When we learned that we needed to take down our beloved old play structure, we knew that a big, physical space would open up. What we didn’t know is that a fabulous side effect would emerge: this new space sparked creativity, innovation and connection.
When I was out on the elementary playground earlier this week, I witnessed a dynamic game of tag that involved a large group of children in several grades, including Kindergartners and 5thgraders. Everyone was in high spirits!
Our kids have also been deeply involved in creating amazing structures out of cardboard on the raised section of our playground, aka “Cardboard City.” According to 4thgrade teacher Leigh Houser, the creativity and engagement has been outstanding. Dozens of children have worked together and there hasn’t been any need to deal with behavior issues. Everyone has been determined to be helpful and build together.
When our space opened up, a group of teachers saw an opportunity and met to “hack the playground.” Their goal was to generate new and different ideas to enrich and enhance the children’s outside experience. Not coincidentally, the task force that has been working for months to design a new playground for us has come to the same conclusion.
Our teachers know well the importance of open-ended, creative play. Our preschool teachers model this every day. In a 2017 article that preschool teacher Katy Hollenbach sent to me, author and ‘play practitioner’ Caileigh Flannigan writes:
“When children are engaged in free play in the outdoors, they are provided opportunities for freedom, choice, and fewer routines...When children are given such freedom to play, they are more likely to engage in higher levels of social interaction, cognitive skills such as decision-making and reasoning, empathy, and physical activity. In turn, they are less likely to become inattentive, anxious, or depressed and unhealthy.This is how children learn – through experience: by seeing, feeling, touching, and hearing. The outdoor environment is a blank canvas on which children are able to place their own thoughts, wonders, and creations.”
She continues to explain the huge benefits of playing with loose parts:
“Loose parts are play objects and materials that are open-ended, manipulative, moveable, and non-dictated. This means that children can use the materials in a variety of ways and there is no suggested way or “story” behind these materials. Loose parts allow children to act upon their environment the way that they want, rather than their imaginations and creativity being predetermined by the materials.”
And that is exactly what has happened with Cardboard City. Next week, the cardboard will disappear and our teachers will bring out woodworking materials: a bench, tools, and a huge variety of wood scraps. Other creative mini programs will be rolled out as part of our outdoor play in the coming weeks:
April 16: woodworking
April 23: knitting
April 30: sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and a slackline
May 7: face painting and “tattoos”
May 14: yard games
May 21: water games
Author Flannigan adds: “It is a disappointing thing to see new playgrounds, developed in city spaces, sit there empty each day, or to walk in the park and hear no laughter. What is missing here is not the children , but materials and environments that create challenge, imagination, and creativity that children want to play outdoors. The absence of such play environments is not only influencing the quantity and quality of children’s play, but also affecting children’s health and well-being. As adults, we need to support children in learning to enjoy what free play in the outdoors has to offer. We need to inspire imaginations, creative minds, and capable bodies.”
Our playground task force has thought long and hard about what makes an outdoor play space that will be full of laughter and open-ended play. They have been hard at work designing a playground and a playground-specific program that comprise “materials and environments that create challenge, imagination, and creativity that children want to play.”
We can’t wait for you to hear about and see what we’re about to create here at Friends School.
Please plan on attending our Project Playground Town Hall & Big Revealnext Thursday, April 19 at 7:00pmat the Elementary School Great Room. This will be your chance to see the design, ask the architect questions, hear from task force members on the project plans, and enter to win a prize or two. Please plan to attend and enjoy wine (this is an adults-only event) and dessert. You may RSVP here.