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Learning through playing

By Greg Gelpi

He likes the colors, and she likes the slides, but both agreed that they liked their new playground.

And they should since 5-year-old Xavier McKnight and Amber Cutler helped design the playground at Rex Childcare and Early Learning Center.

Buzzing from one piece of equipment to another their little hands fidgeted with an oversized tic-tac-toe game one moment, while sliding down bright orange slides the next.

"Children learn through play," said Ada Ngoddy, the owner of Rex Childcare and Early Learning Center. "A lot of times we are focused on learning in the traditional way. The research shows that children learn better through play."

From developing physical coordination and social skills to developing math and science skills, the children run the full gamut of lessons while playing, Ngoddy said. The playground also includes flower beds, a picnic area and herb and vegetable gardens, which the children will care for and use to develop green thumbs.

"Yeah, this is fun," Amber said gleefully all the way down the plastic slide.

Without prodding or assistance, the children dabbled with the new playground's equipment and began conversing through bright green mouthpieces on opposite ends of the playground, similar to the old-fashioned cup and string telephone.

"There are a lot of different activities going on at the same time," Ngoddy said.

It's "very important" and even "crucial" for children to develop skills as those demonstrated on the playground equipment at a young age, Smart Start Georgia Project Coordinator Donna Thayer said.

"All forms of playing help the physical and cognizant forms of development," Thayer said.

Children at the daycare put their visions of their "dream playground" on paper and designers made their dreams reality, pulling common elements of their visions into the design of the playground.

"When parents think about quality childcare, reading, writing and arithmetic are usually the first things that come to mind," Smart Start Georgia Director Sharen Hausmann said. "While these activities are vital to building a solid foundation for learning, parents also need to understand the important role that outdoor play has on a child's development."

The playgrounds were funded through Play Smart, a program that will provide 16 such playgrounds in metro Atlanta, through collaboration from Smart Start Georgia, Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning and KaBOOM!.