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Happenin' PLAYces

Here's what's happenin' in our neck of the woods...



Louisville Preschool Explores Their New CAVE

Posted: September 15, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Dirt Dig Area added too!

PLAYceMaker consultant and designer, Vicky Flessner, was inspired by the rock and fossil formations at Falls of the Ohio state park and designed this awesome CAVE. Creatively crafted by Brian Somerville of The Grit Shop, the children can climb the walls or ascend via the recycled climbing holds scavenged from the former climbing wall (shown upper left in the before photos). The displaced retaining wall blocks were fashioned into a Dirt Dig area where the children can explore and discover their own palentology finds. Brachiopods are Kentucky's state fossil and several were carved into the walls inside the cave. Let's go spelunking!

Tree of Knowledge Learning Center

Posted: July 27, 2018, East Brainerd, Tennessee

Water Elements Next!

PLAYceMaker consultant and designer, Vicky Flessner, is collaborating with Tree of Knowledge Learning Center owner, Dawn Anderson, to spice up the program's uninspired outdoor play areas. Justin McCosh of McCosh Landscaping, has completed a practical foundation of artificial turf, with natural shade sail poles connecting the space to the wooded area behind, and a pretty stone wall that frames age-specific areas of the play yard. Justin will begin crafting the exciting water play elements, sand dig pits, and physically interactive equipment atop hills in September. Stay tuned for updates on PLAYceMaker's Facebook page! 


Let's Get Musical!

Posted: July 26, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Instruments Take Shape for 2nd Presbyterian Weekday School


PLAYceMaker maker, Brian Somerville of The Grit Shop, is hard at work fabricating the instruments that will combine to form The Music Wall at 2nd Presbyterian Weekday School. This "wall" will separate the 2s and 3s side of the playground from the 4s and 5s side. While separation is required by licensing, interaction will be supported among the children through musical collaboration since the instruments will be playable from either side! Installation will be completed in August.


Still under construction: a Thunder Wall and Vertical Chimes. 

The Big PLAY-Back

Posted: June 28, 2018, Nashville, Tennessee

Creative Fundraising at Its BEST!

Calvary Young Children's School got creative with its participation this year in the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee's "The Big Payback" initiative. This video featuring the children playing on the newly transformed Toddler Playscape (designed by PLAYceMaker and constructed by TANK 615) is a testament to the value of play, especially outdoors. 

Not only were they successful in raising over $4,000 in one day, but the video and artisic renderings for future construction phases were submitted for the Creativity Award. They won, snagging them an additional $5,000!! 

Temple Preschool

Posted: April 2, 2018, Nashville, Tennessee

Traditional Playground, A Wooded Hill, Creekside Access, Container Gardens

PLAYceMaker is excited to be working with the Temple Preschool in Nashville, Tennessee. After an energetic day of sharing ideas between Corye Nelson (director), teachers, parents and children, Vicky is hard at work designing what promises to be an awe-inspiring Happy PLAYce in this beautiful setting nestled right alongside the historic Belle Meade Plantation.



  • Revise the traditional playgrounds to be more natural

  • Find a flow and function between the areas that stimulates connection with nature in a multitude of ways

  • Capture the potential on the wooded hill to support development in all the learning domains, including spiritual development

  • Consider the 'base camp' needs as plans progress to add a forest school pre-K class


Stay tuned as details come to life!

Illustration by Brian Somerville


Posted: March 26, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

More Collaboration Station than Wall!

GOAL: Find a way to maintain the licensing requirement to separate age groups, but still encourage interaction between the children. 

This Music Wall will encourage collaboration as children on both sides make music together. The "Falls of the Ohio" Mongo Stonaphone will bring in a geographically significant element. The beautiful Stained Glass Pergola will be the centerpiece of the wall and artisically incorporate the donated panels. 

Construction starts June 1, 2018 at 2nd Presbyterian Weekday School in Louisville, Kentucky. See comprehensive Playscape plans here.

"Existing" to "Transformation"

Posted: January 16, 2018, Nashville, Tennessee

Making the Old Better Than New!

