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Lively, thriving little learners play in sand, make “music” with pots and pans and ride tricycles in a new green space at Moline School District's preschool.

"Jeff's Outdoor Play Space" at the Jefferson Early Childhood Center, 3010 26th Ave., Moline, is designed to be part of the classroom environment with a trike path, huge sandbox area, stage, “music” area with clang-able pots and pans attached to a fence, herbs, flowers and a butterfly garden.

“Basically, it’s an outdoor classroom,” said staff member Leigh Thompson, as she watched children gather in the area. “A couple of our teachers wrote a grant to create an outdoor education center.”

Principal Rachel Fowler had the attention of the children within seconds of arriving at the play space. “Point to the sky!” she told them, asking finally that they “Point to me.”

“Make seat-belt hands and bring them in front of you,” she said, and so they did.

“Today we are celebrating a very special day,” she told the little listeners. Several of them joined her in untying a huge red bow, and the play space officially was open. A giggle later, children tried out the toys in the sand, the trikes and the "instruments.”

“In a day of technology, children don’t have the opportunity as they once did to play outside,” Fowler said while she watched every child enjoy the space in some way. “We are engaging them with all of their senses,” from the smell and taste of herbs growing at the site to the tactile feel of soil and sand.

“Is this a fun place to play?” Fowler asked, and received an enthusiastic “Yeah!”

Teacher Judy Shipman, along with Debbie Rice, Sue Oltman, Sue Caldwell and Diane McLaughlin, spearheaded the project, Fowler said. Teachers visited other outdoor classrooms while they planned the Jefferson area, Shipman said.

A book study of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” inspired the project, Shipman said. “This all was just open space,” she said.

“Just to see the kids out here makes me so happy,” beaming custodian Diana Winthurst said.

“Sixteen different languages are spoken here,” Fowler said. “Kids can come (to the play space) and there is no language barrier. There are no developmental barriers.

“Everyone can play.”

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.