All Aboard the Play Express
Kids Express Preschool in Lancaster, Pa.
By Ian Proud
Kids Express Preschool in Lancaster, Pa., has been in operation for 20 years and currently serves 110 preschoolers ranging in age from 2 to 5 years old. An accredited member of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), the school is affiliated with Grace Church at Willow Valley.
At Kids Express Preschool, teachers encourage experimentation, discovery and creativity, and indoor and outdoor exploratory play is an integral part of the school day. While hands-on activities and curriculum offer structured play opportunities, a playground provides children a much-needed outlet for free outdoor play.
When the school's playground apparatus began to show signs of age and wear, director Tina Palguta was faced with the task of searching for new equipment. The existing wooden clubhouse structure with two swings was falling apart.
Part of the problem was that the equipment was intended for residential, not commercial, use. Residential playground equipment doesn't have to withstand the same degree of usage as commercial counterparts and therefore is not required to meet the same rigorous manufacturing standards. However, with commercial options ranging from around $15,000 to $150,000, many organizations working within tight budgets have to settle for non-commercial playground products.
With a budget of only $8,000 (excluding ground surfacing), Tina began researching the options. She searched on the Web and narrowed the field of manufacturers down to three. Although the companies provided options within the school's budget, Tina wasn't completely satisfied with the equipment she was getting for the money.
"One of our staff members attended the ACSI conference in Lancaster, and when he spoke with a Playworld Systems' rep, he learned they were about to introduce a new more economical line of playground equipment," Palguta said. "This was what we wanted."
The line, called PlaySimple, comprises affordable, commercial-grade playground equipment. Engineered in the United States from the ground up with the same quality standards as all Playworld Systems equipment, the structures are safety-rated as commercial-grade play equipment according to the highest industry requirements as set forth by the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA).
PlaySimple is built to withstand tough elements, from extreme weather to rough and tumble play. The materials used are PVC-free, and the decks are made with recycled materials. In fact, on average, the products in the line are made with 40 percent pre- and post-consumer recycled materials.
"We decided to go with PlaySimple for many reasons—affordability and quality being two major ones," said Palguta. "It's also made locally by a family-owned business in Lewisburg, Pa., which I appreciated."
PlaySimple makes the benefits of play accessible to more people by accommodating the needs of buyers with modest budgets who want all the fun, safety and durability of commercial equipment. Other important factors are ease of installation and maintenance. The equipment is not difficult to install, which also minimizes the cost for potential buyers. Local maintenance professionals or a few handy volunteers can put the equipment together in a day with basic tools. No complex site work or elaborate surfacing materials are required.
The structures come in six options and can accommodate up to 37 children from ages 2 to 12. The system features climbing, sliding and running—the play activities proven to build a child's agility, dexterity, body strength, self-confidence, and gross motor and socialization skills. All structures are ADA-compliant and many feature ground-level activities, which accommodate children with special needs.
"We have some children with special needs, so it's wonderful that PlaySimple really makes play accessible to all of our kids," said Palguta. "All the children love the slides and hidden animals, and many kids can fit on the equipment and play together at one time."
The entire process—from fundraising to researching the options to purchasing the equipment—took three years. The final cost was approximately $10,000 including the playground-grade mulch surfacing.
Play benefits every aspect of a child's wellness and development. Playgrounds should be safe, sacred places where kids rule and imaginations can soar. Outdoor play opportunities have to be more accessible to more people in order to make an impact on the health of children. Kids Express Preschool is an excellent example of one school not letting budget constraints stand in the way of bringing the fundamental benefits of play to children in the community.
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