At PLAYceMaker, we recycle existing equipment whenever possible. Artfully crafted facelifts can dually repair and rejuvenate. See more photos of the complete Toddler Playscape at Calvary Young Children's School here.

Country Front Porch

Posted: September 28, 2017, Nashville, Tennessee

Calvary Young Children's School -
               Kathy Ennis, Director

PLAYceMaker Nashville Maker Team TANK 615 (Brian Somerville, Sean Perdue, Trey Gossett, and Jason York) has been working in 90 degree heat to bring this lovely spot to life. Cleverly designed to camoflauge the giant HVAC equipment and muffle the noise of it, the children will enjoy reading books on the bench or the rocking chairs to come, or building with natural blocks on the large deck to the right. An antique farm bell, horseshoes for luck, and a weathervane will round out the feeling of being on a horse farm in the rolling hills of middle Tennessee.

Next PLAYce to Design!

Northside Learning Center - Leslie Morris, Director

Posted: September 26, 2017, Chattanooga, Tennessee

PLAYceMaker is working with new friends at the Northside Learning Center in Chattanooga to reimagine the infants, wobblers, toddlers, and preschoolers outdoor learning environments. Great meeting yesterday with director, Leslie Morris, teachers Valerie, Jessica, and Lindy, and parent Songkhla. We shared ideas, needs, dreams and passions as we discussed the wonderful potential of their spaces to immerse children in nature-filled and play-based experiences. We'll reveal a transformative design by the end of October!

See You in Gatlinburg!

Posted: September 15, 2017, Chattanooga, Tennessee

ANNUAL CONFERENCE Presenter and MarketPlace Vendor

Come learn about PLAYceMaker playable landscape and outdoor classroom design services at the MarketPlace during the Tennessee Association for Children's Early Education Annual Conference on October 20-21, 2017. It's taking place at the Gatlinburg Convention Center in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Vicky would love to talk to you about designing a Happy PLAYce for the children at your program.

Vicky will be presenting on Saturday from 1-2:00 -- The Dirt on Outdoor Play: Come explore a variety of approaches to outdoor play and learning: the outdoor classroom, forest kindergarten, nature-based preschool, and others. Find out why might you want to "naturalize" your traditional, equipment-laden playground and how to go about it. We'll discover what the latest research is telling us about the urgency of connecting children with nature and list some simple steps to begin your playground's transformation.

Fossil Dough

                               1 Cup Flour                            
                               1/2 Cup Salt
                               1 Cup Used Coffee Grounds
                               Scant 1/2 Cup Cold Coffee   
                               1 T vegetable oil


Mix everything together, except the coffee and oil. Slowly add coffee until the mixture comes together. Add oil and knead the dough on a countertop, adding more flour if too sticky. Store in an airtight container. The dough will last for at least a month if stored in an airtight container. This recipe does not air dry well. 

Recipe for "Fossil Dough"

Posted: September 8, 2017, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Get your FREE sample in Gatlinburg!

Come learn about PLAYceMaker playable landscape and outdoor classroom design services at the MarketPlace during the Tennessee Association for Children's Early Education Annual Conference on October 20-21, 2017 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Vicky would love to talk to you about designing a Happy PLAYce for the children at your program.

And 3 Other Things You Didn't Know About PLAYceMaker

Posted: September 1, 2017, Chattanooga, Tennessee

1. PLAYceMaker designer and consultant Vicky Flessner has 7 grandchildren between      
    6 weeks and 5 years of age. She is an avid observer of their play and is enjoying this
    personal perspective. Vicky is amazed at what she is still learning about children's
    development through play even after 38 years in the field of early education!

2. Vicky lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but has served clients on site from Mobile,
    Alabama to Louisville, Kentucky. While she loves getting on the road and seeing new
    places, she can work with you digitally, if travel is a barrier.

3. Vicky was born and raised a Yankee (Lansing, Michigan), but has been Chattanooga
    resident since 1980. Even after all these years all she has to do is say, "Hi!" and the
    response will be, "you're not from around here, are you?" Gotta love the Michigander

    nasal twang!

