Power of Play: Clark County kids take lead in children’s playspace design

For sixth grader Lilly Florence, becoming a member of the Youth Design Team for Project 1107’s children’s adventure area gave her a taste of what she might want to do when she grows up – become a designer.
“Building a model was the most fun part,” Florence said. “I’m thinking about going to EKU for college, and I think this is something that I would love to do in the future.”

Florence was part of the 25-member team of Clark County children in grades fourth through sixth that took part in four days of workshops hosted by The Greater Clark Foundation (GCF) and presented by Learning Landscapes Design.
“We’re building these stations to show what kind of things we’ll have at the community playground,” said Laiauna Golden, a sixth grader on the Youth Design Team who was working on the water station. The children’s creation consisted of a pump that moved water down a series of tubes that turned and gradually lowered into a bucket at the end.

“The kids learned about the power of play and the different types of play that we have such as climbing, jumping, active play, loose parts,” said Beth Jones, GCF project manager. “Then, they presented their ideas for the children’s area to community members.”

Creative kids’ playspaces are becoming more common across the country, but having children work alongside the designers from the very beginning of the process is rare. “Kids spaces are stronger and there’s more ownership if the ideas come from the kids and from the community,” said Michelle Mathis, principal at Learning Landscapes Design.

The Youth Design Team is made up of a diverse group of children, including those in public, private and home schools.

“I’m working with the sand,” said sixth grader Jackson Woods, pointing to tubs of sand with natural objects like acorns and pine cones being used to build imaginative structures. “I have cerebral palsy. They feel like I can give good advice and I have.”

“Over the last three generations, we have seen a huge decrease in the amount of free play that children participate in,” said Jen Algire, GCF president and chief executive officer. “The skills that we need to learn to help us grow into healthy, strong adults are no longer being learned through play. Things like balance, decision making, dialogue, cooperation, how to deal with conflict and how to be a leader and a follower. That’s why this playspace is so important to our community.”

Shannon Williams’ son Elijah is a member of the Youth Design Team. He says kids are the best people to ask what to include in the new children’s area. “I hope that my kids get to engage and participate in a community that is safe and inspires them and fosters imagination and creativity and collectivity with other people.”
Lae Lae Gonzalez said she thought about her younger brother while brainstorming ideas for the park. “He’ll be playing on it like crazy. He loves playing outside.”

“We’re asking the kids what they want and really listening to them,” said Mathis. “We’re really going to base the design on their ideas.” The children will review the initial plans and be invited on-site to see the playspace become reality once construction begins.

“We’re inspiring future designers, architects, engineers, mathematicians, dancers, and storytellers,” Algire said. “This speaks to GCF’s efforts of building capacity in Clark County. These kids are now experts in children’s playspaces.”

“We’d like to really thank the children and the Youth Design Team that have been a part of this,” said Jones. “They gave their time and talent to the process and, because of their hard work, our community is going to have an amazing play area.”

Project 1107 is an imaginative public green space, being created by GCF, that will establish a legacy of well-being in the Clark County community. It will transform the nearly 30 acres of land that was the site of Winchester’s Clark Regional Medical Center into an iconic space that will draw visitors from the region. Aside from the children’s playspace, there will be trails, native plants, large lawns, and event spaces. Work continues to prepare the site for groundbreaking, which is expected in late 2017.