It's a toddler's paradise at Beginnings Preschool at Good News United Methodist Church.
The school put the finishing touches on a state-of-the-art toddler playground in October that is complete with cushy Astroturf, tire swings, a bridge, and a tunnel, all of which are shaded by a large red sunshade.
This playground was made possible by means of a grant, a local contractor, and the help of volunteers, as well as the work of Director Brenda Ousley to bring all of the elements together.
When it was opened five years ago, the school was only enrolling 3- to 4-year-olds. Over the years, however, the school has grown. Now, Beginnings has a 5-year-old classroom, with the most recent growth the addition of classrooms for 1- to 2-year-old students.
With the addition of younger students, Ousley saw the need to cater to the demographic with an opportunity for learning outside the classroom. She decided to seek funds to build a playground specially designed for toddlers, which would complement the existing playground's slide, tricycle track and large-scale building blocks for the older students.
Ousley soon received a grant of $33,000 from an undisclosed source, and then plans were drawn up. The new space has a padded Astroturf floor, which not only cushions any fall but also eliminates an ant problem; low-to-the-ground tire swings little legs can climb upon; a tunnel made to look like a hollowed-out tree trunk for the kids to crawl or drive trucks through; and a bridge where the children can climb and socialize.
The construction of the playground took two months from plan to completion, and when the students got to play on it for the first time, it was clear it was worth the wait.
"They just have a ball out here," Ousley said, looking over three 2-year-olds laughing and playing on the bridge.
But it's not all just fun and games. The playground also helps these youngsters develop their large motor skills, as well as social skills.
"There's a lot of learning that takes place outside," she said. "We've really utilized the space for outdoor learning."
The children spend a minimum of one hour of their five-hour school day playing on the playground. In addition, the school also offers students organized physical education, which for the younger set means Simon Says and Duck-Duck-Goose, all taking place in the comfort of the turf-carpeted play space.
Beginnings Preschool is a part of Good News United Methodist Church in Santa Rosa Beach, and its mission is to teach children by positive example, as well as "teaching children through love in Christ." The school has four classrooms for the 40 students that attend, and for each of the 10 students in a grade level, there are two teachers. Ousley has been the director of the school since the beginning, and has been an integral part of growing the school to offer students a world-class education right in South Walton.