Chattanooga Area Association for the Education of Young Children

Posted: August 13, 2017, Chattanooga, Tennessee

FALL CONFERENCE Exhibitor and Presenter

Come learn about PLAYceMaker playable landscape and outdoor classroom design services  at our exhibit booth for the CAAEYC Fall Conference on September 9, 2017 taking place at Boyd-Buchanan School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Vicky would love to talk to you about designing a Happy PLAYce for the children at your program.

Vicky will also be presenting a session: The Dirt on Outdoor Play.

PLAYceMaker is excited to be involved with this local school that's transforming itself from a traditional curriculum to a STEAM-immersed (--that is, science-technology-engineering-arts-math), model program in Hamilton County. They believe developing a unique and cutting-edge outdoor learning environment is a vital part of the transformation. It will be an exciting hub of research and hands-on experimentation as the students apply STEAM concepts in the natural world. Who wouldn't want to learn about math by predicting how many acorns an oak tree might produce in a season or discovering how heat from the sun transfers differently to soil, water, and sand, or how slope and ground cover affect erosion?!

One component of the re-development of this dilapidated  
playground will be ensuring that the outdoor classroom is an accessible space for all students.

Local Elementary School Starts Visioning Process for Outdoor Classroom

Posted: July 19, 2017, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Taking It Outdoors!

Placed-based = PLAYce!

Posted: July 17, 2017, Louisville, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park is just an hour away and you're across the river from the Falls of the Ohio...Hmmm, let's build a cave on your playscape! This design concept is in on the drawing board for 2nd Presbyterian Weekday School in Louisville, KY. It's inspired by the rock formations on the shores of the Ohio River, the Kentucky state fossil, the brachiopod (yes, they really have a state fossil!), and the climbing holds available on the program site. The cave will provide a "secret" hideout, a climbing element, and add elevation to the woodland path that will traverse right over the top of it. 

Happy 100th Birthday!

Posted: June 29, 2017, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Little Miss Mag Early Learning Center

This wonderful program in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee recently celebrated its centennial. What an accomplishment! Vicky Flessner, now founder/owner of PLAYceMaker,  is proud to have been on the design team that brought the feel of the farm and birds and bees to this rustic oasis in a dynamic city environment. In 2015, LMM ELC won an honorable mention in the Southern Early Childhood Association's Exemplary Outdoor Classroom Contest for an urban setting!

TN-Reggio Study Group, Professional Development

Posted: June 7, 2017, Chattanooga, Tennessee

It’s a MESSY Job: A Crash Course on the Role of the Atelierista

Moon Bishop (see the "Meet the Makers" tab), is collaborating with Amanda Durai and Vicky Flessner to compose this 6 hour professional development course. Although the June 24 class is a closed group, anyone interested in the course should contact Miss Moon for information. Course description: Paint, clay, wire, pencils, wood, loose parts: providing access to the Hundred Languages (and more) is just the beginning of the Atelierista’s work in an Inquiry-Based / Reggio-Inspired environment. How do you select materials? How do you present them to children? How do you talk to children about their work? What happens next?

See You at the ELI

June 2-3, 2017, Knoxville, TN

Door prize donation and fun freebies at my exhibitor booth!

I'm donating a Storytelling Basket featuring the book "Frog's Lunch" for a door prize at the Early Learning Institute in Knoxville, TN June 2-3. Follow PLAYceMaker on Facebook and choose a fossil. Sign up for my newsletter and receive a Nature Sleuth Guide tablet. Visit my PLAYceMaker exhibitor booth and tell me your dream story to create a PLAYable landscape or outdoor classroom for the children you serve. Together we can make it a reality!

The Ryman Auditorium/Music City element will be erected on the Preschool playground. This bespoken feature authentically imitates the historical Ryman Auditorium architecture with its brick exterior, cathedral stained glass windows, circular stage inset from the orginal Grand Ole Opry, and church pew seating for the audience. A variety of instruments await the children's musical compostion. Sculpted bongo drums and a hand-crafted metal, playable guitar, fabricated by metal worker Jason York, will add to the artistry of this element while providing the children with genuine musical experiences. 

