SALT LAKE CITY — When the weather is bad or the air quality is poor, preschoolers at Utah Community Action know just what to do with their playtime.
The program received new indoor playground equipment on Wednesday, making the Salt Lake organization one of just four places across the country to have the unique play equipment.
The new playground is not a typical brick-and-mortar structure, said Joni Clark, chief development officer at Utah Community Action.
Instead, the Imagination Playground is an assortment of firm, blue foam pieces, cut into various shapes so kids can build the playground themselves in whatever way they like.
"Playgrounds are very expensive," Clark said. "The kids can come in here in this gym and just use their imaginations to build a great play area."
More than a dozen preschoolers quickly broke in the new equipment when it was delivered on Wednesday
The unassembled playground costs about $10,000, and was donated to the center's Head Start program by UnitedHealth Group and KaBOOM! a national nonprofit that helps build play spaces for kids.
The two organizations also provided playground equipment to organizations in New York, Texas and Las Vegas.
"This is challenging them physically, but also gives that creative aspect," said Marc Briggs, CEO of United Healthcare Medicare and Retirement.
The creativity was easy to see as many of the preschoolers at the event built towers, obstacle courses and race tracks using the foam materials. The playground pieces varied in shapes from foam noodles to gear pieces to curved tracks for plastic blue balls.
The kids have two scheduled playtimes every day during their time at the center, Clark said.
"Usually they’ll go out on the playground," she said, "but if it’s raining or air quality is bad, they’ll come in here and they can use this equipment."
The Utah Community Center is a federal program helping kids ages 3-5 whose families live in poverty. The program serves nearly 2,100 kids every year, Clark explained.
The average family involved in the program makes around $18,000 annually, she added.
The program supports low-income families by helping young children receive basic medical attention and preparing them for school.
"As a nonprofit, we can’t always afford wonderful equipment like this," Clark said. "This particular equipment will help our goals in getting the kids ready for kindergarten."
The indoor playground pieces not only give kids an opportunity to play, Briggs said, but also build fine motor skills and work together as classmates.
"They spend so much time sitting and learning but physical activity is such a key piece of being healthy," he continued. "Always having some kind of physical activity every day is critical."
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