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Room to play

Multnomah Playschool installs new playground


Very few of us would ever argue that childhood should be a time of play and wonderment. Probably less known is the fact that that there actually is a positive mental incentive for children to play. And thanks to a team effort by alumni, parents and teachers, the young pupils of a preschool in Hillsdale will now have more space to do just that.by: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - A young Multnomah Playschool student surveys the construction on her school's new playground June 8.

Founded in 1948, Multnomah Playschool calls a Latvian church, located at 5500 SW Dosch Road, its home. Serving children ages 2.5 through prekindergarten, School Director and Head Teacher Marty Peterson, whose professional training is in the field of social work, has always striven to incorporate outdoor play into the Multnomah Playschool curriculum.

“I have such a strong, intense belief that kids need to be outdoors. It makes me so sad to have to tell little children, ‘Use your indoor voice’ … children have to experience the world through their senses and through their bodies. They’re sensory beings. Indoor space is great, and I love our indoor space — we do a lot of amazing things in there — but when they’re outdoors, children become whole beings … they need to climb, they need to run, they need to be really loud, they need to be in the mud. They need to touch, smell, hear.”

It was like, ‘How do we weave in these experiences I want them to have on a daily basis,’” Peterson explained. “We go outside every day; it doesn’t matter what the weather is, and we probably spend more time outside than in.”

Her attempt to open up the space in which Multnomah Playschool students can learn has been ongoing.

“For me, it’s been incrementalism,” said Peterson. “As our fundraising grew, (so did) our ability to add things … but it always felt to me like we weren’t really making full use of the space.”

She added: “Naturescaping, getting back to using your environment and natural play space is something I’ve been … studying on and having this wish for for the last 13 years, which is how long I’ve taught here.”

Peterson and Nicole Olszewski, outgoing co-president and playground redesign project manager, were able to secure enough money from the cooperative preschool’s board — and another boon.

“After several meetings and discussion with the Tigard store manager,” Olszewski explained via email, “Lowe’s decided to partner Multnomah Playschool with their Lowe’s Heroes program. This meant that they’d be able to donate some materials, discount other materials and send out a crew of volunteers on our community build day. It has been amazing partnership.”

On June 8, a crew of Lowe’s volunteer, former students, parents and community members — 50 in all — came together to help make Peterson’s dream a reality. They built what is known as a natural playscape, “creating opportunities for open-ended and imaginative play within the wonders of nature and our natural world,” Olszewski said.

The so-called playscape was designed by Leon Smith, a landscape architect with PlanetEarth Playscapes after seeking input from the Multnomah Playschool community, and includes a covered outdoor music pavilion, a sand pit, a crushed rock pathway, an outdoor workshop and a dry creek bed complete with water tower.

“It’s hard to even express the change I see in kids when we get them outside,” Peterson said. “Instead of trying to shape them into something we want them to be, to provide them with the safe, correct-scale opportunities to be who they are, and to scaffold and grow."