Groundbreaking Imminent!

Posted: May 5, 2017, Nashville, Tennessee

Calvary Young Children's School begins complete transformation of the Toddler Playscape and adds one-of-a-kind Ryman Auditorium music element to the Preschool playground. 

Work begins in the next couple of days at CYCS as PLAYceMaker designer, Vicky Flessner, joins with the Noble Building Group Artists to transform the Toddler Playscape. Mimicking the charm of a Middle-Tennessee Horse Farm, this nature-infused outdoor classroom will include a Country Front Porch featuring a raised deck on one side for reading and a large block-building deck on the other side, tire Tractor Bouncers, Spring Saddles, Watering Trough water play, grass and weeping cherry tree covered play mounds connected by a bridge and incorporating an embankment slide, a Sandbox Fossil Dig, a music area which will incorporate a Nashville Skyline Chime and a unique Piano Deck, and more. Check out the PLAYceMaker Facebook page for minute by minute photos of all of the excitement!

Special Invitation

Posted: May 1, 2017, Knoxville, Tennessee

UT Early Leaning Institute Leadership Session

Vicky is delighted to be a specially invited participant to a small group seminar June 1 with Claire Warden, keynote speaker at this year's Early Learning Institute. Claire is founder of Mindstretchers out of Scotland, whose vision is to lead inspirational learning: inside, outside and beyond. Session Description:  As program leaders, we encounter or pose particular questions about ways to enact nature pedogogy in our programs. What are the lines of inquiry we develop in our leadersip work with nature pedagogy? Howdo we support effective professional growth for educators? Claire Warden will join us as our invited guest facilitator as we indulge in conversation about the questions most relevant to our work as pedagogical leaders. 

New Makers Joining PLAYceMaker!

Posted: April 7, 2017, Nashville, Tennessee

Meet Brian Somerville, Trey Gossett,
Sean Perdue, and Jason York

Vicky has been meeting and collaborating with the Noble Building Group Artists over the last several weeks as we have been putting together the preparation details for the upcoming PLAYceMaker project at Calvary Young Children's School in Nashville.

Click on over to the "Meet Our Makers" page and check out the creative talents of these gifted artists and craftsmen. And stay tuned for updates on the CYCS Ryman Auditorium/Music City installation as well as the complete makeover of the Toddler Playground! These guys are going to ROCK it!

It's Time to Sign Up for the UT Early Learning Institute

Posted: April 1, 2017, Knoxville, Tennessee

Vicky will be exhibiting for PLAYceMaker at the ELI! Come by my booth for a special give-away.

The mission of the institute is to create an intimate, supportive, professional context for early childhood educators and leaders to collaborate and share nature-based practices and thinking. After two years of preparing for the annual conference with a heavy emphasis on nature-based practices, the ELC educators are recognizing an additional interest in exploring inquiry learning with conference participants. The aim is to connect, inspire, and encourage a variety of educators as we explore these topics in relation to children, their families, and early childhood practitioners. 

2017 Study Tour

Posted: March 17, 2017, Chattanooga, TN

Annual Professsional Development Opportunity

Featured Speakers: 

Clare Nugent, of Fern Top Nature Preschool, will present Teaching and Documenting the Inquiry Process Outdoors

Vicky Flessner, of PLAYceMaker LLC, will present  Not Just Window Dressing: The Importance of "Staging" Your Environment

Register TODAY. Spaces go fast!

April 21-22, 2017, Hixson, TN

Break-out sessions include:

Purposeful Questioning, Journaling with Young Children, Cross-Classroom Collaboration, Supporting Children’s Ideas Through Dramatic Play, and Arts Experiences and the Inquiry Process

Fern Top Nature Preschool

February 9-10, 2017, Fairview, TN

Vicky will be hanging out for two days with the children in the forest!

Vicky is excitedly anticipating  being fully immersed in the nature preschool experience for two whole days. Thanks to Clare Nugent, founder and director of this inspirational progam, for allowing the opportunity. Clare has studied nature preschools and forest kindergartens internationally and with the world's best, including Claire Warden of Mindstretchers in Scotland. Vicky is putting on her Big Boots for this Adventure! Full report coming soon.

