Colene Hoose opens a play area designed to enhance child development and their relationship with nature

For most playgrounds, people immediately think of climbing frames, swings and slides. Although the game could be much richer.

Colene Hoose Elementary School opened its new playground on Wednesday morning. But what’s different about this playground is that it incorporates nature on a new level for child development.

The playground will cover 16 acres and is designed by Danish landscape architect Helle Nebelong. It will include an alphabet maze, snail mound, river garden, amphitheater and more to bring elements of nature into the schoolyard.

Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds is constructing the playground. Founder Adam Bienenstock said while aspects of artificial playgrounds like rock climbing are important, this playground will go above and beyond.

“Play is about all your senses. It’s about creating things. It’s about loose parts. It’s about finding little corners that are just right for you. It’s about all the other things” “It’s that magical place that you remember when you’re our age and you look back like that cool thing that you remember doing when you were a kid with your buddies,” Bienenstock said.

Bienenstock said if people have learned anything over the past two years, it’s that health and a strong immune system are important.

“We are wired for this on an evolutionary scale. We are all, in some way, part of nature. But it means more than just in the hokey sense. My father is a world renowned immunologist. [It] it all comes from contact with this biodiverse environment, and children today are spending less and less time in contact with it,” said Bienenstock.

Bienenstock said that if interaction with the outdoors is not part of schools now, he fears children will not have other opportunities to explore through outdoor activities.

“So it’s super important that we start creating these environments that have all of this richness and all of these experiences and all of these senses and all of this macro and microbiota that are so important to our health as part of our everyday experience. To do that at school is pretty much the only place we can be sure they’ll get their fix,” Bienenstock said.

$5 million donation

The playground is made possible by Charlie Jobson, a former student of Colene Hoose Elementary.

Jobson has donated $5 million for construction, and he plans to donate about $200,000 over the next three years for maintenance.

“It’s kind of a special moment for me. I feel good about giving something back to a great community and great teachers and great people in the community,” Jobson said.

Jobson said he first came up with the idea after returning to Normal and after living in Scandinavia, where natural playgrounds are more popular.

Jobson said being back at Normal and donating to Colene Hoose made him think of his parents who had lived in Normal for 40 years.

“I think they would be happy and delighted. In fact, my mother passed away in October. I told her I was going to name the playground after her, and she was happy about that,” Jobson said.

A first render of the new natural playground at Colene Hoose in Normal.

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Courtesy

Going forward, Jobson said he hopes kids can truly connect with nature, use their imaginations and feel right at home in the new playground.

“COVID has really highlighted [that] we need the outdoors and outdoor classrooms are good. It helps children connect with nature, learn to take appropriate risks, and also if they connect with nature when they are children, they will be more likely to care for nature when they grow up.

Jobson said it’s a playground designed to include all children.

“It’s not just the most physically fit or athletic kids who tend to do well in jungle gyms, but kids can have quiet time or play many different types of games. It’s also good for kids with special needs,” Jobson said.

Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle said Jobson’s donation will give thousands of students the chance to re-engage with the outdoors.

“I think a lot of kids today aren’t used to being outside and playing and being really creative and playing freely compared to when I was growing up and maybe students are really going to be able to tap into their imaginations,” Weikle said.

It’s not just the kids at Colene Hoose Elementary who will get a chance to use the playgrounds. Weikle said other Unit 5 schools may visit the playground on field trips, and during the summer months and weekends, anyone in the community is welcome to play and play. explore the new playground.

Adam Bienenstock said it’s not just about creating a fun environment for kids now, it’s also about teaching kids to care about the environment in the long run.

“If you have no way to connect to this when you’re young, how can you love it and deal with it later? So hopefully they do it for another group of kids more late,” Bienenstock said.

Construction is expected to be completed in the fall.

Harold B. McConnell