The Grace Lutheran Child Learning Center in Sahuarita underwent a remarkable transformation from a mere dirt lot to an expansive outdoor education area. Recently, the center celebrated this significant achievement with a ribbon-cutting event, marking the inauguration of the space for the children’s use.
Director’s Vision: Beyond a Playground
Laura Heiman, the Learning Center Director, observed that this new addition transcends the conventional concept of a playground. It offers a realm for outdoor learning, acknowledged to be immensely beneficial for children’s holistic development. Additionally, the expansion caters to the increasing enrollment at the center, providing much-needed extra space for educational activities and play.
Features of the New Space
The newly developed area boasts several features designed for educational and recreational purposes:
1. Pergolas with Sensory Amenities
These structures serve as multifunctional spaces for math lessons and other sensory-based activities, enhancing the learning experience.
2. Mud Stations for Art and Creative Classes
Dedicated areas where children can engage in artistic activities, fostering creativity through interaction with natural materials.
3. Concrete Tricycle and Scooter Course
A specially constructed course designed to promote physical activity and coordination among the children.
4. Native Plants and Garden Boxes
Carefully curated native flora, arranged in garden boxes, creating a vibrant and immersive learning environment.
Collaborative Efforts and Funding
The selection and placement of child-friendly plants were made possible through collaboration with Native Gardens of Green Valley. Funding for the Art and Nature Garden came from various grants, with substantial contributions of $200,000 from Freeport-McMoRan and the state of Arizona. These grants were administered through nonprofit and federal sources.
Volunteer Contribution and Community Support
Volunteer efforts played a significant role in this transformation. While Pastor Ryan Heiman mentioned the substantial volunteer hours spent on the church’s chapel and learning center, Laura emphasized that the garden project primarily relied on local volunteers—parents, staff, and church members dedicating countless hours to the initiative.
Execution and University Support
Planning and execution for the garden commenced in 2021 after securing the Freeport grant. The University of Arizona also played a pivotal role, offering support through a program that provided a graduate student to assist in designing the outdoor space.
Broadening Access and Community Engagement
Although primarily tailored for toddlers through age 4, the garden area will be accessible to older children participating in the learning center’s afterschool program. Moreover, it serves as a social hub, fostering community engagement by hosting events like ‘Grown-ups in the Garden,’ providing a comfortable space for parents to interact during drop-offs.
Fulfilling a Community Need
The establishment of the Grace Lutheran Child Learning Center was in response to a community demand for increased childcare facilities. This center emerged as a result of comprehensive surveys conducted prior to construction, confirming the community’s requirement for such a facility.
Acknowledging Community Support
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, representatives from Freeport, local businesses, and town officials joined around 50 community and staff members. Their presence highlighted the robust support from various organizations that contributed grants, showcasing a united effort to fulfill the community’s needs.
Embracing the Future
The successful transformation from a dirt lot to a vibrant educational space stands as a testament to the power of community collaboration and dedication. As the center continues to evolve, it promises to serve as a cornerstone for educational growth and community engagement, providing a nurturing environment for generations to come.