This story previously did not include the full name of the university where Mary Rivkin is a professor. The error has been corrected in this version.
WINTHROP — Just as a stick becomes a gun for one child, and a spoon for another, a log turns into a boat or a rocket ship, says Ina Clark. When one child climbs off, it becomes something else for the next child who climbs on.
Clark is a parent, and the driving force behind a new natural playground at the Methow Valley Elementary School.
Children returned to the school this fall to find logs, boulders, bark pathways and a wooden footbridge filling a corner of the playground that used to be off-limits.
“I believe this is the most used part of the playground,” Clark said of the area where the natural world rules.
Like the children who play here, Clark sees one of the logs here in many different ways.
Sometimes, it’s a link to nature.
Other times, it’s an option to swings, slides and dodgeball.
And sometimes, it’s a comfort zone for a young student who feels vulnerable in the huge open space of a playground.
“I just love the thought of the little ones especially, instead of the playground feeling big and intimidating, they have this little safe harbor,” she said.
School principal Brian Patrick agrees.
What child in the Methow isn’t familiar with a log or a rock? he asked.
The natural playground can spur conversations about science, and the natural world, he said.
And although the logs and boulders may be perfect sitting spots, kids are using them for active play.
“They make up games, like following each other through the hole, or jumping off the log and doing tricks when they land in the bark. Look at this! They made a little nest,” Patrick said, pointing out a shelf in the sanded log’s roots where someone arranged bark and small stones to look like a bird’s nest with eggs.
Greg Knott, a member of the Winthrop Kiwanis board, said the benefits of climbing on logs and jumping off rocks were obvious to his group, which committed $3,000
After plans were drawn up, Kiwanians solicited about $10,000 worth of volunteer labor and donated materials and got part of the new playground ready for this school year.
Before presenting her idea to the Kiwanis, Clark visited natural playgrounds, and saw photos of several more taken by her mother-in-law, Mary Rivkin, an early-childhood education professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
In a telephone interview, Rivkin said study after study have shown the importance of spending time with nature. From fighting obesity or attention-deficit disorder to raising test scores and reducing stress, studies find that time spent in woods, fields and other natural areas benefits children.
But ask a kid today where they like to be, and too many of them say inside in front of a screen, she said.
Rivkin said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no “screen time” for children under 2, and no more than an hour a day for older kids.
“I don’t think many parents observe that,” she said.
In the works for next year are a stone maze, a quiet area protected by berms planted with natural vegetation, and an amphitheater built into a hill that can serve as an outdoor stage with two large tube slides on either side. The Kiwanis is committed to completing the project, Knott said, although more donated time and materials, and possibly funds, will be necessary.
“It’s fairly amazing to be out there at recess and watch the kids beelining for that,” he said of the new play area.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512