Kids ages 2 to 7 should have a new place to explore this summer at Naper Settlement, as construction begins soon on an Early Learning Playscape with water features, climbing structures and new ways to experience nature and history.
The new play area will be built into the settlement's existing Fort Payne structure and will include a sensory garden, a splash pad, a pretend trading post, climbing areas of various heights and a Conestoga wagon with picnic tables.
Pre-construction meetings began last week after the Naperville City Council approved a $417,851 bid from Kee Construction of Chicago to build the playscape. Debbie Grinnell, vice president of museum services, said the playscape project aims to create an environment similar to the Children's Garden at Morton Arboretum in Lisle.
While the entire Naper Settlement museum campus aims to convey Naperville's history to schoolchildren and their families, Grinnell said the playscape will provide even more hands-on learning for toddlers to 7-year-olds.
"It can be an experience in and of itself for families with children in those age groups," Grinnell said.
Officially named the Rita (Fredenhagen) & John Harvard Early Learning Playscape, the area is scheduled to open in July, assuming weather cooperates.
Kids will have the chance to climb into block houses of various sizes and pretend they are early prairie settlers on the lookout for opposing forces. The playscape will allow them to compare textures and scents of plants and float leaves and twigs in water.
"We're giving them a place to do those types of things and learn about that history," Grinnell said.
Aside from offering the fun of a new exploration area, she said the playscape aims to teach children about the natural environment encountered by Native Americans and Naperville's first settlers.
Some of the fencing around Fort Payne will be removed to make room for the playscape, which was designed by Wight & Company and Hitchcock Design Group. Naperville Park District is contributing $25,000 toward the project for construction of the splash pad, which will be the first such water feature in the city.