The construction of the new Herzliah High School left a little-known casualty: the playground of the daycare at the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA.
Parents of the Centre de la Petite Enfance du Centre Communautaire Juif (CPE du CCJ) took matters into their own hands, not only replacing it, but initiating something they say is a first in Quebec.
This month, l’Espace des Explorateurs Sylvan Adams was inaugurated. It’s a park constructed of natural components, primarily logs and other wood products, right down to the chips covering the ground.
Located on the Westbury Avenue side, the park is enclosed by a tall wrought-iron fence and shaded by a canopy of mature trees.
“We raised close to $150,000 to build this innovative natural park for the children to explore, learn and grow in nature,” said Orly Fayer, the co-chair of fundraising. In addition, Madev Construction contributed almost $50,000 in kind.
The lead donor was Adams, the philanthropist for whom the Y was renamed and Herzliah named its new campus. Adams, who has lived in Israel since 2015, was on hand for l’Espace’s official opening.
Adams said that reaching Jewish children at early age through a daycare at a JCC is important in ensuring Jewish continuity.
With our children “growing up in a digital age of smartphones, iPads and Netflix, we felt strongly about providing an experience of exploring nature, where the children can spend time outside year-round,” said Fayer. “It’s more than a park; it is an outdoor classroom with lots of incredible tools for learning and developing through play.”
The public, government-subsidized daycare has 180 spaces. Fayer’s eldest child just “graduated,” her middle one has finished her second year and the youngest is starting in September.
The kids certainly seemed thrilled with the concept, as they ran around trying the variety of play stations. In the centre, intersecting tree trunks provide a frame for a rope ladder to climb on.
A sand pit is bordered by a wooden frame and contains simple wooden toys. A mini soccer pitch has a similar rustic look.
A xylophone of wooden slats hangs from a branch. Old-fashioned chalkboards are something new and interesting for these preschoolers.
The idea is to bring the classroom into the outdoors.
– Selina Itzkowitz
Pint-sized picnic tables scattered around the area invite the children to try different art supplies, or use their imagination with plastic animals or puzzles. The “mud kitchen,” in which children knead and shape coloured Play-Doh, was especially popular.
The playground also has log benches and chairs carved out of large tree trunks to relax in.
“The idea is to bring the classroom into the outdoors,” said CPE du CCJ administrative director Selina Itzkowitz. “There are cabinets outside, stocked with everything we need.”
The daycare had actually been looking to improve its playground well before work began on Herzliah. Itzkowitz said architects were consulted, but their plans came up with “everything artificial.”
Then, in 2013, she and director Alegre Mizrahi attended a pedagogical conference in Washington, D.C., where they learned of a company that specializes in all-natural parks. Luckily, it was based in Toronto.
Fayer added that the project was “100 per cent guided and driven by the passionate parent committee.
“We did everything ourselves, from the fundraising, to getting city permits, to graphics and printing. There was a parent who specializes in each field behind every initiative.”