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Community members gather to celebrate new play space at Miniapple International Montessori School in Oakdale

Community leaders in Oakdale celebrated the opening of a child care natural play space project at Miniapple International Montessori School in Oakdale Sept. 26. The play space was created with support from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), with assistance from Washington County.

Miniapple International Montessori School was recommended for the program on the basis of service to target populations, staff enthusiasm and support, and ability to dedicate space and time to the pilot project. The school was founded by Udi and Mithula Perera originally in Minneapolis to “bring global outreach and international flavor” to the area. The Oakdale location serves almost 100 enrolled children with about 25 staff members. Both students and teachers make up a diverse group, with representation from India, Sri Lanka, Russia, Mexico, and Canada. Staff support and enthusiasm around the project was especially supportive. The Montessori philosophy of child-directed play in a sensory rich environment relates closely to the intention of natural play. The play space is also situated in an area in which the natural play space equipment is accentuated by a wooded area, a small garden, and a chicken coop on site.

The county also provided a composting training at the child care/preschool site so staff could learn educational activities and technical procedures for their on-site composting program. This training was part of the larger health promotion project to create a nature play space at the school to encourage physical activity, healthy eating, and teach children about taking care of the environment.