Innovative playscape to feature nature-oriented activities for children in Cedar Hills

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Volunteers help break ground on the the nature playscape project at Cedar Hills Kindergarten and Preschool on Southwest Park Way on June 28.A volunteer-fueled project at a private Cedar Hills school will provide a way for children in the neighborhood and beyond to play outdoors while learning a thing or two about interacting with nature.

That’s the intention, at least, for the nature-based “playscape” structures being built this summer in three phases at Cedar Hills Kindergarten & Preschool, 11695 S.W. Park Way. Ground was broken on the project on June 28, with six more build sessions scheduled between Friday, July 18, and Sunday, Aug. 17.

Designed by Leon Smith from Planet Earth Playscapes, the array of interactive elements include a climbing tree, log tower and log scramble, living willow huts, sound gardens, plant-lined pathways, a pump-water creek and sand pit.

The idea is to go beyond the traditional playground concept of swing sets, slides, merry-go-rounds and equipment children often have to wait their turn to use.

Leon Smith of Earthplay, the project’s designer, worked closely with teachers, parents, neighbors and students in the community to design and help build the nature playscape. He has worked around the world, helping many organizations build play areas for children.

“What we are finding is that children play longer, have less conflict, are more imaginative and take more thoughtful, skill-appropriate risks on a nature playscape than on traditional playgrounds,” said Leon Smith, the playscape’s designer.

Lori Gamroth, teacher and playground chairwoman at Cedar Hills Kindergarten, hopes the playscape can ignite a passion for the outdoors while providing a spark for further learning in the classroom.

“A child is on the Earth a short period of time,” she said of the fleeting nature of growing up. “Everything is brand new to them. Everything is a discovery. Watching what they’re doing, you want to provide more opportunities for learning. All of us are doing this together.”

Mike Cox, a sixth-year parent and Cedar Hills alum from the class of 1976, sees the playscape as a 21st century way of returning to the playtime simplicity of the pre-digital era.

“We can all remember a time when we would roam outside in kid-packs exploring the paths, empty lots or forested parts of our landscaping — lost in hours of make-believe play, reluctant to return home when we heard the calls of our parents as daylight faded,” he said. “That’s what we’re building here — the magic of nature play.”

While the school is private, the playscape will be available for all children to use once the project is completed later this summer.

“We are adding a fence, but it still says, ‘Come in’ to the community,” Gamroth said. “Everyone benefits from that kind of play space. We really want to bring it to the community. That’s what childhood is about: ‘Come and play.’”

Molly Kline, president of the 63-year-old school, said volunteer efforts on the build days is inspiring.

“Like a good old-fashioned barn-raising, this new nature playscape is being built by the hands of our students, parents, grandparents, relatives and friends,” she said. “We already have so many generous people and businesses to thank. Every time someone reaches out to help, we grab hands and strengthen the bonds of our community.”

The next community build event for the playscape will take place on Friday and Saturday, July 18 and 19, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday, July 20, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

For information about volunteering or making a material or monetary donation, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Volunteers help make progress on the the nature playscape project at Cedar Hills Kindergarten and Preschool on Southwest Park Way on June 28.

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