Wrapped up in the crisp November air, a handful of students from Centerville Elementary School walked through their brand new playground.
There were no swings, slides, or monkey bars in sight. In fact, their space was entirely two-dimensional. But the concrete beneath them was covered in vibrant hand-painted patterns – a giant rendering of the solar system, a dozen smiling animals in neat rows, a hopscotch course with ladybugs the size of basketballs.
âIt brought so much joy and smiles to their faces,â said children’s director Karen Hopson as a girl in a hot pink coat wheeled over a painted tiger. “As you can see.”
The new âsensory playgroundâ in Centerville was designed, planned and painted by Galila Ibrahim, senior at Urbana high school. The idea of ââcombining her love for art and community service came to her before the pandemic, she said. He had to take a break for a while, but she persisted and finished earlier this month.
Ibrahim’s younger brother, who is now in seventh grade, has a speech impediment that “makes it very difficult for him to express his emotions,” she said. On a typical playground, Ibrahim said, children like him can easily be overwhelmed by the many different sensory inputs.
But the space she created in Centerville is unlikely to overstimulate anyone, she said. And kids who don’t struggle with sensory processing can play it just as well.
âWe were able to make what we had on paper a reality,â Ibrahim said.
The playground has a letter board where students can practice spelling, a four-square plot where each space is labeled with a different emotion, and a border surrounding the entire playground with numbers and measurement marks .
Ibrahim and other members of the National Art Honors Society of Urbana painted the entire area freehand. She expressed her gratitude to the community volunteers who helped make the project a reality.
It took them about a month to paint everything, working five to seven days a week for two to three hours a day, she said.
Ibrahim does not want to major in art in college, she said. Instead, she plans to study international services and eventually go to law school. But she wants to continue using art to bring communities together.
Centerville students – especially the younger ones – used the space for breaks, fresh air, and visual stimulation throughout the day. This has been particularly helpful in the aftermath of the pandemic, Hopson said.
âThe benefits are endless for all of our children,â she said.