Wednesday July 30, 2014

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Outdoor learning environment will benefit children

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1) Pure Energy Early Learning Centre and Estevan Day Care Co-operative program director Shawna Judd (with Alice Mowchenko and Summer Bourassa) and administrative director Nikki Schreiner (with Levi Johnson and Mariah Kreics) gather for a group picture in front of the new gazebo that is part of the outdoor learning environment.

The Pure Energy Early Learning Centre and Estevan Day Care Co-operative has embarked on an ambitious outdoor learning environment project that will benefit young people who use the centre, both now and in the future.

Program director Shawna Judd and administrative director Nikki Schreiner say the outdoor learning environment is a three-phase project that encompasses both of their playgrounds: one for infants and toddlers, and the other for pre-Kindergarten and elementary school children.

There are many components associated with it, but Judd said the theme is that children will get to explore everything in a natural environment.

"We want to make it as natural as possible, so that the kids know what the plants are called and how they grow," Judd told Lifestyles. "They get to play with the trees. They get to feel the animals."

The first phase saw the addition of a gazebo, donated by Audio Video Unlimited; the structure has been a gathering point for young people and staff. A grant from the Saskatchewan Scrap Tire Association allowed them to replace some of the sand in the infant and toddler playground with a rubberized surface.

In some areas, asphalt has been removed in favour of sod and grass.

Wooden benches and tables have been installed around trees, so that children can eat and enjoy crafts outside.

It's just the beginning, but already there have been benefits, Judd and Schreiner said.

Phase 2 will see existing grassy areas repaired with seed and sod, and new and smaller sandboxes will be installed with tractor tires and new sand. A climbing hill with a slide and a tunnel will be constructed.

A new pathway system will be added with pea gravel, screened rock and mulch; PVC piping will provide the edging. There will also be new shrubs, trees and planter boxes.

The centre also wants to purchase and install teepees and playhouses for a play village; add wooden benches and picnic tables; and offer easels, outdoor chalkboards, musical instruments, sports equipment and ride-on toys.

Phase 3 would include an outdoor pavilion and library; a children's stage; additional work to remove asphalt and add sod; and the addition of hammocks, bird feeders and baths, arbors and trellis.

"If we get most of it done, that would be great. If not, we'll work on it again next year," said Schreiner.

Judd and Schreiner said the children love what's in place now.

"With the rubber, we had noticed that the sand we had before wasn't all that great for building stuff, but on the rubber surface, the kids seem to be able to run and play and fall," said Judd. "There are fewer scratches.

"With the grass, I've noticed that there's more soccer being played, and there's more running around and jumping, because they're not afraid or tripping and falling."

The advantages of the outdoor environment will extend beyond learning, Judd said. Children will be outside running and playing. They will improve their motor and social skills, enhance their focus and attention spans, and build friendships.

The day care has raised more than $29,000 thus far; the total includes cash and material donations, work-in kind support, and the grant from the Scrap Tire Association. It doesn't include fundraisers.

"We don't know for certain, yet, how much it will cost," said Judd. "How much is it going to cost us to do the outdoor library? The toys and the sports equipment could cost more or less than we thought."

They have introduced different levels of sponsorship, ranging from bronze (less than $500) to platinum (more than $10,000). T-Bird Oil is the first company to gain platinum recognition, as they had a golf tournament last year, and turned all of the proceeds over to the day care.  Naming rights are available for different amenities.

The day care is focused on what they refer to as child-guided learning. The children get to show the day care's staff what they're interested in, and the employees expand on it.

"If all they ever talk about is ladybugs and the worms that they're finding, the teachers are going to bring that inside and outside," said Judd. "There will be ladybugs inside. There will be worms inside. We're going to bring books outside about them. We're going to bring the art supplies outside so that they can draw and show their parents what they've seen."

The board is fully behind the project, Judd said. They have made decisions on what will be included, and they have ruled where the funding and donations are directed.

"We want to keep it interesting, because some of the kids are here for a good portion for their day, for a few years," said Judd. "They can be here 10 years. If it's the same thing every day, they get a little bit bored, but if we keep it interesting and fun, then their days go by quickly."


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