Trinity Lutheran’s new outdoor activity area provides fun hands-on learning
Young artists create masterpieces at the art station that is part of Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center’s new outdoor activity area. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
Cheryl Schiel, administrator at Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center, helps a youngster use tweezers to pull kernels off of a corn cobb and examine it with a magnifying glass at one of the stations that is part of the school’s new outdoor activity area. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
The quiet area inside Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center’s outdoor activity area for younger preschoolers, age two-and-a-half, is the perfect place to read a book, snuggle with a stuffed animal or just sit quietly by yourself. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center’s outdoor activity area is divided into two sections, one for older preschoolers and this area for the younger ones, age two-and-half. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
Preschoolers explore the kitchen station that is part of Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center’s new outdoor activity area. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
A race track station provides fun for preschoolers at Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center. It is one of several stations in the school’s new outdoor activity area. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
Preschoolers explore farm life with various animals at one of the stations that is part of Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center’s new outdoor activity area. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
A nature station and dinosaur station are among the activities that are part of Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center’s new outdoor activity area. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center’s new outdoor activity area also includes a space for preschoolers to build their own creations. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
Take to the stage to give a rock and roll performance, prepare a meal in the kitchen, closely examine an ear of corn with a magnifying glass and then use tweezers to pull kernels off the cob, or send your car flying down a winding race track. Preschoolers at Trinity Lutheran Early Education Center are able to do all of that and much more in the school’s new outdoor activity area.
The new activity area, which is much more than just a playground, was funded through a $58,000 grant from the Logan County Department of Human Services, which covered the cost of construction as well as the materials. Schiel Construction was selected to build the various components that are part of the play area, because they really understood what the school was looking to do.
“It was a vision that we had that we wanted the kids of Northeast Colorado to have the same opportunities as the kids in urban areas,” said Cheryl Schiel.
Schiel serves as administrator at the school, while Andrea Abarca is the preschool director and Tisha Gutierrez-Mullennix is the school-age director. The school is licensed to serve 81 in the school-age program, which was started to fill the need when RE-1 Valley School District moved to a four-day school week, and 60 in the preschool education program, and they are full with a waiting list right now.
One of the most important things to the school when it was designing the activity area was that it was quality and that students could get outside and hit all the markers for state requirements, Schiel said. To that end, the activity area, which was designed to allow up to three classes to use it at the same time, includes multiple stations focused on arts, manipulatives, building, creating and “just exploring things through different hands-on stuff.”
At an art station children can paint their own creations; a kitchen area allows them to cook meals and practice cleaning up too; a small stage includes drums, a guitar, tambourines and a microphone for a musical performance, as well as costumes to put on a theater production; and wooden play tables house different activity sets including a farm with animals, a construction site, a prehistoric forest filled with dinosaurs and a nature site, filled with rocks, sticks and leaves.
There is also an area where youngsters can sit and build their own creations, a teepee where the children like to pretend to enjoy eating smores and a gardening area, which Schiel said they plan to do more with next year when it planting time comes around again, as well as a quiet area to sit and read or snuggle with a stuffed animal.
The outdoor play area is separated into two parts, one for the older preschools and another for the two and a half year-olds, which includes similar play tables but with different activity sets that are made for their age group, mainly just slightly larger so they aren’t a choking hazard. The activity sets on the play tables in both areas are changed every two to three weeks to expose the students to as much as possible; the next switch will include a helicopter table and a railroad table.
“Everybody is so happy, it turned out exactly the way we wanted it to,” Schiel said.
Previously, with just the jungle gym, sandbox and tricycle hill, there was a lot of boredom after the preschoolers had been outside for any length of time. Now they’re always active, “they can just go from one thing to another and there are almost no behavior issues, except for some possessiveness sometimes, you know – ‘I want that,’” Schiel said.
The new play area is clearly a hit.
“I love it so much,” declared one preschooler while sending a car zooming down the racetrack set up at one of the stations.
Not only do the preschoolers love it, but the older children too. Due to state regulations, school-age children aren’t allowed to share the same space though, which is why Trinity Lutheran is excited to be receiving another grant from Logan County DHS, this time for $115,000 to build a completely new outdoor activity area for ages five to 12, which will be located on the other side of the school.
“We have an amazing Department of Human Services; they truly understand investing in our community, the youth and children. Of course, their funding flows through Logan County and the county commissioners are very much that same way too,” Schiel said.
The school-age activity area will focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning, with a weather station, pottery wheels, and a mechanical station where students can take apart watches, clocks and other items and also build their derby cars for the derby races the school holds every summer.
“One of the things we’ve found is these kids get such cabin fever. We have 81 school-age kids in the summer and to get them out of the classroom and applying the concepts they’ve learned, really these students, as well as the preschool-age students, learn best when they’re able to actively touch, feel and make,” Schiel said.
Construction on the school-age activity area will start on Nov. 1, it will again be done by Schiel Construction in order to keep it consistent and give it the same look as the preschool area.