The Children at Play Network is a partner with the North Limestone Development Corporation in the Plant and Play Project in Lexington, KY to develop a natural play space at the city-owned Castlewood Park. CAPN has provided training in free play and design consultation and recently hosted the inaugural Free Play Day at the park to celebrate the project on Saturday, April 21.
Here’s a reflection on the project and the Free Play Day from one of the project team members Onshalique Wilson:
On April 21st the North Limestone/ East End Neighborhood made it’s first effort to offer adventure play in our community’s Castlewood Park. After putting out the call to our neighbors through letters, surveys and word of mouth, our local Early Childhood Community Partnership Coordinators put their expertise to work visiting educators and facilitators to inform them that we are offering field trips to the park and impromptu outdoor play opportunities.
Castlewood Park sits inside the heart of the North Limestone/ Bryan Station community in Lexington, KY. The landscape of the park is well maintained and has fairly new fixtures for playing. Although, this park is marketed as New, Free, Open- it remains sparsely utilized. The Castlewood Park site was a perfect opportunity to pull an otherwise separated community together with the common goal of connecting children to nature, no matter their background. Surveys of our community revealed that a large number of minority residents no longer utilized this beautiful park space to its full potential. Reasons varied from not finding it welcoming to feeling there was not enough representation of their racial or ethnic communities visiting the park. Starting the Plant and Play Coalition has created a platform for local parks, childcare leaders, agricultural leaders and local families to add value back in the natural local habitat we share.
Observing the First Free Play Day at the Park
As I watched families start to trickle into Castlewood Park, the atmosphere felt great. Snapping photos I realized that the nearby monkey bars, jungle gyms and play structures slowly became more vacant, as the children re-emerged on the natural unstructured play areas. Watching the organic playtime was more than just an experience. In a community that suffers from segregation and a history of gentrification, the diverse group of park visitors looked more vibrant that usual.
As a mother in this community, I want my children to feel comfortable visiting all of our community parks. Growing up in Michigan mostly in metropolitan Detroit there were very few fully functional park spaces. I can remember dilapidated metal structures and the absence of parents was common .Not only were the play spaces uninviting they were not what we wanted to play with. I found myself playing with my friends under the metal structures, finding boxes, old empty soda bottles, scraps, and even the grubs, worms and caterpillars. To see this same creative spirit in the children at Castlewood was a moment of reminiscence for me, nostalgic even.
A pile of mulch hosted a group of children creating their own democracy for how to purpose the wood beams that were left near it. Most children used the wood as a balance beam, others stacked them to form a structure. In another area children gathered and created a little village of teepees. In the teepee area the kids wanted nothing more than validation for their ingenuity and creativity. Plungers atop the heads of children reshaped this otherwise bland playspace and transformed it to somewhere and something entirely designed by the children who inhabited the space.
We are offering our community more of these adventure play opportunities. As we continue to network with neighbors and our early childhood educators, we are setting the standard that our children have unrestricted and non-discriminatory opportunities to grow and develop problem solving skills, communication and social skills. As our future citizens the children have a chance to make free play one of the traditions that they share with their community.
Promoting better play times and establishing better play environments is the ultimate goal of the Lexington Castlewood Plant and Play Project. During the summer of 2018, be on the lookout for our pop-up play dates. We are going to take our fun to local childcare centers, parks, recreation centers and schools.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Let’s get ON BOARD! Spread the word to our local childcare organizations that there is FREE continuing education available. The Early Childcare Community Partnership is also excited to schedule field trips for our community’s youth at Castlewood Park’s new Nature Playground. Let’s continue to support our children in outdoor play!