Rocks, wooden discs, and PVC pipes took centre stage as the Haliburton and District Lions Club presented Abbey Gardens with a collection of loose parts toys on June 4.

Loose parts refers to a style of play many early childhood educators recommend, gathering natural and manmade objects which kids can rearrange and get creative with. The toys, either made by the Lions or collected in nature, will reside in Abbey Gardens’ Enchanted Forest Play area.

“The idea of loose parts play is no one will tell them what to do with it, they’ll do it themselves,” said Gail Stelter, chair of the Lion’s Enchanted Forest Service Project.

The Lions started working with Abbey Gardens to outfit the play area after it was vandalized two years ago. Abbey Gardens put out a call to local community groups for help rebuilding the area: Stelter said the Lions immediately jumped on board.

As several Lions members unloaded a protective bin, PVC pipes, round river rocks and other creative toys into the Enchanted Forest area, Stelter explained how the Lions felt drawn to support Abbey Gardens’ natural play place.

“For me personally, and for the Lions, children are dear to all of our hearts,”

Stelter said. Stelter organized the effort to find and create creative toys for the loose parts play area. Woodlands Wildlife Sanctuary donated much of the PVC pipe which kids will be able to use to roll balls down, build roadways with and more.

Irene Heaven and Cara Steele from Abbey Gardens said they were excited to receive the toy delivery.

“You can tell that the Lions are really trying to tell in how children are playing, in the construction zone, what materials are going to be meaningful to them,” said Steele.

Heaven said she appreciates that the Lions value investing in younger generations.

“I think it’s very valuable on so many levels,” said Heaven, “not just providing stuff, but providing that input into how the space is being used by younger people.”

The Enchanted Forest is a free playground on Abbey Gardens’ property. Between tree trunks and bushes, kids can read at the Lion’s donated library stand, play with puppets once COVID-19 protocols allow and now experiment and play with the new loose parts toys.

“We want a safe place for children to play, for families to visit,” said Stelter.

As the Lions chatted with Abbey Gardens staff, they were already suggesting new ideas: cars and trucks and balls to roll around the PVC tubes and chutes in the loose parts area.

The Enchanted Forest play area will also be a key part in Abbey Gardens’ summer day camp program.

With COVID-19 protocols in place, kids will get a chance to explore the surrounding property and spend lots of time amid the trees and play areas.

“They’re in a safe spot outside,” explained Heaven. “They’re in nature, they’re exploring our big back yard together.”

“I think that’s a very important experience anytime, but after being isolated from one another it’s going to be something extremely important this year.”

Stelter said the Lions will continue to work with Abbey Gardens – they still have space in the fundraising budget for more Enchanted Forest projects.

“Anything that we can do to help children is important,” Stelter said.

“We want to promote to our community that the Lions are here for kids.”

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