By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Tiger Tots Nurtury Center is celebrating spring with new playground equipment,

The new earth-friendly equipment was made possible with a Dane G. Hansen Foundation grant, said Sara Stroup, the center's education director.

Crafted from trees cut for other purposes, the upgrades promote sustainable practices.

A science table on the concrete patio just outside the door uses rocks and moveable troughs to enhance learning.

"A lot of thinking has to go into placing those troughs," Stroup said.

When the weather is warm enough, the table will have water as well.

Thick wood slices form stepping stones that help with youngsters large motor development. They're scattered around the log balance beam on one side of the play yard.

A sandbox and wood-pallet backdrop along the rear wall promise more learning discoveries.

A child-sized table with a tic-tac-toe board carved in its top and log chairs are located near the outdoor kitchen complete with a sink and burner. FHSU's Chartwells donated pots and pans for stirring goodies.

When the children asked for play food, Stroup told them to use their imagination.

Music chimes made from lengths of pipe and a pallet wall of "instruments" created from cake pans and other donated kitchen items make up the music corner.

"Outside time has been a complete change. They're engaged. They're not just running aimlessly," Stroup said.

The old plastic castle that was on the playground was donated to a family with few toys.

Walmart donated the wood pallets. Stroup also thanked Paul Adams, interim dean of the College of Education and Technology, for telling them about the grant.

The concept is to "teach children to recycle and repurpose items that would normally be thrown out," Stroup said.

Dustin Braun from Hays Planing Mill "built everything. We showed him pictures from the Internet, and he built it. He had no plans," Stroup said.

"That's what I like to do," Braun said.

The children followed the presentation of a handmade thank-you card to Braun with hugs.

Beginning this semester, Tiger Tots, which serves children of FHSU students, staff and faculty, is operated through the teacher education department.

"Natalie and I have dreamed of having Tiger Tots operated through the FHSU teacher education department. That dream came true this school year," Stroup said. "This semester, we began the integration phase of Early Childhood Unified interns, and next year we will have student teachers also."