Preschoolers treated to tree maze

Lawrence Arts Center preschoolers, from left, Reed Wilson, Ethan Rogers and Jude Dameron hide in their forest of trees. The arts center acquired nearly 40 leftover Christmas trees donated from Westlake Ace Hardware, 601 Kasold Drive, and the Lawrence Breakfast Optimists Club and created the temporary winter wonderland. At right is Max Bates. The city will pick up Christmas trees for recycling on Monday and Jan. 14. The trees must be next to a curb, in a Dumpster or in an alley.

On their first day back from winter break, students at the Lawrence Arts Center preschool had something new to be excited about.

Outside the classroom, removed from the smell of finger-paint and the clamor of inside voices, was a forest – a “tree maze,” as one excited student described it.

Nearly 40 Christmas trees, leftover and unclaimed by Lawrencians, stood in the outdoor recreation area of the school, providing students with a unique, hands-on learning experience.

“Have you ever been in a forest?” asked Linda Reymond, preschool director. “The experience of being in a forest is something kids here don’t often have an opportunity to do.”

Reymond expected the makeshift forest, made from trees donated by Westlake Ace Hardware and the Lawrence Breakfast Optimists Club, to generate many learning opportunities for the roughly 150 students at the creative-based preschool.

“It’ll be stories, it’ll be language, it’ll be nature,” said Reymond, who borrowed the idea from a friend from California. “It’s just another example of experiences for the kids. They learn by (being) hands-on.”

Meghan Hay, a teacher at the school, said the pint-sized forest would be integrated into the school’s curriculum. She said the children will use the trees as inspiration for artwork, and she hoped the school would be able to bring birds to the forest.

Reymond did not know exactly how long the urban forest would remain, but she said the trees’ second life as educational exhibits was an environmentally friendly way to learn.

“They get recycled twice, instead of once,” she said, noting how the trees will be picked up by the city when the forest is taken down.

On Thursday morning, the forest – planted in sand – provided a way for a handful of rambunctious children to blow off some steam. Games of hide-and-seek used the trees as cover, and a passionate debate about whether or not a stuffed green frog was alive raged among several students, oblivious to the adults standing around them and a photographer taking pictures.

“This is a really cool program. It’s a creative way to learn,” Reymond said. “Children very seldom sit down here. This is not a sit-down program.”