The First Step in a Transformation

By Dexter Lane, Nature Explore Consultant


An existing playground’s days are numbered.  It was a typical playground with soft flooring, and a multi-use, ruggedly constructed steel climbing structure.  “While it looks like fun when you first see it, the kids get bored really fast,” said Carie Cagnina, Assistant Director of the Learning Center at Warren Village in Denver, Colorado.  “There are only so many ways you can use it… There’s a lot of hiding when they’re upset…  It’s hard for teachers to see them or to get to them sometimes because of the design of the play structure.”  Some older children don’t engage with the space, and congregate in one area.  “Their play often turns pretty violent pretty quickly because they don’t have enough.”

Now, children are learning from their teachers about a “new playground” they will soon have.  But this playground will be different.  Rocks, flowers, new trees, musical instruments, climbing and art areas — and more — will soon be in place.   A playground that does not “have enough” for children, will be replaced by a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom that will have something for everyone- teachers and parents included.

The children grow excited, and talk about the new “classroom” that will soon be awaiting them outside. One day a transformation begins. The old playground structure is removed.


Flooring is ripped apart to reveal the long hidden dirt underneath.







Flagstones are chipped into shape for a path.







Trees and shrubs are planted.







After careful measurement, a musical instrument is placed in the earth.







Large planter boxes are built and treated.







Irrigation lines are placed, to feed each plant.







A mother, whose excited children have told her about the plans, drops by to take photos.






For now, it is the space that is transforming.

Further transformations coming soon…


3 responses on “The First Step in a Transformation”

Lynda Freas says:

Congratulations to Warren Village! We at Anythink Libraries are so proud to have another Nature Explore project in the neighborhood.

gingkotree says:

Wow! It is always so inspiring and so exciting to see what other outdoor classrooms are doing! Whenever we travel, the first thing I do is check to see if there are Nature Explore Classrooms in the area! I have to go steal new ideas! I truly believe the reason so many playgrounds that you drive by are empty is because we have made them too safe and there is nothing to challenge our children. As your parents catch the fever it just becomes more and more infectious! You have definitely gotten the momentum working magic in your classroom! Good Luck Warren Village! Keep the inspirations coming! I can’t wait to see what happens in the coming months and years! It just keeps getting better and better! Have fun!!

Miss Jémie says:

I was a Montessori teacher for about 6 years, and one of the things I learned was that children respond to beauty. Natural spaces with more natural looking play structures are far more appealing to them than metal ones. Having access to plants, comfortable and beautiful seating, shade,room to run and jump, and natural open ended materials for creative play are extremely important to fostering the cognitive, social,physical, and spiritual development.

When children are given aesthetically pleasing environments, their behavior changes. They feel valued and are more likely to take ownership of the space and the activities that occur within those spaces. When children are given simple objects to use in their play they develop their imagination and problem solving skills. When children engage in spontaneous play with other children they learn and practice social skills and even more complex problem solving skills.

Not to mention when it’s time to go back indoors they are more relaxed and attentive.

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