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Pinellas playgrounds receive nearly $7M in upgrades

Ashley Morales



iDiscover Christian Academy, Inc. in St. Petersburg was able to upgrade its playgrounds thanks to APRA funding from the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas (ELC Pinellas) and the Florida Division of Early Learning. Photo provided.

Kids in Pinellas County are getting safer, more modern places to play, thanks to a significant investment.

The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas (ELC Pinellas), a nonprofit agency that supports early care and education, and the Florida Division of Early Learning have distributed nearly $7 million in grants to 320 area child care providers to improve their playgrounds and outdoor play spaces. The funding, which comes from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), has allowed child care providers to make a variety of upgrades.

Lindsay Carlson, CEO of ELC Pinellas, said the most common upgrades early educators have purchased are new play surfaces (like replacing sand or mulch with artificial turf), more modern equipment and adding sun shades to protect young children from the Florida heat.

“Our early learning programs and childcare programs run on really tight profit margins, so most of them don’t have the capital to just say, ‘Oh, I’m going to invest $50,000 right now,’” Carlson said. “These grants allow us to create safe and healthy outdoor learning environments that support child development. Young children learn through play; they are not intended to sit at a desk all day. Those experiences on the playground and through play really are some of those formative experiences that give them the opportunity to explore, create, problem solve together and communicate.”

iDiscover Christian Academy, ​​6405 46th Ave N. in St. Petersburg, used the funding to replace the mulch in its three playgrounds with cleaner, easier-to-maintain artificial turf. 

Jean Cavalier, Owner of iDiscover, said the funding also allowed her to purchase new child-sized playground equipment, giving teachers more opportunities to enhance their lessons by moving them outside.

“We were doing STEM activities indoors, but now that we have the turf, we’re able to bring those STEM classes outdoors, because it’s kind of messy play,” said Cavalier. “They’re doing science experiments and all kinds of activities, so they’re able to do that outside and now we can just hose it down.”

A new study from the National Institutes of Health shows that green space may improve young children’s mental health. Researchers found that young children from 2 to 5 years old living in areas with more green spaces had fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Carlson also emphasized that modern, well-functioning playgrounds aren’t just useful for helping kids blow off steam – they’re an important part of early brain development.

“For example, they’re not just learning physical coordination as they as they climb the ladder [on a playground],” Carlson explained. “They cross over hemispheres, so they move their right hand to the left side of their body, allowing them to develop both sides of their brain.”

Both Carlson and Cavalier said parents have also taken note of the improved playgrounds throughout Pinellas County. 

“[We’re facing] workforce shortages and childcare is the number one reason that families are struggling to return to remain in the workforce,” Carlson said. “Parents want to know that their children are in a healthy and safe learning environment, and getting that development that they need so that parents can actually return to the workforce.”

“We’re really thankful that the children are able to develop, just like they do indoors, with outdoor activities now,” said Cavalier. “They’re painting and playing on the outdoor equipment, using their creativity and imaginations along with that physical development. It’s amazing.”


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