November 19, 2009 in Washington Voices

Outdoor classroom sprouting at Y

Volunteers building green space for children
By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

The small playground outside the central YMCA will also be an accredited classroom for outdoor learning.
(Full-size photo)

To the untrained eye it looks pretty much like a playground, but there’s much more to the play fort and sandboxes that are being constructed on the south side of the central YMCA facility on North Monroe Street.

“The correct term to use about it is a nature exploration classroom,” said Kelly Calligan, early childhood development director with the YMCA. “Essentially, you take your classroom outside.”

The outdoor classroom is being constructed by volunteers from the Remodelers Council, which is part of the Spokane Homebuilders Association.

It was Bev Reed, vice president of operations at the YMCA, who approached the homebuilders association.

“This is about a $40,000 project,” Reed said, “and it’s not something the homebuilders had to do. But they have been wonderful to work with.”

Remodelers council chairman Bob Wright said Mark Correll of Correll Reconstruction has been responsible for providing the materials and coordinating construction with Tim Borg of Pro Build. The project has been divided into six phases with 15 companies contributing materials and labor.

“Mark has gone above and beyond to make this happen,” said Wright.

The 112 children at the YMCA’s child care facility will benefit from the new outdoor area. Having recently moved from Riverfront Park, where the child care area was surrounded by green space and playgrounds, an outdoor area with easy access is greatly appreciated.

“We still go to the park,” said Calligan. “Many of our kids live in apartments and don’t have their own backyards to play in. It’s a priority that they go outside while they are here.”

The outdoor classroom idea came from the Arbor Day Foundation. Calligan said the new outdoor classroom will include areas with dirt and sand, “because we all know few things beat playing in the dirt,” she said. But there will also be more structured areas for outdoor art, like painting and clay, and areas where children can collect, identify and display leaves, cones and seeds.

Calligan said the nature exploration classroom will be completely done in spring, but the children already use it a little bit.

“We also hope to do some planting, growing and harvesting of different vegetables,” said Calligan. “We’d be able to send some vegetables home with the children, with recipes. Sometimes that helps them to like veggies more.”

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