By Carl Blankenship
SALISBURY – St. John’s Lutheran Church is replacing its playground with an Outdoor Learning Center for its Child Development Center.
The OLE will replace the traditional playground with trees, rocks, streams, gardens, water play, and a lawn. The design eliminates static structures and rubberized mats with the goal of no longer taking the child out of a natural environment
The OLE is a joint venture of the development center, the Catawba College Center for the Environment, and the N.C. State Natural Learning Initiative. Teachers are being trained in “outdoor learning,” and volunteers will help manage raised garden areas.
The park is across the street from Bell Tower Green.
The project will provide space for outdoor classrooms, natural sensory play, and sand and water play. Kids will get the chance to grow produce, learn about animal habitats, and access timber decks and paths.
Outdoor learning environments are “designed to promote health by increasing physical activity, healthy eating, and positive social interactions. Exposure to nature has many beneficial effects, including boosting young immune systems and protecting children from onset of allergies,” according to the NLI.
The NLI’s research demonstrates benefits to children through outdoor play. Outdoor play can enhance problem-solving, academics, help students pay attention and reduce stress.
The initiative maintains a host of activities and education material on the outdoors
NLI’s “Why Naturalize Outdoor Learning Environments” also notes improvements in creativity, problem-solving skills, overall academics, reduced attention deficit disorder symptoms, and reduced stress.
The NLI also maintains activity resources and guides for creating natural play areas.