A Hudson backyard transforms into an immersive classroom for kids.
Amid a five-acre forest lies a custom jungle gym, climbing trees and a world of possibilities for growing kids. The ground for this adventurous playground is none other than the classroom for Hudson-based learning initiative, HOPE Grove. “It is kind of a magical space,” says Kari Chaffin, mother of 4-year-old HOPE Grove student.
HOPE Grove (which stands for Healthy Opportunities for Play and Education or Habits, Occupations, Purpose and Environment) is an inclusive free-play and therapeutic nature-based enrichment program for children ages 0–12. Operating out of the comfort of founder Angela Mann’s yard, the space provides the perfect unrestricted, sensory-rich playground for individuals to meet new people, practice communication skills and move their bodies. She offers weekly seasonal programs, as well as a writing enrichment program, with kids of all ages. “Our goal is to provide some time and space to reclaim the wonder of childhood,” Mann says.
With a passion for working with children, Mann always longed to own her own business where she could combine this element with her background as an occupational therapist. As a mother of four children, she also longed for nature-based programs for her kids, but the offerings weren’t compatible with her family’s schedule. Mann was drawn to books that focused on children’s instincts and ability to naturally learn without structured methods. “Children are curious and motivated and learn best through free play,” she says.
Time at home due to COVID-19 only encouraged her kids’ curiosity outside. Not wanting to return to work in fear of putting one of her son’s health in jeopardy, she began developing her own free-play program to provide a resource for families to better utilize the great outdoors.
For 8-year-old Rufus, who is diagnosed with Down syndrome, HOPE Grove provides the perfect environment for him to disconnect from the digital world, learn without restrictions and just be uniquely himself. “He’s getting exercise, fresh air, he is making friends … Some with Down syndrome and some without, but regardless, he feels welcome and safe and is always really excited to go,” Todd says about his son, Rufus. “There are only a few things that he asks for by name, and HOPE Grove is one of them.”
The most rewarding aspect for Mann? Seeing the kids grow into themselves and their capabilities. “My favorite moments are witnessing an increase in confidence, seeing the pride in a child’s eyes when they accomplish something challenging,” Mann says.
As for the future of HOPE Grove, Mann hopes to continue to make her space more accessible to individuals with mobility impairments, include full day or before and after school childcare services and eventually provide a space where teenagers and adults can also bond amongst themselves and nature.