Preschool playground at Crocker Farm Elementary School in Amherst officially opens

  • Amherst Public Schools Pre-school Coordinator Michele Regan-Ladd speaks Monday during a celebration of the new pre-school playground at Crocker Farm Elementary. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm Elementary preschoolers Gil McCollum, center, 5, and Nina Healey, 4, build a structure during a celebration of the new preschool playground at the Amherst school on Monday. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm Elementary pre-schoolers lent their many hand prints to this banner outside the new pre-school playground in Amherst on Monday. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm Elementary Principal Derek Shea speaks Monday during a celebration of the new pre-school playground in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek speaks Monday during a celebration of the new pre-school playground at Crocker Farm Elementary. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Education Foundation treasurer Clare Bertrand speaks Monday during a celebration of the new pre-school playground at Crocker Farm Elementary. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm Elementary preschoolers play on the new preschool playground in Amherst on Monday. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm Elementary pre-school teacher Linda Prothers speaks Monday during a celebration of the new pre-school playground in Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Faye Brady, Director of Student Services for Amherst Public Schools, speaks Monday during a celebration of the new pre-school playground at Crocker Farm Elementary. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Parent volunteer Becky Demling helps Crocker Farm Elementary preschoolers Marcos Berkowitz and Jaida Bullock play on the rocks during a celebration of the new preschool playground in Amherst on Monday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Crocker Farm Elementary pre-schoolers Nina Hirshberg, 4, and Michael Preston, 5, talk about their favorite things at the new pre-school playground in Amherst on Monday. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

@cmlindahl
Published: 10/17/2016 9:22:23 PM

AMHERST — Town and school officials — and most importantly, children — gathered Monday to celebrate the opening of a new accessible playground just for preschoolers at Crocker Farm Elementary School.

The new playground and its equipment are designed to meet the developmental needs of students with and without disabilities and came in at a cost of about $285,000 funded through Community Preservation Act money, town capital spending and a grant by the Amherst Education Foundation.

The playscape replaces the former playground, which offered students little more than shovels and rocks to play with, school officials said.

Crocker Farm’s about 70 preschool students are divided into classes of 15. About half of those students are those with special needs, while the other half do not have special needs, who serve as “role models.”

The playground is next to several preschool classrooms and features canopies, woodchip and rubber surfaces, stations for sand and water play and several climbing structures.

Teacher Linda Prothers said the playground’s features are geared toward the sensory, motor-skill, physical and social development needs unique to preschool-aged children. The merry-go-ground-like “spinner” for example, can serve as an “organizing activity” for some children. And the wood chips and gravel provide an opportunity to help children develop motor skills, she said.

The school previously had a playground for preschool children that featured plastic backyard-style equipment, which Prothers said was inappropriate for a school setting. And last year, the playground featured little more than mulch for children to dig in with a few rocks for them to jump off of, Prothers said.

Today, children can engage in socialization with sets of wooden blocks.

That equipment was paid for with a $15,000 AEF grant last year.

Clare Bertrand, treasurer of AEF, said the board saw the “compelling need” at Crocker Farm and recognized the need that younger children have separate play areas. The school already has a playground that is used by older children.

The old playground also got muddy quite often and was sloped, Prothers said. The new playground is fully wheelchair accessible.

Principal Derek Shea said it will also be able to be used in the wintertime, unlike the old one, which often got icy.

“Lots of children come play after school,” Shea said. “It doesn’t just belong to the school, but it belongs to the community.”

Funding came in the form of a $260,000 CPA grant and $25,000 in town capital funding, according to Town Meeting member Becky Demling.

As the adults talked about the wide support the project got among town officials, the children gleefully enjoyed playing on the equipment.

“Faster, faster, faster!” Nina Hirshberg, 4, yelled as Michael Preson, 5, spun her and another boy around in the “spinner”

“This is as fast as I can go without falling down!” Michael responded.

Nina said the manual carousel is her favorite thing on the new playground. And Michael said his favorite is the slide, “because it slides down,” though he really enjoys digging holes in the sandbox, too.




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