It has been a while since I posted to my blog, but not because I haven’t been writing. I just completed two courses at Montgomery College, and both required long term papers based on very specific content requirements. My creative energy was sapped.
But when I came across an article in the New York Times on the Carnegie Museum’s Playground Project on the history of playground design, I began to feel free enough to write again.
The article traces the roots of the Evergreen Garden and Playground concept to the Danish landscape architect in the 1930′s named Carl Theodor Sorensen. According to the Times, Sorensen, ”advanced the radical notion that children were happiest when playing with junk.” Toward the end of World War II, he began designing playgrounds that encouraged children to build, dig and create with natural and man-made materials including bricks and building debris. He called these new spaces skrammellegeplads or “junk playgrounds.”
Whether writing, building, cooking, making music or any other creative pursuit, we all need a skrammellegeplad… a safe place to play and try things out.
Learning and playing are acts of freedom. It is great to be free.
Everything Grows! was the theme of our 2013 Spring Festival. Just as one event can’t fully capture the spirit of the school year, one picture can’t capture the spirit of the event. But here is my best try:
Happy Earth Day!
Did you know our Rain Garden and playground were purposefully designed to allow children the chance to play in a natural environment? It is no surprise that our children are drawn to organic materials like stumps, logs, water and boulders. The garden is alive with sand and dirt, bugs and bark, mulberries and mulch. Last week we enhanced the garden with berry bushes, groundscaping and more. Within the next week, we will be sharing more plans to enhance the play space with more hands on materials to compliment the climbers, jungle gym, and monkey bars already installed.
Our garden is growing!
On to a more joyful topic: here is what I saw in our playground today:
- Singers nestled in the hollow log, chipping at bark.
- Soaring swingers, competing for height.
- A boy discussing the latest repairs to his hand-me-down violin.
- Treasure hunters burrowing with sticks into soft mud.
- A boisterous mob observing a bumble bee, then…
- A teacher’s quick, sober lesson on bumble bee bites.
- Multiple, simultaneous games of fast-moving tag.
- Emerging pale yellow shoots of this year’s beans.
- A small crowd of boys rocking on a make-shift log.
- I saw running, balancing, talking, and laughter. Pretend play and active imagination. I saw teamwork, negotiation, compromise, creativity, friendships and more.
Play on, Evergreen!
Why is play so important? According to Marc Armitage, a British Playworker (more on that in a moment), play is natural, essential, spontaneous, environmentally-based and intrinsically motivating. To a Montessorian’s ears, those are the characteristics of learning, too. At Evergreen, we describe what happens in our classrooms the same way. Work, play, learning and being are synonymous because each is a natural and essential aspect of life itself.
Three Evergreen faculty members, Toddler Teacher Jocelyn Basturescu, Programs Director Lourdes Barden-Sims and Head of School John DeMarchi attended a workshop led by Mr. Armitage at the Takoma Park Co-operative Nursery School in March. His presentation, titled “Keep Calm and Play On” reinforced Evergreen’s commitment to the value of outdoor play.
Mr. Armitage takes play seriously. His business card says “Playworker.” In the UK, that means he is hired to create and maintain spaces for children to play. You can think of him as a play scientist. And just like a Montessorian, the power of his profession comes from his careful observation of how children act and how they do and do not engage in play. Mr. Armitage is regularly contracted by governments, universities, research groups and schools through Europe and Scandinavia. He has been published in magazines, journals and books in English, Swedish and Dutch.
At the workshop, Mr. Armitage asked our faculty to recall their favorite childhood play spaces. Stop and think: What were yours? Most adults identify natural, outdoor spaces filled with grass, rocks, trees and water. At his presentation, participants called out their favorite places. Their fondest recollections matched features of the Evergreen Rain Garden to a ‘T’: rocks, logs, stumps and tall grasses. Our faculty was inspired by his presentation and enthusiastic about adding ‘loose parts’ elements in our outdoor play space.
As an advocate for play, Mr. Armitage recognizes the important cognitive growth that happens during play. Play is learning. Social skills like compromise and advocacy are developed, along with gross motor skills like balance and coordination. Without abundant opportunities to play, children can never recognize their full potential.
In the words of Marc Armitage, “Keep Calm and Play On!”
Another cold, February weekend in DC got me thinking about cabin fever. Even though it ”is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment,” I self-diagnosed using WebMD. I didn’t get far and had to go to Wikipedia for help. There I learned that the kind of cabin fever I have is more than just idiom; it has a scientific basis.
An article from a team of researchers from the University of Michigan in the journal Psychological Sciencecalled The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature claim that time in nature improves attention spans of subjects.
If it is hard on adults to be inside too much, can you imagine how a child feels?
I am grateful that I can take a break from writing and join E-day in the Rain Garden. Those fortunate children, and me. Otherwise I may never be able to finish my
Every once and a while, a classroom project stands out– like an army of penguins. What is it that makes them so endearing? They are so anthropromorphised, of course. These funny little creatures remind me of the time my son insistent on adopting a penguin through the World Wildlife Fund for Christmas.
But Santa is from the North Pole. Not Antarctica.
Life feels back to normal at Evergreen after being closed for Hurricane Sandy. We are so fortunate that the storm left the DC area unscathed. Children came into school today ready for the predictability of our routine. We quickly regained equilibrium. Teachers told me that there were no discussions of the recent storm in circle time nor were there conversations on the playground or at lunch. I appreciate our parents’ care shielding their young children from media images and news reports. Pictures of burning homes or waterlogged streets can be disturbing to old and young alike.
The lack of discussion of the hurricane doesn’t mean children have not been affected. Some children may have relatives in New York or New Jersey. Some may have anxiety about another storm. Children are deeply aware of stress in the adults who surround them. Please be ready to talk to your child about the storm. Let them know that being prepared is the key to safety. Fire drills, tornado procedures and our emergency plans are in place to ensure that we are safe at Evergreen. Most of all listen to their worries and reassure them with love.
Please speak to your child’s teacher if he or she seems worried, too. It helps us so much to have insight into what you are seeing at home. We can also point to additional resources to support your child. I am so glad that everyone in our community is safe– let’s not wait until Thanksgiving to appreciate all of our blessings every day.
Our art intern, Cora Michael, created this wonderful bulletin board for Mr. Bingcang’s class study of the life cycle of a butterfly. Stunning!
We are so thrilled to be written about in Debra Kahn’s Wells of Love the blog for Amman Imman! Read about our philanthropy Project and Amman Imman by clicking here:
Here is an except from the blog:
For young students, the heart of philanthropy opens when they discover a problem, gain understanding, and are given the tools at their level to take action that makes a difference. The Evergreen Montessori School’s global service program opens the door to philanthropy for their students.
We are so grateful to our outstanding Elementary class and their teachers for making the project happen. As Ms. Barden said, ”When the students see a need, they feel an impulse to help. And when it comes to caring, they don’t stop themselves from responding to their impulse.”