When your work is play, there’s never a dull moment and plenty of fun. The Children at Play Network (CAPN) has been working to expand opportunities for nature-based free play for children throughout the region in 2017. CAPN hosted Free Play Days for nearly 1,000 children at Bernheim and beyond, delivered training to more than 100 educators and play advocates, started a forest play group for young children and supported dreams of more nature-based free play in communties across in central Kentucky. Here are a few of the highlights:
The Children at Play Network was officially launched in September 2017 in Louisville at the IdeaFestival, a conference celebrating innovation and collaboration. More than 600 people CAPN sponsored featured speaker Dr. Peter Gray, a noted psychologist and expert on play, and author of Free to Learn, and hosted a wildly popular Free Play Zone on the Belvedere, where box play engaged both children and adults, including Louisville’s own Mayor Greg Fischer.
Free Play Days in the Community
On one of the hottest days in July, CAPN set up a free play zone at the Well Living Fest, a festival at Louisville’s Ben Washer Park sponsored by Bridge Kids International, a global organization that helps young people in Africa and the African Diaspora build sustainable communities.
In September, CAPN transformed a traditional playground and the nature of play with tarps, sticks, ropes and other loose parts for 400 children and adults at a back-to-school event for the Second Presbyterian Weekday School.
Free Play Days at Bernheim
Special events at Bernheim provide some of the most memorable experiences for visitors throughout the year. Whether its building fairy houses at BloomFest, experiencing one-of-a-kind art installations at CONNECT, learning about bugs of all kinds at BugFest, or enjoying the changing leaves at ColorFest, there is something special for everyone each season.
The Children at Play Network was pleased to offer something new at each of these events, a space set aside for free play where children used boxes, tarps, string — and sometimes toilet plungers – to build, create, solve problems and make friends all in the pursuit of unstructured, uninterrupted and undirected play. These free play opportunities offer a space for children to engage in activities that support their physical, social and emotional development.
In late August, CAPN launched the Muddy Boots Play Group an opportunity for children ages 3-6 to enjoy free play in the woods in a program modeled after forest kindergarten, an educational approach of child-led, play-based learning in nature. In this monthly three-hour program, children spend most of their time outdoors in all weather and seasons. In the first few months of the program children explored the woods and a nearby creek, played in the mud kitchen, enjoyed snacks around the fire and nearly always went home with muddy boots!
Play Training for Teachers and Advocates
Expanding free play opportunities for children means sharing how it’s done. CAPN was pleased to bring Morgan Leichter-Saxby, a UK trained play worker with Pop Up Adventure Play, for a regional institute for teachers, advocates and aspiring play workers. CAPN also provided training for Highland Presbyterian Weekday School, Second Presbyterian Weekday School, the Sacred Heart Preschool and preschool directors with the Archdiocese of Louisville on the importance of play, play strategies, assessing risk versus hazard and how to host free play days.
Because of the continued support of PNC Bank, volunteers, Bernheim staff and play advocates in the community, CAPN is planning for more free play in 2018 to connect children to nature in our region.