Playgrounds are not just for getting dirty any more. They’re for getting wet, getting musical, and getting back to nature.
Just ask the kids playing at Peck Farm’s new playground in Geneva, something I did while waiting for my wife to walk around the park.
“I love it,” Avery Davies told me one sunny spring afternoon, then picked up a drumstick and beat out a tune on strung-together wooden blocks.
“We’re from Bloomingdale,” Tina, her mother, said, “here for a soccer game,” which explains Avery’s blue jersey. “Did you see the finches?”
In a pair of long-needle pine trees, a goldfinch choir sings, several yellow orbs ornamenting emerald branches.
In another area, one girl works an old-fashioned, long-handled water pump while another girl holds a blue plastic bucket beneath the spout. They carry the water to what resembles a wooden 19th century bathtub, pour in their cargo, and return.
“We live in Elburn,” said Suzanne Breedlove. “Allison, in green, is my daughter; Lauren is her cousin. I told them they couldn’t get wet.”
“Good luck with that,” I chuckled, then told the girls, “You’re really good at getting water.”
“Thank you,” they replied, unfazed by the interruption, now filling a trough connected to a wooden board as tall and wide as a classroom whiteboard.
“They’re making mud,” Suzanne said.
The water covered a layer of dirt, then was stirred with sticks that turn into paintbrushes dripping with brown paint with which they started their masterpiece of lines, circles and curlicues.
“There is a tremendous amount of activity in a very small space,” wrote the project manager at Hitchcock Design Group, Eric F. Hornig, when I emailed questions about Hawks Hollow Nature Playground. “There are obvious play activities like the slide, climbers and stream, but we encourage visitors to look deeper at the multiple layers of detailing ... lessons about soil, footprints, insects, birds, history and much more.”
Asked how designers incorporated the surrounding area, Hornig replied, “We modeled our bird theme after species present in an Illinois prairie, used native plants to merge the two landscapes and took advantage of the breathtaking views with the Raptors Roost and Hawks Nest.”
Hornig’s favorite part of the playground is the “Falconer’s Message Center, a pulley and basket that encourages children to hoist walnuts, acorns and other seeds up to the top deck. Once there and met by another person, they can be placed inside an open runnel system that rolls them back down into a barrel, where they can be sent up again. It promotes good communication, cooperation and smiles.”
Finally, Hornig lauded “the Geneva Park District and their volunteers. [They] installed all the plants, and volunteers helped build the nests and beaver lodge. The log benches and other items were hand crafted by their staff. Something they should take great pride in.”
I see my wife sitting on one of those benches. Leaving the playground, I wish I were 10 again. What’s not to like about painting with mud?
• Rick Holinger has lived in the Fox Valley since 1979. He teaches high school in Aurora, and his poetry, fiction, essays, criticism and book reviews have appeared in numerous national literary journals. He founded and facilitates the St. Charles Writers Group. Degrees include a Ph.D. in creative writing. Contact him at email@example.com.