I am teaching a multi-age classroom this year, covering three grades. It is quite a difference from teaching a traditional classroom of one grade. There are times I miss having only kindergarten. But I have wonderful students that make this year so rewarding. I’ve discovered several things with my students:
1. If I let them have freedom on the playground, someone gets hurt. This isn’t because they can’t make the right choices, it’s because of the various ages. Kindergartners want to play like the second graders but second graders are interested in really physical games, like super heroes, ninjas, and girls vs. boys.
2. They get bored at recess. I am not sure if this is because there are so few children or because they are playing with the same group every day. It could also be this:
“Eventually playgrounds got dulled down even more as safety concerns grew. In 1999, 156,000 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms because of public playground-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Add to this a lawsuit-crazy culture and public playground design has become an exercise in restraint and caution.”
3. If I take them to the forested area, they work together.
Before fall started, someone pruned several large branches off the pine trees in the area. So there are some perfect branches for building forts, exactly the kind I built as a child. So I let them get creative. I didn’t suggest anything. I just took the students to where I knew the perfect branches lay and they got it! The children put aside their bickering, tattling, and frustrations with each other to build a fort. At first there was one fort, but now we have two amazing forts. All the children help to carry the extremely large branches. They work with them safely.
Here is what my students learn from building forts outside:
1. Problem solving: The children have to figure out where the branch best fits, how to make it stable, and what to do when the wall collapses.
2. Communication: Each child has to explain their vision for the fort, talk to each other to avoid accidents, and enlist aide when the branch is too big.
3. Compromise: Each child has an idea for the fort, but they work together to make one large fort instead of several small ones. They barter and trade branches that don’t work for them to get better suited building materials.
“Play is not an option for kids; play is how children learn to build community, how they learn to work with other people; it’s how they learn to kind of engage their sense of creativity.” — Playscape designer, David Rockwell
Elizabeth Goodenough notes, “Play takes many forms. It may be best defined from within as a spontaneous human expression that relies on imagination and a sense of freedom. Players invent alternative contexts for conversation, visualization, movement, and interaction with real objects. They discover release and engagement, stimulation, and peace. Although play can arise anywhere, even in a cement cell, children are naturally beckoned by the living world to enjoy perception and the sensations of being alive.”
The Harvard School of Education confirms my thoughts.
Children also need forts to establish a perimeter of success, allow for individual space with ownership, and to engage the adult.
Go build a fort today!