MANSFIELD -- Kingwood Center Gardens introduced its first outdoor play space Monday morning.
Through a collaboration with Mansfield's Little Buckeye Children's Museum and Lowe's, the garden center aims to encourage imagination-based play with its "Little Garden Market." It's positioned directly in front of the Peacock Playhouse near the Park Avenue entrance.
"It's so fulfilling to go from a concept to reality," said Brenda Nelson, Kingwood's development and marketing director. "The sounds of happy kids playing and interacting is music to my ears. I'm an educator at heart, and this is their learning process at work."
The new play space was constructed earlier this year after a suggestion by intern Keely West.
"I thought the kids could use an outdoor space to play," said West, a Mansfield girl who studies marketing at The Ohio State University's local branch.
She found the idea on Pinterest and brought it to the development office.
"There was no budget for this when she came to us and said, 'I'd really like to do this. Any idea?' I said, 'Give me a day or two,'" Nelson said.
Later that week, she met with the Little Buckeye Children's Museum executive director Fred Boll, who agreed to sponsor the project.
"It was a perfect natural thing for us to sponsor this. I think, it's fantastic," Boll said.
The Little Garden Market, he continued, is the ideal setting for imagination-based play.
"It provides tremendous opportunities for child development," Boll said. "Children need to use their imagination, to be able to see themselves in different roles and pretend to be a variety of things."
Children could act as customers or clerks to learn financial literacy, or their parents could highlight the difference between fruits and vegetables and speak to their nutritional value. Then, there's the potential social interaction that the play space encourages among children who may not know each other.
"As kids walk through the gardens, it's inappropriate to go through and pick all the flowers, but this is their space. They can touch everything," Boll said. "I can see kids playing here for a long time whenever they come visit."