NAHANT — The Johnson Elementary School broke ground on a new, forest playground inspired by nature just in time for Earth Day.
Students, volunteers, and contractors are using the natural elements of the Heritage Trail behind the school to create a forest playground using dirt, wood, rocks, and the landscape to foster imaginative learning and playing.
“It has really been fun to be a part of it,” said student council vice president Isabelle Skabeikis, 11. “It’s not just older people building it. We get to be a part of it, too. Someday we can say ‘I helped build this park.’ It’s an accomplishment.”
Preparations for the construction of the playground began a year ago. The area was cleared of trees, poison ivy, and other elements and the kids started moving around logs to get a feel for the park’s design. The children hand-drilled wood to create a fence and helped dig and place logs in holes to create tables and seats.
Using the natural landscape, a slide and a cave will be built into a hill, and logs will be half-buried to create barriers, seating, and even tables. Flowers will be planted by junior gardeners of the Garden Club surrounding the slide.
Encouraging the children to create their own play space out of nature promotes social and emotional growth, said Principal Kevin Andrews. He envisions young children discovering and taking interest in unique rocks, and making gnome hats out of acorn tops, and putting them on display on a wooden stump to show their peers.
Students at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School in Danvers created a cave, sluice, slide, artifact table, and a bulletin board for the park. They’ve taken on much of the heavy lifting for the project.
“We are eager to begin to utilize the forest playground to explore nature, hold class meetings, or just unwind from a busy morning of math and language arts lessons,” said Andrews, who hopes this will be the first in a series of outdoor learning and play initiatives that will bring students outside and sunlight inside.
“It’s another wonderful jewel that makes it so unique here in Nahant,” said School Committee member Lori Ballantine.
Most of the work will be done at little to no cost. Andrews anticipates the complete playground will be finished for less than $3,000. A typical playground with equipment costs between $40,000 and $50,000, he said.
Residents who want to help create the playground can contact Andrews at the Johnson Elementary School.
Construction on the natural playground is expected to be complete mid-May 2019.