Youngsters at Discovery Woods-Montessori School could be spending recess on an all-natural playground.
That is, if school teachers can raise enough money.
Courtney Neifert, co-director of the school, says they’ll need about $50,000 for the project of two natural playgrounds (one for the older kids and one for the younger), as well as about 30 volunteers.
So far, there’s been $10,000 raised and the work load has fallen to the school administration.
Neifert hopes construction starts in late spring or early summer.
The natural playground, or playscape, brings children back to the days of imagination, Neifert says. The days where you had to collect sticks to build a fort. Where big rocks served as stepping stones to the imaginary castle.
Instead of plastic slides and swings, the natural playscape uses boulders, holes and wood to set up a playground with endless imaginative possibilities.
The layout of the playground is in the works now by Leon Smith, a designer with Planet Earth Playscapes, a company that creates natural playgrounds.
It should be completed in a month, he said.
The trend of building such natural creations is becoming more popular in recent years among schools, he said. Though this is only the second natural playscape his company designed in Minnesota.
“It’s really exciting,” Smith said. “Where are places we loved to play when we were kids? Most people don’t remember playgrounds — it’s the woods, on a farm in field, in creeks. It’s the natural places. Kids these days don’t necessarily have access to those experiences.”
The natural playscape can fill that void for those kids, he said. It also offers more simple, natural elements for play that can enhance the play experience, he said.
That idea goes along with the school’s philosophy, Neifert said.
The playscape will allow for “more creative play, more engaging and a better learning experience,” she said.
Neifert said it’s a growing trend of kids spending less time outside using their imaginations.
A natural playground, she said, will reduce competition and bullying, improves social skills and allows for friendly negotiation rather than competition.
But a lot has to be done before children can start playing.
The school can’t ask the taxpayers for help or fund the project through bonds. Instead, everything must be fundraised.
That amount of work takes a hefty toll on an already busy school staff. The project has been moving slowly for the past two years and is again starting to gain more momentum.