Solana Santa Fe students design parks with Playtopia

Rock climbing walls and zip lines, swimming pools and a pet playground, yoga space and even a juice bar—these are just a few of the unique features in parks designed by Solana Santa Fe third graders as part of the first annual Playtopia project.

A snake slide in the jungle park. Karen Billing

Over two months the young park architects worked on their designs and created park models that were showcased at a Dec. 7 exhibition. The third grade teacher team wore yellow hard hats for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the parks, with help from Solana Beach School District Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger.

Teacher Stephanie Hecht developed the idea for Playtopia working with the third grade teachers and the school’s STREAM specialists. Park space is at a premium in Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe and Hecht said the idea formed to have the kids create their own parks as the school’s play structure is aging and will soon be replaced, and as this year the City of Solana Beach purchased a vacant parcel next to La Colonia Park to use for a future park expansion.

A soccer field in a park model. Karen Billing

“Hopefully our blueprints can help in that process,” Hecht said.

With their designs, the students had to meet the needs of all potential users: young kids, older children, adults, seniors, pet owners, sports enthusiasts and people with disabilities.They learned about mapping, incorporated science by building robotics into their models, used math for cost and use estimates and learned how to make trees in art —Hecht even worked music into the project by putting lyrics to a Taylor Swift song that the kids sang for their parents and guests at the exhibition. In addition to their models, the students made brochures for their parks, highlighting key features and the design process.

Parents check out students' park designs. Karen Billing

The third grade classes brainstormed features that should be included in the parks—coming up with everything from a hot dog stand to basketball courts, “limited rules” and “happiness.” Working in groups, the kids let their imaginations take over, resulting in a variety of different kinds of parks. There were lots of slides, sports, green space and trees. One jungle-themed park included a tree house, an elephant water feature and a slide that looked like a giant snake: “You actually get to ride through a snake’s body and come out of its mouth!” the brochure boasted. An Iceland park design took on a glittering snow theme and a playground for older kids featured an adventurous obstacle course that channeled “American Ninja Warrior.”

“Some playgrounds are not safe but ours is. We have a lot of stuff for you and your old grammas and grandpa,” read one park’s brochure that featured a hot tub, pool, “running place” and a snack bar with little umbrellas providing shade for the tables. “Most playgrounds are not fun but ours is, we have everything. You will love this playground!!!”

The ribbon cutting for Playtopia with Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger. Karen Billing