330 Alpine Ave on Sunday anytime between 2 and 7pm, parking is extremely limited and alternative transportation highly encouraged!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Save the Date - September 18th - An Afternoon of Music, Art and Fundraising Fun

We have decided on a fundraising idea to get us through the last remaining projects in our playscape!!!  I'm not sure what to call this yet, an art walk with live music?  A backyard concert with art?  A fabulous neighborhood fundraiser to be sure!

Sunday, September 18th from 2pm-7pm we will hold a fundraiser in our backyard.  We plan to invite local musicians to perform throughout the afternoon and local artists to come display their sculptures, garden art, installations, etc.

So, how do we turn this event into a fundraiser?  We plan to ask for a suggested donation of $10 per adult the door as one avenue of raising the needed funds.  Any artists selling their work will be asked to donate a portion of their sales to the Playscape Project as well.  We will be contacting local breweries and wineries for donations of adult beverages for folks to enjoy on a donation per glass basis while they listen to music and wander through the yard enjoying the art, visiting with neighbors and finding out what a playscape is all about.  As always, it's more than just raising funds, it's also a chance to raise awareness about the need for children to connect with nature in a real, meaningful way every day.  So we hope to invite folks from the community to come  to this fabulous event!

Since we are still in the planning stage, we'll have more news about our artists, musicians and ways to help out in the very near future!  But for now, put a big circle around the 18th on your calendar and plan to stop by!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Next Steps - Sound and Sensory Garden, Fundraising and More!!!!!

Enjoying the outdoor art area
The Art Area
Our project is nearing completion, though we still have a few key features to install.  Already the yard is looking quite fantastic!  The garden is really taking off and we look forward to getting to use our greenhouse this fall!  If anyone has ideas how to heat it using active or passive solar energy we could even manage to use it through the winter for year-round growing.

We also still need shelving and a drip irrigation system in the greenhouse.  We'd like to get these items second-hand if possible the reduce the overall cost.  Let us know if you have any leads on where to get these last few things!
Tomatoes are ripening
An inviting path

The pumpkins are happy and getting huge!!
Strawberry Hill is cascading into the walkway
Beans galore!!!
Ripe with potential
The next phase will be digging up our pea gravel river and making a hill complete with slide.  We have lined up a fantastic bobcat operator, a grandfather of one of our little ones, who has volunteered his services for a day.  We're also speaking with a local landscaper who is possibly interested in helping us once the excavating has been done.  The slide is probably the most expensive element of this entire project, outdoor play equipment is quite expensive but for safety reasons, it's probably best to purchase this one new.  They cost around $900 to get the size and style that we need!

Checking out one of the new murals!
The layout of the remaining projects will probably look something like this:
Day 1:  Dig up the pea gravel area and make the river, hill and place boulders.
Day 2:  Using clay mixed with a binder, make a circular patio for our group area and install the benches and redwood bridge
Day 3: Put in sprinkler system, lay sod and stepping stones, plant herbs, flowers, grasses and groundcovers
Day 4: Put in the musical instruments and sound installations
Day 5: Create the circular cob structure for our resting area

All of these elements will also come with a price tag.  We've have nearly depleted the playscape funds from the fundraiser we held in April, putting in the garden and building the greenhouse took the majority of the funds with the mosaics using up the rest.

The water play area

Now we have to think of one final way to raise funds for our remaining projects.  Since we have some volunteer help promised and materials that we've already purchased such as the redwood bridge and boulders, we believe that between $2000-$2500 would be all we need to finish this!  Anyone interested in donating funds or materials or volunteer their help please contact us, we won't say no to anyone!  Also, we'd love some creative input for ideas on ways to raise these funds.

