Monday, September 22, 2014

Early Learning Center Natural Playground Open House

This last weekend we checked out the Early Learning Center's Natural Playground. It is based at Granger Community Church. I must say, my 5-year-old was a little hesitant in going; however, as we left, I was encouraged by my efforts to attend. Look at what he said at the end!

Fall fun day decorations were out to welcome us! There were also plenty of refreshments as well. It was nice to take a break and have a treat. 

We have been to this natural play area a few times and expect we'll go more often with increased shopping options in the area. We love it! See our adventures here.  It makes me happy to just be there. There are a couple of sculptures, such as this one with many names of Jesus and another with various animals.


There are places to climb and appropriate challenges throughout the play area. I have brought all my children here and the older boys (then 9 and 7) enjoyed it too.

The natural materials lend themselves to watch the natural cycle of regeneration. We found fungi to explore in various parts of the area.

There is also a garden area with many things to explore. We had to check out the strawberry patch and, sure enough, there were some getting ripe each day. My 5-year-old was so gentle with them as he investigated, without harming, the berries. 


There are several places to sit and gather, such as this small amphitheater and the bench to the right. Benches are scattered throughout the area. 

There was a big difference between how the 5 and 2-year-olds interacted in the space. The older son was pretty independent, feeling like he was in his element. The younger son didn't quite have the balance and confidence of negotiating the same nature risks. While he will still strike out on his own, he needed a little help going up and down things sometimes. 

The sand pit was a GREAT hit! There are storage areas nearby for all the toys and the space is covered up when not in use, keeping it clean. The boys would have stayed here all day. Toward the end of the event, we started picking up our toys and nearby families followed our lead. All the toys were picked up in just a few minutes. Many hands make light work!

There is a water feature surrounded by flowers as well. Running water is always fun and the flowers are a great backdrop for watching pollination, exploring colors, and investigating plants. 

One of my favorite areas is the dry creek bed that goes down the hill. There are several levels of challenges to cross to the other side. Bikes are stored for the preschool in the building at the top of the rocks. They are also working on a new pavilion that can house tables, additional storage, bathrooms, and the like. 


While I absolutely love this play area just on it's own, the learning center also had special activities for the fall fun. Various animals were available to pet and examine closely. Children could bob or dip for apples. I liked that there were spoon or tong options in case we didn't want faces in the water.

Children could also explore corn in the sensory bins. Scooping, pouring, and sifting are perfect for small hands. To be honest, my older kids would like it too! I loved the pumpkin construction site, with hammers and golf tees available for pounding in the pumpkins! We will borrow this idea for an activity soon! There was also face painting, but my sons haven't been too keen on that yet. 

We also went on a wagon ride. We went all over the Granger Community Church's campus, passing through the bird sanctuary, viewing the pond and ducks, and checking out the disc golf on the back of the property. It's a beautiful campus!


We had a delightful afternoon, spending about 2 hours there, happily exploring the whole time. We probably could have stayed for longer as well. I appreciate this is open to the public and am very impressed with the leadership, teachers, and curriculum of the learning center itself. If you are looking for a preschool, this is an excellent, nature-based choice in the area. See pictures from a visit I had here.

Remember my reluctant kindergarten child? After spending time outside here, he asked to go to the nature center in Elkhart and if he could visit "nature preschool" again, going so far as to ask to "help" on days when he doesn't have school. Spending some time exposed to a great natural space encouraged him to spend even more time outside! I love it! The goals for the Natural Playground follow:

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

These were all met (and then some!) through our time there! Thanks GCC and the Early Learning Center!