Kitsap Community Resources Early Learning and Family Services
Smith Natural Play Park
Smith Natural Play Park has become a learning trip destination for local preschools and parent play groups.
With all of the permanently fixed equipment the park is always available to the public, however when groups specifically contact Kitsap Community Resources, the staff enhances the environment with additional materials to fully create a classroom experience outdoors. During the summer months, the park is experiencing three to five learning trips per week. Parents also contact staff to use the park and equipment for birthday parties.
For ongoing family engagement, Parent Child Activity Days for the Early Head Start Home Based program are held in the park three to four times per year. These are days in which a facilitated play group for parents and their children, ages birth to three years, come together and explore nature. The Head Start and ECEAP classes hold learning trips as well which include children and their parents so that they may explore the park together. At the end of the school year these classes are also able to gather at the park for a year end celebration for children and families.
The park continues to be maintained through parent and community volunteerism. Parent volunteers gather about once per month during the winter months and twice per month spring and summer to do maintenance in the park and garden. The number of volunteers varies each work day. Typically, two or three families regularly participate, but on some work days there have been up to seven families.
The Kitsap Community Resources park continues to be divided into 10 distinct learning areas. The Open grassy space invites large body movement. The three tiered climbing structure, stepping stumps and log balance beam allow for climbing, jumping and imaginative play. The low stage is a magical place where children can act out their own stories. Props of fabrics, nature items, and dress up clothes can all be brought into the area to help prompt imaginative play. Picnic tables and log seating are available for audiences of any age.
The circular maze with three entry and exit points makes following it easy for young children. Low growing huckleberry plants native to Northwest were planted to create the maze. Under the shade of a large existing tree, a large whale drum (oil drum), glockenspiel, and outdoor marimba are permanently anchored into the ground. This year, a pebble harp was added to the area. Other enhancements, including hand held instruments, scarves, ribbon streamers, and more are used to encourage children to explore music and move freely to their own beat.
A log border, which also acts as extra seating, surrounds the Arts and Messy Play Areas. Large tree rounds are used for tables with tree stump seating. Art materials and items, such as clipboards, pencils, and magnifying glasses, to encourage observations are available for children to use. A permanently anchored art easel and exploration table has been added to the area this year.
A willow serves as an entry into the Building Area. This area has flooring made of tree cookies allowing for children to build on a hard surface just as they would in an indoor classroom environment. Multiple building supplies are available for children to explore including unit blocks, large hollow blocks, and tree blocks.
At the top of a small hill sits a fountain that sprays up and flows down a creek bed to a swale at the bottom of the hill. Water loving plants surround the swale and are fed by the water feature. This water feature is in the middle of two sandy areas that are perfect for digging. The depth of the sand is about three feet and children can dig away, use water to hold sand together or create fun muddy areas. Log seating borders the edge allowing adults to sit and observe or participate at a different level.
A small area of the park was designed for use by infants and toddlers. In the infant sensory garden, a floor of different varieties of thyme and moss create a wonderfully textured carpet for babies to crawl on. They can pull themselves up to a low garden bed, the height of which is perfect for cruising along and touching the plants. All plants were chosen due to varied textures, scents, colors, and edible elements. A small water feature allows infants & toddlers to enjoy the sound of running water while they play. A low fence contains the crawling area allowing infants to explore freely while their more active and mobile toddler counterparts have an open area adjacent to the fencing.
A large, enclosed community garden is already in place. This garden was built about six years ago and started the concept of natural spaces for children in the program. Adults and children grow vegetables, fruits, and flowers throughout the year. Food harvested in the garden also is brought indoors to taste and explore. Staff professional development this year included attending Growing Kids in the Garden and Growing Up Wild.