Posted inEducation

Mobile play pop-ups reduce inequity in safe green space play areas for Fort Worth kids

Sammie Garrett, 3, plays inside of the Green Space Learning Play Studio on Aug. 21. The business closed on Aug. 25 and was converted into a child care center, said Bethany Fort, the founder of Out to Play, a nonprofit she started to create pop-up green play spaces. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Kim Garrett and her 3-year-old twin daughters, Lizzie and Sammie, squeezed every minute out of Green Space Learning’s Play Studio, the organization’s public natural play space, before it closed its doors Aug. 25.

“We’ll miss this place greatly,” Garrett said. “Developmentally, because their imaginations are exploding at this toddler age, I favor this open-ended play.”

In the outdoor play space, the twins played with dirt, pebbles, water and buckets. Inside, they played with plastic toys, wooden gadgets and plants — it’s the nature of the programs.
Green Space Learning, a for-profit early childhood development space that aimed to “connect children to nature,” closed its Play Studio at 3005 E. Belknap St. at the end of August. However, start-up nonprofit Out to Play picked up the banner of providing public access to natural world-inspired play spaces — this time, for free and in underserved communities — with its mobile Nature Play pop-ups.

Out To Play founder Bethany Fort, previously employed at Green Space Learning, said the mission of the organization from the start was to provide access to natural play spaces to children who didn’t have any, but finances and transportation got in the way. Play Studio sessions were expensive for families who already had to drive to the location — keeping underserved families away from the play space. “When we were going out to them, they were coming every week, they were engaging or playing, but when we said, ‘Now come to us,’ less than 5% were able to come in. To us, (the mission) had to be mobile (to succeed),” she said. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Kim Garrett, center, and her twin daughters, Sammie, left, and Lizzie, play inside the recently closed Green Space Learning Play Studio on Aug. 21. In an effort to revive the mission, Fort intends to hire a full-time team by the end of 2023, in hopes of taking the natural world play space concept on the road at a larger scale. The team transports materials like buckets, wood, water, dirt or sand and some hand tools to places where only a patch of grass or a slab of concrete exists. Then, they build the play space for children to use and learn from. The nonprofit hopes to host Nature Play pop-ups inside more child care centers, Fort said. The team has already built a play space inside of Fortress Fort Worth. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Lizzie Garrett, 3, plays with sister Sammie Garrett on Aug. 21. Fort, the founder of Out to Play, advocates for green play spaces because they can be replicated. “It’s not fancy, it doesn’t have to be this very expensive landscape project,” Fort said. “They’re beautiful, but if you can’t afford that, you can have a bucket of water and some sand — and they’ll still learn.” The nonprofit’s second goal is to teach people inside libraries, community centers and child care centers about making, using and sustaining natural play spaces on their own. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Toys and items from the natural world are ready for hands-on play. Fort and volunteers built a play space for children at Fortress Fort Worth, a family-oriented nonprofit at 1007 E. Terrell Ave. Lindsey Smart, the student programs coordinator at Fortress Fort Worth, said teachers were having a lot of student behavior challenges in that classroom because they did not have many developmentally appropriate activities or materials for the children. Things changed when the space was built, she said. “That used to be our highest need behaviorally across six different preschool classrooms. And now it’s our lowest,” Smart said. “It was like night and day. The kids kind of came in and instead of really challenging behaviors happening, you probably could have heard a pin drop in there — everyone was really immersed in the materials.” (Courtesy | Bethany Fort)

Fort hopes to continue to build more spaces in underserved communities and eventually purchase a truck with a space built inside for easier access to pop-up green spaces. 

“We’re trying to bring it to kids who can’t come,” she said.

As much as they’ll miss the Play Studio, Garrett’s daughters will attend the Nature Play pop-ups, she said. Garrett understands the need for such resources to be shared with underserved communities that lack access to safe natural spaces.

“The idea of bringing play to communities that are not typically offered is really appealing to me,” Garrett said. “I intend to still engage with them when it makes sense.”

Upcoming Nature Play pop-ups:

Nature Play at Leaves Book and Tea Shop

10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Sept. 16

Leaves Book and Tea Shop, 120 St. Louis Ave.

Nature Play at Grand Prairie Public Library Main Branch

10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Oct. 6

Grand Prairie Public Library Main Branch, 901 Conover Drive

Source: Out To Play

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Sign In

We've recently sent you an authentication link. Please, check your inbox!

Sign in with a password below, or sign in using your email.

Get a code sent to your email to sign in, or sign in using a password.

Enter the code you received via email to sign in, or sign in using a password.

Subscribe to our newsletters:


Privacy Policy