Hastings Noon Kiwanis Celebrate 100th Anniversary By Creating Eight New Musical Playgrounds

  • Project: Outdoor Musical Playgrounds in Eight Elementary Schools
  • Location: Hastings, Nebraska, USA
  • Project Team: Hastings Noon Kiwanis / Creative Sites LLC
  • Project Funding: Fundraising Campaign (Details Below)
  • Project Goals: To Make Music Accessible to all Local Children

This summer saw the Hastings Kiwanis club achieve its goal to install musical playgrounds at all eight Hastings elementary schools despite coronavirus challenges. Children across the region will now be able to learn and play in a new and unique way thanks to the efforts of these amazing volunteers.

Hastings Kiwanis had been looking for a local project to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Initially, the club wanted to construct a single musical playground in a Hastings park, but after further discussion decided to vastly upscale the project and create a musical playground in each Hastings elementary school - thereby allowing the instruments to be accessible and enjoyed by more children across the community.

The Kiwanis approached two Hastings Public Schools music teachers for input, as well as principals and superintendents for all of the elementary schools. Mike Howie, a Hastings Kiwani told us the club was then given the go-ahead, however, this meant the cost of the project increased from $10,000/$12,000 to an $80,000 project.

Hastings Kiwanis began what was expected to be a two- or three-year fundraising campaign and sent a letter out to the community. In response to this letter, the club raised approximately $25,000.

Howie told us Hastings Kiwanis later received $10,000 from the Hastings Community Foundation; $10,000 from an anonymous grant; more than $32,000 through Give Hastings Day; and two $2,000 donations. He added some school Parent Teacher Organizations also donated to the project. “Music education is pretty important, and obviously the people in Hastings are big supporters of that or we wouldn’t have been able to raise the money,” Howie said.

“We took a two- or three-year project and we did it in nine months — it was super exciting,” he said. Greg Schultz, president of the Hastings Kiwanis Club, added the musical playground project has been successful due to the support they've received. “We’ve had an awful lot of support from the Hastings community through their donations and the support that we get from volunteers and monetary contributions,” he said. “We appreciate everyone who has been able to contribute and make this a successful project.”

By May, the Hastings Kiwanis had enough money to place an order for the outdoor musical instruments for all eight musical playgrounds. Mike was introduced to local Percussion Play reseller Julie Kutilek of Creative Sites who would be on hand to answer any questions and help support the project.

Michael Howie, one of the three leaders on the project, said “The schools could choose either a Trio Ensemble or Soprano Quartet Ensemble. They could choose whichever ensemble made sense for them and their space. Hastings Public Schools all wanted the same or similar ensembles because the teachers work together across the curriculum. This way, it was more consistent.”

The first musical playground was installed at Zion Classical Academy with Alcott and Longfellow elementary schools quickly following. Watson, Hawthorne, St. Michael’s, and Lincoln elementary schools came next with the eighth and final installation taking place at Adams Central Elementary School.

Howie said Hastings Kiwanis got “better every time” it installed a musical playground and that it took the group of about a dozen volunteers around five hours to install them. “Every installation was a little bit different, which I think is interesting and kind of fun,” Howie said. “Everybody has an idea of where the drum should go and where the tubular chimes should go.”

Due to COVID19, the musical playground project has unexpectedly taken on new importance with outdoor learning becoming a central part of each school’s efforts to maintain distance between pupils. Music teachers can bring students outside to learn. Tom Michalek, an elementary music specialist at Watson Elementary, said the playground has come at ‘just the right time’.

“Once COVID happened and we learned that we would be teaching outside as much as possible, it was just a perfect fit,” Michalek said. “So many students have been isolated with just their own families, and often that creativity component kind of goes by the wayside. So this will be an excellent time to be outside and do some creating.”

“I like how you can play it and it can make noise,” said Nyla Witte, a third-grade student at Longfellow Elementary.

“I like doing the different things with (my teacher) like repeating what they do, and then sometimes you can do it and other people repeat it,” said Charlie Ratzlaff, a fifth-grade student at Longfellow Elementary.

