What is a Natural Playground?

The Natural Playground was created as an outdoor environment for young children ages 2–6 to explore with their classmates and families. Our playground was built on an acre of fenced-in property at the edge of a small hardwood forest. We gathered a group of folks from the community to work on the plan (including our littlest ones!). We used The Ten Guiding Principles for Outdoor Spaces for Children by the Arbor Day Foundation to prepare. An amazing Seeds for Learning Auction raised money for playground equipment and a pavilion.

Here at the ELC, we offer lots of outdoor learning opportunities for children and their families during school as well as after church services. We have three goals for this space:

  • Cultivate faith through connections with nature
  • Renew families through shared time together
  • Expand learning through intentional outdoor environments

What will you find on our Natural Playground? A covered bridge made of hundred-year-old barn beams that stores trikes; a circular butterfly garden with a path to a boulder fountain; a 45-foot sandbox lined with tree stumps; a pavilion with a 6-foot stainless steel hand washing trough; a playhouse made of native timbers planed on site with a portable saw mill; 15 different animal prints embedded in the tricycle path; and a chainsaw carving of a soaring eagle!

Playing outside these days is a long way from the childhood many of us knew—the early years when we easily spent the entire day outdoors. In today’s society with its strong emphasis on nanoseconds of time and gigabytes of memory, how does a child move slowly and have little thoughts? How does a child learn to take a risk? Children sense the world differently than adults. How do we keep the spirit of childhood protected, nurtured and alive?

The children at our school jump off rocks and logs, pick fresh strawberries, furiously pedal their trikes and dig villages in the sandbox with caring, intentional teachers by their sides. Our Milestone Celebration on the playground brings together over 400 people at the end of each school year to celebrate our children in community. We have hosted a Nature Explore Workshop on the grounds for 75 educators from Michigan and Indiana. Our hope is the Natural Playground will keep childhood small, real and personal. The dandelion seeds float on!

Natural Playground

Image Gallery

View the Image Gallery of the Natural Playground.

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