We know that today’s children are suffering a disconnect from the natural world. The lure of screens keeps even the youngest among us inside and inactive. Most playgrounds feature static plastic and metal equipment over rubber surfaces surrounded by chain link fencing. So even when children get outdoors, they still don’t encounter nature or natural materials, let alone experience, the beauty and sustenance of the natural world. We set out to make some dramatic changes - some might even say magical changes - to that story here at First Church Preschool.
God started humanity in a garden environment. It’s no wonder that research demonstrates a myriad of benefits gained from being in nature; it’s all part of God’s perfect design. We used the poetic Genesis Creation Story to provide a framework for the rich habitat we envisioned for the new play yard. We wondered what the Garden would have included had it been set in eastern Tennessee. Upon that beginning, we cleverly utilized landmarks from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to give our story a bit of a local context. Then woven throughout, we embedded opportunities for early childhood development and education.
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
The creator is poised to begin. It is quiet, but there is palpable anticipation. The materials are at the ready, waiting for the creator’s handiwork to give them form and intention.
3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.
The creator understood the mesmerizing characteristics of light and the mystery of light and dark interacting.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning--the second day.
Air and water - two fundamental earth elements, which all creatures and vegetation need to survive.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.
The abundance of vegetation and the seeds to reproduce according to its kind.
14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. 16 God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning--the fourth day.
The wonder of the sun moving across the sky.
The creator set the stars in the night sky and ever since the creation of man, we have been lured by their distance, their shimmer, their secrets.
20 And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." 23 And there was evening, and there was morning--the fifth day.
Birds flying, swooping, diving, gliding - endlessly fascinating. The great creatures of the sea swimming, darting, filling the water with pulsating activity.
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." 29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day.
So many creatures upon the earth, such infinite variety. Then the creator finishes his work by creating man and woman in his own image.
He calls his work VERY GOOD. The garden in now given to the man and woman.
OTHER ELEMENTS OF NOTE found in FIRST GARDEN:
The Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway
The charming cloverleaf sidewalk, which winds through the play yard, represents the ‘Appalachian Trail’ where the children can engage with several physically challenging elements such as ‘Mount LeConte’ (a tire climbing mound), Stump Stepper balancing paths, ‘Clingman’s Dome’ (a geodesic climber), and the Cargo Net Climber and Slack Line Challenge element as they hike along. The children may also enjoy stopping by the Dust of the Earth sand-digging pit. The second half of the sidewalk accommodates riding and push toys — the ‘Blue Ridge Parkway’ — and travels right through the tunnel under the rock hill and embankment slide.
Elkmont, Cade’s Cove, Look Rock
The existing hill has been made more prominent and features an amazing boulder climbing opportunity. This topographical variation gives the children a new perspective when atop it. Here the children will find the Day and Night house (paying homage to the historically significant Adamless Eden playhouse in the Elkmont community) and represents the first day of creation with its interesting day and night skylights. Custom-created instruments stretch along 'Cades Cove' and include the Knoxville Skyline Chimes and a Fungiphone (mushroom-shaped whale drum).
Look Rock, an observation point, juts out over the Bear Cave. The children can survey all of First Garden by gazing through one of the three Peering Posts - these representing “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
Sweet Gum Point - a deck with seating and a pergola over it, serves as a place for the children to rest, swap stories, read books, sketch in nature journals, or put on puppet shows.
In the center, grounding the design, is the “Tree of Life.” Although the new tree may not be the same species as was found in the Garden of Eden, it will grow lush and beautiful and be seasonally interesting, nonetheless!
*FIRST GARDEN designed by PLAYceMaker.com
*FIRST GARDEN constructed and installed by earthadelic.com
*FIRST GARDEN crafted elements by TheGritShop.com