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Sand, Water And Wood: New Motor-Sensory Playground Opens In Fort Lauderdale

Two-year-old Ari Williams plays at Jack & Jill Children's Center's new infant/toddler playground with City Commissioner Robert McKinzie.
Caitie Switalski
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Two-year-old Ari Williams is testing out the new motor-sensory friendly playground at the Jack & Jill Children’s Center on West Broward Boulevard.

“It’s sand!” she yells, and scoops tiny cups of sand into smaller containers.

She then jumps to the water tables where she throws her hands in and can splash around. 

Motor-sensory playgrounds are starting to pop up more and more across South Florida. Now there's even  a sensory gym for kids in Palm Beach Gardens.

Unlike traditional playgrounds where children climb and go down slides, in a motor-sensory playground they have to pinch, build and pour things to better develop their fine motor skills. 

  Hear what the new playground sounds like.

The new Jack & Jill playground came from the local professional development group Leadership Broward. The current class raised $13,000 and got the playground built in about seven months. Class member Jonathan Lewis said his group picked motor-sensory playgrounds because they promote open-ended play. 

“Research that we looked at said it’s good to give them opportunities to have open-ended play, where there’s not necessarily a defined thing,” he said.

That research, some of which comes from a 2013 study,  suggests motor-sensory play also has benefits for children with autism spectrum disorders.


Jack & Jill’s executive director, Heather Siskind, said the center takes care of lower-income children who may not get this kind of stimulation at home if parents are working. “This gives them the ability to really develop those things that they need to help them grow and run around and be able to play with sand and water,” Siskind said.

The center has been running in Fort Lauderdale since 1942, but it has evolved over the years to offer family strengthening and financial programs to help parents break the cycle of poverty, while also opening a private school. 

The center has been in its current building since 2001, and this is the first time the playground for infants and toddlers has been renovated.  

So far, Ari seems to like it. 

“I’m almost done; I’m almost done!” she said to her teacher while she grabbed some more sand. 

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Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.