Some ideas we've had include:

1) Holding an art show in our backyard and inviting the community to see what we've done and what we plan to do.  Many of our teachers and staff members are artists, and some of our parents too!  Maybe we could collaborate and hold a fun joint artist's show!
2) A carnival or fair in our backyard, this would require a lot of volunteer help, but could be a lot of fun to have games, bouncy castle, face-painting, etc.
3) Yard sale - we typically do hold a yard sale in late August or early September, but this year we don't have as many donations as usual and wonder if the interest in this is waning or if enough people are interested in donating items and helping set this up, it could be exactly what we need to finish.
4) Seeking donations from funds or businesses who support this type of project.  This is made more difficult by the fact that we are not a non-profit, but not impossible.
5) Ask local bands if they would be willing to come play a couple of songs and set up another music-type fundraiser, maybe with grown-up music this time...

Other ideas are welcomed too, and anyone interested in helping with one or more of these please contact Sarah so we can start planning and dreaming!

Willows are leafing out

Soon to be our dirt-digging area, already the kids have started making that happen though!

Everything is looking so beautiful!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mosaics and Teacher bonding

As we proceed through our planned phases of construction, the backyard is starting to look quite beautiful!  Our garden is thriving and, even though "strawberry hill" isn't living up to it's name (strawberries typically don't produce a whole lot the first year they are moved or planted), it's still a lot of fun to run up and over, again and again, as Silas demonstrated today.  Claire worked the rounds with her squirt bottle, making sure each plant got a drop or two before moving on to the next one. 

The garden is nearing completion, all that is left is to finish the inside of the greenhouse, we still need shelves and cabinets to get it ramped up for the fall growing season.  Now we are going to be focused on the eastern side of the yard, turning it into a magical sensory garden full of sweet smelling herbs, sound installations and mosaic murals for both seeing and touching!  Imagine sitting on a bench surrounded by flowers and herbs, just blowing bubbles and sitting in the shade smelling sage and mint, watching children pick lavender and hunt for strawberries among the flowers.  Children stop to ring the wind chimes or bang on an earth drum and continue on their way, the path curving around a giant hill outfitted with a slide where others are running up the hill and sliding down the slide again and again.  The path finally takes them to a quite, circular cobb structure with low walls to lean against, pillows to rest on and a first class seat to the fully open views of the trees and the sky beyond. 

Broken, Sorted and Ready to Go!

Dorje and Bonnie create a cool
mountain scene
On Friday, the 1st of July, we had a staff work day and created mosaic mural panels to place along the length of the wooden fence. 

Sun, Moon and Stars

Flowers and worms, of course!

Everyone contributed ideas and artwork and effort to design these beautiful mosaics! 

Right now, we are about 70% done with making the panels themselves, gluing the broken tiles to the boards.  We'll finish creating and gluing the other 2 panels and then we will need to grout them and hang all eight of them on the fence!   It will be fun to see how this is going to add to the children's experience in the playground.

The ants go marching....

It was nice that we got to work on these right next to their
final home on the fence.

Volunteer Information:
We are HAPPY, so very happy to accept volunteer help on this project, no prior experience is needed, none of us have ever done this before either!  And we'll happily work around your schedule, whether it's during the day or on evenings / weekends.  We love you parents, thanks for believing in us, thanks for being on board and helping with this fantastic project!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Greenhouse and Garden Project continues....

Roughly-framed in
Looking more solid! 

The greenhouse was a bigger-than-anticipated project but it is now nearing completion.  We are using reclaimed lumber, and recycled RTD bus shelter plexiglass to build a small (7 X7) greenhouse.  Perhaps next spring we can start from seed everything that we plan to grow!  We are very much looking forward to the extended growing season!

Once the outside of the greenhouse is finished we will still have much to do to prepare the inside.  Following is a list of elements needed to complete our greenhouse!

  • Shelving - waterproof shelves, can be attached to the wood frame of the greenhouse (metal or coated metal would be best)
  • Cabinets - a corner and short (4-5ft) section of counter top and cabinets for planting on and storing our supplies and some overhead cabinets would be good to have as well
  • Children's planting table - toddler sized and roughly 2ft X 3ft, best if the surface is resistant to water
  • Rain-water collection system (barrel, hoses, spout, etc)
  • Drip irrigation supplies
  • Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer
Many Thanks to Jeremy for
his help building the greenhouse!

It looks really neat inside with the sanded
plexiglass against the blue sky

So close!  Just a few more days and we'll have a
completed garden for the children to explore!