Over 250 current and alumni families, past and present faculty members of Evergreen Montessori School in Silver Spring, Maryland dedicated a new custom-designed Tree House play structure in honor of the 30-year career of Primary Division Director Marilynn Liotta. The dedication of the Tree House took place at the school’s annual Spring Festival and featured a violin recital and choral concert. Guest speakers included Mrs. Lynn Pellaton who served as Head of School from 1972 to 1996.
The Tree House is all natural and was constructed from sustainably harvested Black Locust logs and Osage Orange branches. The Tree House is a permanent part of the school’s award-winning rain garden and was built by local craftsman Marcus Sims. Ms. Liotta is retiring at the end of the school year.
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!”