Compared to the humble playground at the small Waldorf school where my son went for Pre-K, his public school playground is enormous. I was sad to leave the space of all natural materials at the Waldorf school: stumps to walk on, huge stumps to play in, logs to roll, and mulch to scoop.

And I knew I would miss the time: if I got him to school before his class started its welcome verse, he spent almost an hour outside at the beginning of the day followed by time after lunch and before pick-up on the days he stayed through the afternoon. And they went outside even if it was pouring rain. No public school can compete with that, no matter how groovy. But, thankfully, when I turned in the acceptance form at his new school last spring, I was heartened to see a group of girls digging in the dirt, children balancing on a huge log, and a whole lot of nice landscaping, done during family garden workdays. Thank goodness he won’t be the last child in the woods!

Who knew he’d start spending all of his recess time playing soccer?

Still, I’m sure he’ll branch out when the novelty of the game fades, and I’m glad he’s in a place where there are natural materials in addition to standard fare playground equipment and blacktop. I love the school’s interior courtyard with its gardens and little bridge, and its resident turtles.

Photo courtesy of

Now, his school is undertaking a project to build a wetlands learning lab to address the water problem at the base of a hill and to provide an opportunity for hands-on learning. I’ll be busy this next month raising money for construction to begin this winter on phase I of what promises to be an amazing space. The artist behind the impressive plan is Nancy Striniste, landscape designer and owner of EarlySpace, LLC, where the tagline is “earth-friendly, people-friendly designs.”

Photo courtesy of

Nancy has helped lots of schools make their play areas into things of beauty that utilize natural materials and stoke children’s imaginations. I just learned that this winter, Nancy will be offering a DIY workshop for people whose schools or daycare centers want to transform their play areas with the benefit of an expert. She’ll be giving presentations in January, February, and March at Long Branch Nature Center as part of “Creating Your Own Magic: DIY Natural Playspace Coaching.” The program will also include conference calls and a whole lot of materials to get started on a new outdoor plan.

This is the kind of workshop curriculum I would drool over if I were a principal or school director, or an environmental ed teacher. Or just a homeschooler with a big yard! Nancy’s natural play and learning blog shows some seriously amazing projects that have my brain already working on overdrive thinking about the house we are about to start renovating to move into come spring.

Playground at a Montessori school designed by

So, if everyone agrees that your school’s playground could use some inspiration, check out this workshop. Or tell your PTA president or science teacher to sign up if they are ready to make a change toward “connecting children to nature and providing good outdoor play and learning spaces.” Check out the EarlySpace website and email Nancy at info (at) earlyspace (dot) com for more information and an application.

I can’t wait to see what comes of this workshop!

What matters to you when it comes to playground spaces? What does it take to get a school to think beyond monkey bars and slides?

Jessica Claire Haney writes about living naturally (most of the time) on her blog, Crunchy-Chewy Mama, for her Washington Times Communities column, “Reading Ingredients: A Health-Conscious Mom,” and for All Things Mothering.