Kids invited to design natural playground

Youth will soon have a chance to weigh in on an exciting project that’s five years in the making.

Youth of Whidbey Island will soon have a chance to weigh in on an exciting project that’s five years in the making.

In 2017, a student-led project from Calyx Community Arts School began exploring the possibility of creating a natural playground space at South Whidbey State Park. At the time, students of the alternative school met in a grassy field near the park’s entrance for classes.

Although the little outdoor school ceased classes at the end of 2021, those associated with it haven’t lost sight of their vision of an inclusive space for kids to play at the state park. Lisa Kois, the founder and director of Calyx, worked on the original initiative with her daughter, Aaliyah Kois Jacob.

Thanks to a generous $41,000 grant, their dream can now continue into the design phase.

The Northwest Language and Cultural Center, a Freeland-based nonprofit organization, contributed the grant to the playground project to carry on the legacy of Josette Hendrix. Hendrix, who was the founder and executive director of the Northwest Language and Cultural Center, died in a tragic accident earlier this year.

The nonprofit organization, Lisa, Aaliyah, state park rangers and other stakeholders are currently working with Learning Landscapes, an architecture and design firm specializing in nature-based playgrounds, to build the new play area.

The low-impact playground will incorporate features of the natural world, rather than be conventionally plastic. It will also be inclusive for kids of all abilities, including those who are neurodivergent.

The remaining cost of the playground will likely be financed by a community fundraiser. By thinking creatively and modestly, Lisa is optimistic that the price won’t be too high. The state park will also need to approve the design of the play space.

Chris Holm, the area manager for Central Whidbey state parks, said it is exciting to see the natural play space effort rekindled after so many years.

“We are looking forward to working with our community members and partners to create something that is both non-traditional and engaging for youth in our community,” he said, “something that will hopefully stimulate play and challenge minds for years to come.”

Kids will get the chance to participate in the design of the play space from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17 in the grassy field near the entrance of South Whidbey State Park. Small groups will work with art supplies to come up with ideas. Representatives from Learning Landscapes will also visit the state park on that day.

“With the youth collaborative process, it feels hopeful,” Lisa said.

For Aaliyah, who is now 16 years old, the natural playground has been a childhood dream.

“I have a lot of ties to the park. I think that it’s such a lovely spot,” Aaliyah said. “For me, I grew up in the woods, climbing around, running down the trails, doing all that kid stuff. Some kids don’t get a chance to do that.”

For questions about the youth design day, contact Lisa at In case of rain, the event will move to the picnic shelter next to the park’s amphitheater.