Two year olds Josh, Addy and Kyla put their jackets on and ran out into their daycare’s playground.
However, this is not an ordinary playground. It does feature toys and equipment, but it also includes trees, gardens, birds and bugs, which Trena Martin said the kids love.
Martin, owner of the daycare located behind North Peace Secondary School, has been working for four summers to develop a new play space for the children. The new environment has also fostered a new relationship between the kids.
“They were just at each other all the time – they were bored,” said Martin. “I think this playground really sparks their imagination.”
She explained that the reason they’re focused on the “natural learning environment” is because they want children to explore and create.
“We have the edible garden, we’ve planted trees – over 30 trees we’ve planted, we have cherries this year for the first time and we have 15 apples on our apple tree,” she said.
“The kids picked strawberries last week for a snack, and hopefully next year we’ll have some raspberries.”
Four years ago, two of her students wanted to know why there were seeds inside their apples.
“We explained that you can grow apple trees from seeds and we did,” she said. “They saved their seeds from an apple they ate, we germinated them in the fridge (and) about six months later they were sprouting.”
She said they subsequently brought them over to the greenhouse at the high school, and planted four apple trees the following spring. One of the students who helped is Martin’s daughter, who is now eight, and she still comes to visit “her tree” regularly.
She said every student that comes in helps out in the garden.
“The kids are all composting – they bring the compost out every day after lunch,” she said. “They’ve been helping water from our rain barrel.
“They help us look after all the flowers and everything, so it’s just cool,” she continued.
She said she thinks this helps the kids “take pride in where they play.”
“They’re learning how to look after flowers; they’re learning to grow plants; they’re learning to compost,” said Martin.
“It’s healthy to take pride in where you live and where you work.”
Kyla pointed out a caterpillar to both Josh and Addy while outside in the fenced-in play area.
“There’s more birds in our playground; we find bugs all the time,” said Martin with a smile.
“They helped plant everything… they help us water them – it’s totally developmentally healthy.”
She said the living playground teaches kids to share and work together.
“They have to be patient when someone else is planting,” said Martin.
“They know how to turn the tap on the rain barrel and they call each other over and it’s totally teamwork.”
She said that there are 26 students from September until June, and then 12 during this summer. The students at the daycare range in age from infant to five years old.
She said that prior to having this “natural playground” there were more “behavioural issues.”
“They can be creative, they play different games all the time and there’s very few behavioural issues outside because they’re busy, they’re active, they’re using their brains,” she continued.
Though, with help from corporate sponsorships and high school classes, they’ve come a long way, Martin said there’s still more they want to accomplish.
“We want to plant bigger, more established trees for wind block,” she said. “We want to plant more bushes along the fence line to block out… high school stuff happening.”
Despite such close proximity to the high school, Martin said there are very few issues.
“We really got the students involved this year from the high school,” she said.
“The woodworking group… helped us build our shed; we had two different life skills programs help us do all the weeding.
“I think having them involved (allowed them to) take more ownership and we’ve had no vandalism this year,” said Martin. “I think when something looks nice, there’s less vandalism.”
She said she’s happy with the “intellectual, physical, social and emotional growth” that takes place daily in the new playground.
“We’re just so proud,” said Martin. “It’s just good for kids to learn about the environment.”