The Vita Community Child Care Centre had a vision for developing a natural playground. They wanted to develop a space for children to connect with nature through outdoor play. Engaging with nature is one of the best ways for children to master emerging social, emotional, and physical skills, like running, jumping, inventing games, and solving problems. The Vita Community Child Care Centre found a unique way of developing a natural playground by incorporating the environmental benefits of rain gardens.
A rain garden is a bowl-shaped perennial garden that captures surface water runoff. They are typically planted in urban and residential areas where water flows off roofs, streets, sidewalks, driveways, sump pump discharge areas, and parking lots. Surface water runoff that is unable to infiltrate into the soil may be directed to the street and subsequently overwhelm local drainage infrastructure. It can even pick up harmful substances on its way to the drain, including road salt, heavy metals, oils, and other contaminants. These contaminants can harm the quality of our drinking water and put the health of our aquatic ecosystems at risk when they end up in our rivers and lakes. Rain gardens provide a simple solution for mitigating local flooding issues by infiltrating surface water through the soil. The soil in a rain garden is porous because it is amended with organic materials that help speed infiltration and filter out pollutants. The perennial plants in the garden clean surface water by taking up nutrients as water is absorbed into the soil. Rain gardens also create habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. They also beautify the neighbourhood and mitigate local water issues.
The natural playground area of the Vita Community Child Care Centre functions as both a rain garden and as a unique natural landscape for outdoor play. The rain garden is designed to capture and store water from the roof of the building as well as from the playground area. A small hill with a slide overlooks the rain garden and features a hand pump system, which circulates water for children’s playtime. This interactive design provides stimulating physical play while teaching children about the water cycle and importance of green spaces. The water used during children’s playtime is returned back into the rain garden at the end of the day to minimize waste and the need for plant watering. This innovative multi-use space utilizes the environmental benefits of rain gardens to inspire children’s imaginations through hands-on outdoor play.
Kim Chornopyski, Director of the Vita Community Child Care Centre, said, “The children and staff are very happy with our new natural playground. The children were able to watch the work being done to keep track of the progress being made. The hill is very popular and the trail around the yard is the perfect ‘track’ for chasing games. Our natural play hut and sand box is a nice area to sit and relax. It is also a central meeting place for the children when they are playing. The rock climbing wall and timber stump steps provide the children with opportunities to exercise their muscles. We just scratched the surface when it comes to all the opportunities it offers for children’s play.”
The Vita day care approached local representatives of the Seine-Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) with the project idea in summer 2015. The SRRCD Board of Directors approved project funding for two urban rain gardens as well as project design and management support. Additional funding was secured by the Vita day care through a Province of Manitoba Community Places Program grant. The natural playground rain garden project was completed in summer 2016 with plans to complete a second rain garden for the purpose of capturing water from a secondary sump pump discharge area. The Vita Community Child Care Centre urban rain garden project is an innovative watershed initiative implemented at the local level.
“We look forward to the upcoming spring and summer season when we will experience the environmental benefits of the rain garden first-hand with the children,” said Kim.
Heavy precipitation events and rapid snowmelt in the Southeast challenge the way we manage surface water in our area. Rain gardens are innovative design features that can improve the way we manage surface water in urban areas. The SRRCD can help you design and create your own rain garden project. We provide funding up to $500 for individual projects, or 50% up to $5,000 for projects located in public spaces. We would be pleased to present on our expanded urban rain garden program at your next community organization meeting. Give us a call in La Broquerie at (204) 424-5845, or in Vita at (204) 425-7877. You can also visit us online at www.srrwd.ca.