WAIMEA — Children let their imaginations run free as they leaped from station to station Friday as part of a blessing ceremony at Malamapokii’s new 10,000-square-foot outdoor classroom.
Named Kahua Lealea, the facility is a hands-on learning center at Kanu o ka Aina Learning Ohana’s preschool. Filled with trees, plants, gardens, slides and wooden balance beams, its design and construction were conceived through parent and school collaboration.
“I can’t believe this day is here. We could not have done this without the assistance of parents, grandparents and aunties,” said Pat Bergin, director of Early Childhood Education at KALO. “Notable contribution was also provided by landscape architect David Tamura who designed the landscape planting and oversaw the workforce in putting the materials in the ground at no cost to the project. David’s granddaughter is a student at Kanu and this was his way of giving back to the school.”
Youngsters can engage in activities at nine specific play areas called imagination stations within Kahua Lealea. Clearly labelled, they range from Nature Art Area, Climbing and Balance Area, Water Area, and Music &Movement Area, to Open Area, Building Area, Messy Materials Area, Sensory Area and Garden Area.
The outdoor classroom was inspired by the preschool’s belief that children’s brains, bodies and spirits are developed through play, especially in concert with the natural world. A project team consisting of KALO faculty and administrators Debbie Child-Lawrence, Nani Barretto, Heather Sarsona and Kai Espere and Bergin worked together closely to bring it to fruition.
Malamapokii — meaning to take care of a younger child — is a community- and Hawaiian-based preschool in Waimea where 29 preschoolers and 19 children in the morning drop-in program are encouraged to get messy, experiment, imagine, wonder, get creative and take healthy risks.
“Keiki will engage in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) learning activities through hands-on learning experiences while having fun,” Bergin said.
The project was announced last summer, and planning and construction has continued throughout the school year. Funding came from a $46,500 STEM grant from Hawaii Community Foundation and an $8,400 planning grant from Cooke Foundation.
All areas, including the loose parts for play, were constructed from recycled and/or natural materials.
Malamapokii will host a summer program with three one-week sessions for bathroom independent preschoolers ages 3-5. Spaces will first be available to Kanu students and then open to the community.