Grant helps center create incredible outdoor learning and play space

The CaryTowne garden is ready for its redesign.

The CaryTowne garden is ready for its redesign.

At KinderCare Education, we know that growth starts from the inside out. Having a healthy body means having a healthy mind and we want to nourish and fuel the children in our care to learn and grow. That’s why, for the past few weeks, we shared stories about the nutrition improvements we’ve made and celebrated the extraordinary centers and sites that are taking our commitment to do what’s right for the children in our care to the next level.

Cary Towne Center Director Danielle Hayes-Countee takes KinderCare Education’s belief that healthy bodies create healthy minds to heart. This Cary, N.C., director is always on the lookout for curriculum supplements and program enhancements for her students and teachers. After earning one grant in 2015 that connected her center community with a local farmer for fresh fruits and vegetables (learn more about that program here), she looked around for other grants that could help her expand her commitment to teaching students healthy habits. Earlier this year, her center earned another grant — this one from Preventing Obesity by Design.

Preventing Obesity by Design (POD) is a North Carolina group trying to reverse the trend of childhood obesity by improving the outdoor space at childcare centers. Cary Towne KinderCare is one of 31 centers currently participating in the program – a three-year grant that provides the center with a playground enhancement design plan and $1,000 per year to create a variety of learning areas outside similar to the learning areas in the classrooms.

“The goal is to help children get outside and be active in various areas – like the learning areas in the classrooms,” explained Hayes-Countee.

By the end of the three-year grant the Cary Towne playground will include water, sand, music and theater areas, as well as a sand area for digging and dump truck play, and an extensive garden. All will be surrounded by a bike path. The plan also includes a special space outside of the infant room with a soft surface so babies can crawl around and a reading nook filled with books for the smallest students to enjoy with their teachers.

“I feel like this program will help children be even more physical [outdoors] because there will be so many things to do,” said Hayes-Countee.

Work has already begun on the center’s garden. Originally an adult-sized raised bed in one corner of the playground, the POD team suggested splitting the large area up into smaller beds that are easier for children to walk around and access. POD also recommended placing some planter boxes in front of classroom windows so children can see their garden from indoors.

Hayes-Countee is especially excited about the improvements to the center’s garden and the opportunity to not only instill a love of the outdoors in her students, but also to teach them about growing their own food.

“This generation doesn’t know how to feed themselves in a crisis,” she said, explaining that it took her until adulthood to understand that food doesn’t have to come from the supermarket. “I want children to learn to feed themselves, to know that they can buy seeds and grow their own food.”

Parents are also excited about the upcoming playground enhancements and the learning opportunities they will provide. Hayes-Countee believes her center’s educational mission extends to parents as well and is happy to see parents learning about healthy lifestyle habits alongside their children.

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