If children could design their dream playground, what would it look like?
At Colorado Academy, we are about to find out!
Last fall, both of the Lower School playgrounds—the Primary play structure used by Kindergarten and First Grade and the Intermediate play structure for Second through Fifth Grades—were removed after more than 20 years of daily use by hundreds of Lower School students.
“The old playgrounds were worn and had outlived their era,” says Lower School Principal Angie Crabtree. “Today, we know so much more now about the developmental needs of students when they play, so we knew we could really add value to recess with new playgrounds.”
Today, planning for the new playgrounds is well on its way, thanks to Crabtree and CA students. And when they debut this spring, the new play areas will also provide an opportunity to honor the life and memory of beloved Kindergarten Teacher Leslie Webster.
“Leslie had a ‘wonder window’ right next to her desk,” remembers Upper School Counselor Kate O’Donnell, one of Leslie’s colleagues and friends. “She would encourage students to pick up binoculars, look outside, and wonder out loud at what they saw. She would love having new playgrounds where students could explore their world.”
Consulting with the experts
Of course, Crabtree, who serves on recess duty twice a week, had some of her own playground design ideas. But she knew there were far more expert consultants who should sit at the table for the planning—the Lower School students.
So she sent out a survey to all students, asking them what kind of experiences and equipment the playgrounds should offer. What were students’ favorite activities on playground equipment? Swinging, sliding, crawling, climbing, jumping, or imaginative play? What kind of equipment did they prefer? Straight, curvy, spiral, or double slides? Net or rock wall climbers? Monkey bars, swinging rings, log steppers…just to name a few.
And then she asked the students to go a step further and design their ideal playgrounds. Ask, and you shall receive—some of the delightful student designs look remarkably like the final professional playground designs.
Crabtree also met informally with students, consulted with the Lower School Student Council, and, with preliminary professional designs in hand, met with every single Lower School class to gather feedback before finalizing the order.
“This experience so empowered the students,” she says. “This space is important to them, because it’s a chance to develop physically, but also to develop socially and emotionally, as they spend time with their friends in all three sections of each grade level.”
Remembering Mrs. Webster
Weather permitting, the playgrounds will make their debut this spring. They will include marvelous new play structures, including slides, climbing areas, and, Crabtree says, “lots of monkey bars.”
There will also be a lovely gathering place at the far end of the playground for the youngest students, with musical flowers that can be played like a xylophone. At that spot, there will be a bench with a plaque honoring Leslie Webster, who touched so many lives at CA as a teacher, a colleague, and as a parent.
“Recess was one of Leslie’s favorite times,” Crabtree says. “That’s when you would hear her great laughter. She loved to watch students come up with ideas for ways to play, and she always came inside with wonderful stories from recess.”
Through the generosity of a group of current and former families, CA has already raised more than $275,000 toward the estimated cost of $400,000 to replace the playgrounds. There is still time to add your gift to this project that will add so much joy to the lives of Lower School students.
“Leslie was a joyful person who inspired joy in others,” says O’Donnell. “And to see students on the new playground, building community, making friends, and learning new skills would mean the world to her.”