New Natural Play Yard Coming Soon @ PIFS

New Natural Play Yard Coming Soon @ PIFS


By Marianne Riess

It is no secret that modern children spend a lot more time indoors and on screens than did previous generations. Yet studies continue to show that children need lots of outdoor time to develop in all domains of learning. Children who spend time outdoors not only have better muscle development and coordination, but they are also more curious, more independent and more creative learners. They tend to be more resilient, more willing to take reasonable risks, take turns and problem solve.

Founder and first headmaster of the Putnam Indian Field School, the late Fred Wierdsma instinctively understood the value of outdoor time for young children. His signature program, Smokey’s Bounders, was created to give children lots of experiences in natural settings and to help them feel comfortable in the outdoors. Under his guidance, children experienced nature walks in the woods, ice skating in a swamp, tapping maple trees, campfire cooking, and farm life, just to give a few examples. At the school, he built a different kind of playground, with tree houses, balance beams, an obstacle course, a nature walk, and a zip line between two trees, all made with real logs and other natural materials. Generations of children loved testing themselves on the Smokey’s “play yard.”

Over the school’s 40 years, safety codes changed. Today’s play areas are required to be inspected annually by a certified playground inspector, and PIFS could not find one willing to certify such an unusual play space. On Saturday, October 19, some fathers of PIFS children met to take down the aging structures to make room for a brand new Smokey’s play area, which will again use mostly natural materials and still encourage children to challenge themselves physically.

Working with Environmental Design, the firm that created the Stamford Museum’s Nature Playground, and inspired by Fred Wierdsma’s original design, the Smokey’s Bounders play space will recreate the exciting zip line, log balance beams, and stump walk before the spring of 2020. Tree houses, a fort, climbing walls, swings, rope ladders, a log climb and a grass maze will be built during next spring and summer. Head of School Susan Donaghy reports that the teachers are thrilled with the plans and the children just can’t wait to spend time there. Alfresco Education – playing and learning in the great outdoors – is not exactly a new idea, but one that needs to be revisited for the love of children.

Phone – 203 – 661 – 4629

101 Indian Field Road, Greenwich, CT 06830