Learning and Playing the Natural Way

In September 2011, Oakhurst Cooperative Preschool moved into a new space, which they are leasing from Thankful Missionary Baptist Church.  Located at 830 W. College Avenue in Decatur, Georgia, the facility offers approximately 4500 square feet for classroom and community activities, as well as over 6000 square feet of green space for outside play, exploration, and gardening.

One of the most exciting parts of the move last year was the opportunity to design and build a new playscape from scratch that reflects the school’s play-based and nature-based curriculum.

The Mark Treadwell Play Garden, named for a beloved member of the OCP community, stretches from Feld Avenue to the back of the church parking lot off Mead Road. It includes tree stumps for sitting and storytelling, vegetable gardens, a composting area, a sand pit, an art wall, a music garden with outdoor drums and xylophones and an “exploratory garden,” where children can explore plants and wildlife with their senses. Instead of traditional playground equipment, the playscape provides tree trunks for climbing and a slide and tunnel built directly into a small hill. A central grass area is surrounded by a looping, curving sidewalk track for tricycle riders.

“Our parents, alumni, and staff worked closely and cooperatively with each other and the landscape architect to design this, and it’s incredibly exciting to see these collective dreams become a reality for the OCP community,” said Meredith Struby, President of OCP’s Board of Directors. School director Betty Wood says the space creates opportunities to expand learning beyond the walls of the classroom. “We wanted natural spaces where children can be creative and really explore with their imagination, and with each other, like in the days before our lives were so structured,” said Wood. “It will allow children to explore in a natural setting the concepts that they’re learning in the classroom, and bring the outdoors in and the indoors out, in their daily experience.”

The master plan was created by landscape architect Elise Cormier of Smart Landscapes, who previously worked on designs for the Atlanta Beltline bike trail and the Stone Mountain Park Nature Garden Trail. Andy Chandler of Gainesville-based Chandler Hardscapes built the playscape, working closely with Decatur-based architect Michelle Krahe, whose daughter attended OCP.  Together they tailored the final design to suit OCP’s specific needs.