By Jacqueline G. Freeman
This year, the first day of school at the Beacon Hill Nursery School was also the first day children could enjoy the newly completed natural playscape in the school’s back yard. The renovation was just as much a philosophical one as it was physical.
“We have taken a city playground and brought it back to a piece of land,” said Director Lucinda Ross.
The idea comes from a new movement in children’s playgrounds which features natural elements such as butterfly gardens and rolling hills instead of static items such as swings and slides.
Ross began researching the idea about three years ago. “After the dust settled from the [building’s] interior renovation, a board member asked me what I wanted to do next,” said Ross. “I said ‘At some point we need to look at the back playground,’ which was getting outdated in its construction and its philosophy.”
Ross’s research and reading on the subject focused on the idea that this generation of children doesn’t have the daily one on one with nature that previous generations did. “I grew up in Maine,” said Ross. “While I love watching what city childhoods are, this resonated with me.”
The new playspace has a fort made of trees, a water feature that children can move the rocks within to change the current, a slide built into a hill and a huge sandbox. “The maintenance will have more to do with taking care of plants and the earth than tightening bolts,” said Ross.
The project was a complete overhaul of the space, starting with tearing down the old structures piece by piece and digging through layers of woodchips and asphalt. In true Beacon Hill fashion, the only access to the site is either through the school or out a three-foot-wide alley between the firehouse and the site. All materials had to come through the alley or be lifted in, said Ross.
The site itself was given a lot of attention — it was rodent proofed, drywells were built and the soil was tested. The project was funded through the schools 55th anniversary capital campaign, said Ross, and also made the space ADA compliant.
Ross is excited for the interactive, ever-changing play that the new space is sure to invite — even as the water, sand and dirt get mixed in. “It is supposed to be dirty. I hope to see rubber galoshes lined up outside,” said Ross. “This is how early childhood education is supposed to be.”