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Nature infused into playground

Naturescape creates fun, safe place to learn and play


When children gathered outside Sandy Grade on the first day of the school year to learn about recess rules and expectations, they were greeted with a surprise. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Sandy Grade School students enjoy the new naturescape on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 24.

Instead of the familiar large blacktop area that stretches between the school and the play structure, elementary students stood in awe of the brand-new “naturescape.” The nearly 80-foot by 100-foot space filled with logs strategically placed in the field of bark dust, sat just waiting to be explored.

“Students were really excited about the playground,” said Sandy Grade School Principal Rachael George. “Walking around the building in the afternoon, I heard a lot of students sharing with others how playing in this new area was the highlight of their day. It was very inspiring.”

But the play area isn’t quite finished. George said the administration would still like to add boulders to the area along with slides for students to use. The nature scape will be built on over time until all major components are added.

“To be able to do this and to have so many stakeholders in the community coming together has been incredible,” George added. “We’re very humbled by the support.”

The new addition to Sandy Grade’s playground has been in the works ever since the district was awarded a $7,820 HEAL Grant by Clackamas County to improve Sandy Grade’s recess area to get kids moving.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Sandy Grades naturescape used a felled tree from Oregon Trail Academy to create a climbing paradise.

“This has been a conversation for a very long time,” George added. “It was definitely a large goal for the district.”

The district’s conversation was spurred by the school community club’s efforts to raise funds for the project. The group held a fun run earlier in the year to benefit the naturescape.

The Oregon Trail Education Foundation donated $1,000 to the project, and an individual community member donated $5,000.

What’s unique about Sandy Grade’s naturescape? The climbing structures are all made from organic material. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Sandy Grade students got a surprise on the first day of school - a new playground!

The star of the new play area is a tree from a neighboring school. During Oregon Trail Academy’s transition to adding ninth grade, the addition of portable classrooms necessitated cutting down a tree. The downed tree was donated to Sandy Grade and transformed into balance beams, climbing logs and stumps for students to jump on.

The structures around the outside edge can be used as benches for students to work on when teachers hold classes outdoors.

“Our hope is that the naturescape adds to the educational experience students have at Sandy Grade School,” George noted. “The structure was specifically created to be both a place where students can learn and play.”POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Crews worked the week before school started to make the Sandy Grade naturescape ready for students.

But the naturescape is not just about fun. It’s also about safety.

George believes it will help cut back on the number of injuries the school experienced with a playgroud covered mostly with asphalt.

“From a recess and play perspective, this space provides an incredible opportunity to play and jump without the danger of getting hurt,” she said. “Prior to this year, the majority of the playground available to students during recess was pavement, which caused many bumps, bruises and injuries to students.

“This naturescape creates a safe place for them to just be kids during recess,” George added. “It has been a hit.”

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