Favorite Part of My Job

January 24-25, 2017, Louisville, KY

"Playgrounds should be renamed research environments because that is what children are doing so vigorously. They are finding out how the universe works."  Buckminster Fuller

Lucky me, I got to play with, talk with and observe children at play for several hours over two days during my consultation with 2nd Presbyterian Weekday School in Louisville, KY. I zero in on what the children are already interested in and investigating. Then I use those observations to aid me in transforming the playground into a nature-infused outdoor classroom and playable landscape.

Glen Leven

Presbyterian Dayschool

January 10, 2017, Nashville, TN

JOURNEY PATH to get facelift!

Debbie Ferguson, director of Glen Leven Presbyterian Dayschool, and Vicky met for a "drive-by" assessment of the program's well-worn Journey Path. Many opportunities exist with this 525' trail around the playground. We will be exploring how to enhance the trail by adding texture, elevation changes, and interesting vegetation. We will form a stronger relationship between the path and the existing play pockets, adding some mystery and enchantment as we go. Stay tuned for updates as this project progresses! 

Imagining a "Universe" of Possibilities

Posted: January 13, 2017, Hixson, Tennessee

Hixson United Methodist Church: The Children's Ministries, Parents Day Out and Child Development Center Envision a New Playscape!

This dynamic congregation is growing its ministries to children. Having recently completed a new, 2-story building to house the expanding number of children it serves, now it is time to design an equally beautiful and modern outdoor classroom and play garden. We have been inspired by the Creation Story in the book of Genesis as the collaborative designing process has unfolded. Continue to check back to see how the 7 days of creation will be represented in this unique playground interpretation - "The Very Good Garden."


Posted: December 6, 2016, Chattanooga, TN

The Chattanooga group of Inspired! early childhood educators met this month to exchange classroom DIY ideas. Many wonderful inspirations were offered from evergreen bristle and stick handled paint brushes, how to make Story Stones, circular prayer weavings, ginger and cinnamon scented play dough, a black light exploration box, and much more. This collaborative study group recharges us all. Thanks to Moon Bishop, our facilitator. 

A New PLAYce for

2nd Presbyterian Weekday School

Posted: December 2016, Louisville, Kentucky

Vicky and Lindsey to consult with Families, Staff, Children and Board in January 2017

Vicky and Lindsey are eagerly anticipating a trip to 2nd Presbyterian Weekday School in Louisville, Kentucky in late January. Vicky met Lisa Warner, Director, at the Early Learning Institute in Knoxville last June and was able to do a "drive-by" assessment of their playscape in July on a trip north to Michigan. Their space is full of potential and sits in a nature-blessed spot - lucky them! We will be hosting several collaborative sessions with the different groups in their school community to better understand their context and dreams for the playscape. Stay tuned for updates as this new project evolves.

UTC Invites Community Participants to Discussion

Posted: November 2016, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Vicky had the privilege of being invited to participate in a community forum discussing Preschool Outdoor Education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The discussion was quite stimulating and focused on the value of nature-immersed education, as well as how to provide nature-based experiences to preschoolers. There is a lot of interest in providing nature-infused education for students of all grade levels. Chattanooga is fertile ground for this topic. Vicky looks forward to seeing how it takes root and flourishes in the "Scenic City of the South" as future discussions and planning take place!

Save the Date!

Posted: November 2016, Hixson, Tennessee

Vicky presents at the Highland Plaza United Methodist Preschool STUDY TOUR 2017 in April

The HPUMP Study Tour is a perennial sell-out.

Look for more information coming soon on their

website. Vicky will be presenting on transforming

your indoor and outdoor learning environments. 

Here's Vicky's title and teaser: 

Not Just Window Dressing - The Importance of “Staging” Your Environment

There are some interesting parallels between the professional window display designer, a museum exhibit curator, and the teacher creating indoor or outdoor classroom environments. We’ll discuss the psychology of design, come up with some rules of thumb to get your thinking stimulated for your own transformation, and detail a clearer understanding of what the Reggio educators mean by “the environment as the third teacher.”

