Reimagining Our Play Spaces

One of the major accomplishments at Mary Crane this year was the addition of new and improved outdoor play spaces for children six weeks and up. Two of our centers (Molade/Austin and Lake & Pulaski) welcomed infants (6 weeks+) for the first time in 2021 which inspired this reimagination of our outdoor spaces, allowing both infants and toddlers to get outside more frequently and more intentionally. 

These spaces were designed purposefully, following observations of how children used the space and listening sessions with our planning team that included site directors, directors of education (representing both teachers and children interests and needs) and program director and operations staff. All with the utmost attention to safety and DCFS licensing requirements.

Mary Crane understands the vital importance of children connecting with nature, which is why spending time in and with nature is embedded in the curriculum for children of all ages. Our enhanced outdoor play spaces, individualized for each center's needs include a range of exciting new additions including: A new climbing structure, trike path, a playhouse at Lake Pulaski, high fencing for privacy and an attractive new look, natural loose parts donated by the Forest Preserves of Cook County, beautiful updated landscaping, a play house at Molade (Austin), and mud kitchens at all four centers. Teachers and students alike embrace these spaces, with children enthusiastically referring to their outdoor time as "visits to the park".

We know that the best learning takes place when children are playing, discovering, imagining, and being creative. They don't realize they are learning, which is something we see often in these "outdoor classrooms".

These enriching experiences will also be available to families enrolled in our Home Based Program with socializations beginning to take place regularly. Children and teachers have been buoyed by new opportunities for more creative and imaginative play, sensory experiences, and healthy learning and development alongside elements of nature. These outdoor play spaces hold so much potential, and we look forward to sharing their continued impact on our community.

"We knew the children would enjoy spending time in the garden, but what we didn't expect was how excited the children would get seeing how many animals get involved in the process. They loved searching for different animals such as ants with Ms. Julia and they even thought it was funny when the squirrels would take the food for a snack!"


Mary Crane Center provides high quality early care and education programs and services that support school readiness, empower parents and engage the community.

Administrative Office
4006 W Lake Street | Chicago, IL 60624
Main Phone: 773-242-2860
Fax: 773-242-2881