Early Childhood Playspace Groundbreaking This Summer

March 22, 2021


In 2019, we began piloting earth and environmental learning programs for our youngest learners with the input from educators. Our 2019 Preschool Nature Day had record turnout, confirming the need for pre-K environmental learning programs in our community. 

Realizing that our facility and terrain are too rugged for young children, we began to envision an area that would be safe for young children to explore while maintaining our unique Sonoran desert character, and our ethos of discovery and hands-on learning.

We brought together designers and preschool educators to help conceptualize our Nature Playspace, an approximately 5200 square-foot area adjacent to our main gathering ramada where students often eat meals and receive instruction while shaded from the sun.


Thanks to funding from the Ohio Children's Foundation, we are excited to break ground on this project soon, with an aim to complete construction and welcome our first visitors this fall.


Design goals include:

  • Maintain native desert appearance

  • Low cost installation and maintenance

  • Foster positive experiences and ecological understandings aimed at 3-5 year old students and their caregivers

  • Support groups of up to 40 students at one time

  • Minimize hazards (critters, pokey plants, etc.)

  • Create distinct gathering areas, diverse activity settings, areas for small group instruction, areas for imaginative play & exploration

  • Maintain accessibility for students who are differently-abled

  • Potential utilization of space by older students when needed


Design elements:

  1. Nature Art Area - Arrivals, departures and meals take place under the open, central ramada.  Includes a welcome sign, loose parts area, storage cabinets, stumps and boulders for sitting and balancing.
  2. Pathways for Access & Play - Looping primary pathway (five feet wide) made of stabilized DG (decomposed granite) provides for circulation while maintaining wheelchair accessibility.  Three foot wide secondary pathway made from native soil invites children to slow down and explore their surroundings. Play path boulders encourage balancing, jumping and active play.  Dense foliage next to secondary pathways will foster a sense of excitement and exploring beyond the principal activity setting.
  3. Boundary for Safety - A low boundary of three foot high decorative, welded rebar and Ocotillo canes defines are while maintaining natural feel.
  4. Seating for Caregivers - Three eight foot long rammed earth benches provide seating that disappears into the surroundings.  Benches will be positioned to offer clear line of sight to all areas. Shaded picnic tables under ramada will provide an elevated view of play area.
  5. Tortoise Hollow - A tunnel of pruned, mature shrubs affords quiet, imaginative play, and a "secret" kids sized passageway to digging area.
  6. Little Diggers - Area of dirt play for excavation, building, geology exploration, topography and watershed curriculum activities.
  7. Cactus Wren Corner - Shaded space for gathering, circle time, observing wildlife, demonstrating habitat features.  Adjacent to dense native vegetation that will serve as habitat for birds and lizards.
  8. Water Harvesting Features - Throughout site, systems of berms and basins will help control erosion, and create planting areas to establish additional shade trees without irrigation.

Construction will begin this spring and will wrap up in fall of 2021.  While we can't anticipate with certainty our fall re-opening plans, we are hoping to begin seeing students in person in October 2021, unveiling our new Nature Playspace, Demonstration Garden, and new Bathrooms & Showers facilities.