Awe, Joy and Wonder

Posted: October 14, 2016, Franklin , Tennessee

Vicky presents at the Tennessee Association for the Education of Young Children's annual conference

 "Developing Spirituality through Experiences with Nature"

Many of us would agree that time spent in nature inspires awe, joy, wonder, and a sense of inner peace. Research is beginning to show that when these positive dispositions are intentionally cultivated, children are more likely to exhibit the spiritual qualities of kindness, empathy, caring, and reverence. In this session we will explore how we might implement a system for the development of spirituality through experiences in nature. 

Joined a Cause-Mob!

October 5, 2016, Chattanooga, TN

Show up and find out the project you'll be working on...

Vicky accepted the Causeway Cause-mob invitation during StartUP Week in Chattanooga. She had no idea what she was in for, but was so delighted to get to join a crew headed for Rivermont Elementary. Her daughter went to school there Kindergarten through 2nd grade. Their cause was to begin building a 90' long stairway up a steep hill that will be the beginning of a trail

to the river. Their hope is to study the river habitat up close and in person with their students. This project is the jumpstart for Rivermont to add more outdoor learning initiatives and STEM objectives to the curriculum.

CAAEYC Conference

September 2016, Chattanooga, TN

Opportunity to share the PLAYceMaker vision in my hometown.

Vicky is vending at the Chattanooga Area Association for the Education of Young Children's annual conference September 10, 2016. Coincidentally, the conference is being held at Boyd-Buchanan School where Vicky's design for the pre-K and K-5 playgrounds was recently unveiled. Participants will be able to walk out the door and interact with the new playscape in 3D!

Appointed to the Board

July 2016, Chattanooga, TN

Vicky has been approved to serve on the Board of the Wauhatchie School in the Lookout Valley area of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This innovative, nature-based program serves preschoolers and homeschoolers in a beautiful setting. Click on the logo to go to the school's website. Get a glimpse of the wonder-filled days of the students by watching the video. Vicky is proud and delighted to be associated with this truly trail-blazing program!

Revisiting New Zealand

Posted: June 2016, Knoxville, Tennessee

Vicky presents at the Early Learning Institute at the University of Tennessee Knoxville

"Te Wháriki — “the mat we all stand upon”

Join me for a trip around Auckland, New Zealand as I share about my weeklong intensive early childhood study tour there. Aotearoa (New Zealand) is the only country in the world that has a national, bicultural, early childhood curriculum, melding the values of the indigenous Maori peoples and the English settlers. It is heavily influenced by Reggio Emilia pedagogy as well as the Maori language, cultural beliefs, and traditions. I will be focusing on the value that is placed on outdoor play and their tenet that all children in group care be allowed to be outdoors “at will.”

Passageways Challenge

May 2016, Chattanooga, TN

Makers Susan Santos and Mark Giampietro join Vicky to form team TennPoint

The Passageways contest was offered as a community outreach project of the 2016 AIA (American Institute of Architects) Tennessee State Convention held August 24-26, 2016 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It challenged entrants to focus on the urban fabric that exists in the space between Chattanooga's city buildings. These forgotten and often times overlooked voids exist throughout the city. Vicky, Susan and Mark submitted an entry. Although they weren't among the winners, the process was a great learning experience!

 The intent of the winning alleys exhibit is to exemplify the potential of these spaces and the benefits they have in creating a healthy urban environment throughout Chattanooga. All five winning installations can be found on the 700 blocks of Broad, Market and Cherry Streets in Downtown Chattanooga over the next 12 months. See the winners here. 

Superheroes Needed!

April 2016, Chattanooga, TN

3rd Grader makes Video to spur Excitement for the Playscape Project.

The 3rd graders at Boyd-Buchanan School make movie trailers to learn how to operate iMovie. In this case, one student took on the challenge to make a video about the new Playscape Vicky designed to be installed over the 2016 summer vacation. Its premier at an entire school assembly brought the house down!

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