Why would anyone ask adults to design a playground? Yes, clearly it would be safe and sound, but what about all that we, as adults, can no longer see? And most importantly, what about all we can no longer imagine?
One of the things that drew me to Essex Elementary School (EES) was the Eagles Nest playground. We had come from a school in California that was rather dreamy. It had gardens, orchards and even farm animals. We knew that EES was a good school (we would come to know that it is, in fact, a truly great school) but it looked a little not-so-dreamy as we drove by the front. But then, THEN, we came around the back and found the Eagles Nest playground. A weathered wooden wonderland! A magical world to be explored, discovered, conquered, and all with a sense of devil may care; It shone.
So now that the beloved Eagles Nest must be replaced, Working Group Co-facilitators Jess Yurwitz and Jake Foster are looking to the community for input on how to recreate the Nest. Lest we forget that Eagles Nest is the glorious result of a community build that took place in 1987. Many of those who helped build it are still here in Essex with grandchildren at the school. In the spirit of the Nest’s history, the working group is considering another community build.
They have begun very wisely by reaching out to the Essex Youth Commission Teen Committee, all of whose members grew up on the playground, to learn more about what makes the Eagles Nest special to them.
The teens were very clear: The space is open to the imagination. As in, not clearly anything. Not a ship. Not a castle. But you could easily imagine it being either, both, or something else entirely. The number of small spaces the playground has adds to a sense of mystery, while also offering a place for quiet play, or even sanctuary. The wood is important to the teens in that it gives the Nest the feeling of a forest hideaway, something natural which integrates perfectly with the nearby pond and forest. Mulch is essential. (No adult would have guessed this.) The group explained that the mulch is the only “toy” on the playground. It is used as currency to set up “shops”, as well as something to stack, build, and jump in. The Nest gave the teens a sense of diversity of experience and inclusiveness for its ability to accommodate both large and small group play simultaneously. And, this is my favorite — the illusion of danger. Stretches that felt risky and even a little scary. As Wyeth Takayesu explained, “Every little kid wants to be an adventurer.”
Teens are not the only young people weighing in. An Essex Elementary student survey has been designed by fifth graders Charlie Baker and Alex Hatfield. The survey has been created in pictures so that it can be “read” and answered by even the youngest EES students.
All of these details will be considered by Foster and Yurwitz in moving forward with the project. A community forum and adult survey are being planned for later this month and the next planning meeting will be this Monday, March 16 at 3:30pm at Essex Elementary. Anyone wishing to contribute comments, ideas, or stories are all encouraged to attend or send them along to Jess Yurwitz at email@example.com.
It is noteworthy that after the meeting, which took place at the Essex Senior Center, the group of teens headed over to the Eagles Nest to hang out, run around, and — have an adventure.
Kris McGinn Straub is based in Essex and writes about whatever topic interests her from around Cape Ann. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.