Howie added “Music is so important to the curriculum. It is a great, creative play for kids and helps reinforce what they are learning in the classroom. The music teachers are excited because they can take what they are doing in the classroom, come outside with the kids and teach, learn, and play together.”

Each of the musical playgrounds is open to the whole community, which means parents can bring their children to play with them at any time. Schultz said “The playgrounds are all in public venues, so kids can come and use them any time,” he said. “The musicians at the schools particularly are glad because with the environment we are in right now, outside learning is a real good thing and they are going to be able to use the playgrounds, be outside and have fun.”

Howie said he hopes the musical playgrounds inspire kids to give music a try, to have fun with it, to be creative, and develop an interest in it. “It also is really good for their learning,” he said. “That creative-type exercise helps grow the whole student. I think having that opportunity outside — where you have your playgrounds and your ball fields — helps exercise a different part of their (kids’) brain and helps them throughout the rest of their schooling. Just having that opportunity for creative play in a different way that’s musical I think just really helps kids grow, and learn and become their best selves.”

Feedback From the Community

We asked a Hastings music teacher Why was it important that the new playgrounds were musical playgrounds?

Their response was: "Current fine arts/music education standards in the United States are generally based on the actions of 'Create, Perform, Respond, and Connect'. As part of the standards, one goal of music education programs is for students to be able to 'generate/conceptualize, organize/develop, and refine/complete artistic ideas and work'.

Not only should students be able to meet these goals INSIDE the school building, by having space and trained music specialists dedicated to music education, but community members of school-age and beyond should have opportunities to create music OUTSIDE of the school environment as well. This MUSICAL playground equipment offers a unique opportunity for ALL citizens, age 2 to 102, to be able to experiment with sound and sound combinations, and create their own music! Users can create and play alone, or through collaboration with others. This outlet for creativity provides unique benefits not attained in other areas of daily life, and leads to connectedness and well-being that benefit all of us!"

  • During recess time students are working together to create a concert. After they have practiced they always ask me to come to listen to them perform. Not only are they working together in music but they are also collaborating about putting in their best performance for the teacher! Meaningful collaboration is exactly what teachers like to see! The performance is usually based on the flow of rhythm - Third Grade Teacher (and parent of elementary-aged children)
  • The students are excited and enjoying them. Students who do not play much have found themselves being on the instruments. It provides the non-sport upper elementary kids an outlet - Fifth Grade Teacher
  • I believe the musical playground is giving kids an opportunity to express their emotions through music by creatively maneuvering amongst the instruments to produce their own wonderful melodies. My kids personally have loved it because their imaginations take over when they are out there and they are able to experiment with the variety of instruments and sounds that each one makes - Fourth Grade Teacher (and parent of 2nd graders)
  • As a long time Early Childhood educator and lover of any and everything musical, our recently installed musical playground equipment is such an asset not only for our students but our staff and our community. Music whether vocal or instrumental, is such a universal and integral part of brain development, culture, emotional regulation, and daily life. With the addition of our wonderful outdoor musical playground, our students can now 'make their own kind of music' using emotions, whole-body movement, tapping, clapping, dancing, rhythm, and repetition along with the use of cooperating skills. Simply put...music brings joy. We want to thank you for the opportunity to bring JOY to our students, staff, and community - Kindergarten Teacher

About Kiwanis

Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world, one child, and one community at a time. Kiwanis members help shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, mentor the disadvantaged, and care for the sick. They develop youth as leaders, build playgrounds, raise funds for pediatric research, and much more.

No problem is too big or too small for Kiwanis. Working together, members achieve what one person cannot accomplish alone. They believe that when you give a child a chance to learn, experience, dream, and succeed, great things happen. The name "Kiwanis" means "we trade" or "we share our talents." It was coined from an American Indian expression, Nunc Kee-wanis.

About Creative Sites

Julie Kutilek, principal of Creative Sites, has more than 15 years of experience in the playground industry and a passion for bringing a higher level of play to all of Nebraska.