In late summer, while visiting Bernheim, my family and I stumbled upon an area that had been set up with boxes, hay bales, ropes and clamps. Kids were taking turns soaring through the air on rope swings that were hanging from trees. Our kids immediately gravitated to this area and played, built and explored for most of the morning. One of my student’s parents, Zach Bramel, was actually a free play facilitator for the event. He and I got to talking and then I got to thinking …
What I became most interested in was the fact that all the children seemed to know what to do innately. They weren’t asking for direction or “how to”. While the kids played, I saw the amazing opportunity this could provide for my students in a Title One School in Louisville’s inner city.
In late May, Zach brought loads of river branches, cloth blankets, ropes, loose parts, balls and cardboard to our play yard, under a beautiful oak tree. We brought 53 students outside (first, second, and third grades) and they were set free. As a parent, teacher and human being, I found this to be such an incredible experience.
We were outside for the majority of the day. It was fascinating to observe our students’ abilities, their creativity and resilience. I immediately noted how some students had the need to sit and observe for a bit before joining in. Others just intuitively jumped in to creating collaborative play. Some kids stuck with one project while others were like little honeybees, adding a little pollination to each area they visited. I was shocked to see that there was significantly less conflict on this unique play day than there would be in a typical school day.
The students were engaged, working together and solving
problems. This is what real learning looks like. Sure there was some conflict, but students regulated themselves much more quickly and I feel that was due to the level of their engagement and their ability to choose their work. Some of our students haven’t had the opportunity to play in big boxes, build forts with sticks and make rope swings.
In my twelve years of teaching, this was one of my most meaningful and memorable experiences. Our students thought for themselves, worked collaboratively, took risks and overcame obstacles. This was a level playing field where diversity balanced equity. As an educator that meant success. My students achieved an important goal in learning … the importance of PLAY. What a life long gift!
Lauren Graham, teacher
Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School, Louisville KY
To view a presentation Lauren made about the experience at the CAPN Teacher Institute click here