It’s back to school time… the carts at Target are filled with school supplies, my daily facebook feed shows photos of cute kids boarding yellow buses, and playground chit chat has quickly turned from “where are you vacationing this summer?” to “where will your kids go to school this fall?” Clearly, it’s time for B and I to get back on the ball with our Teacher Tour Guide curriculum! I’ve spent the past few weeks planning, prepping and scheming and I’m ready to go for at least the next 6 weeks or so, we’re back to school!
But…. the weather right now is in the high 70’s and sunny with a light breeze, the days are still fairly long, the trees are still filled with green leaves offering a bit of midday shade. While I share the back to school excitement, I’m also thankful that neither B nor I are confined to a classroom during these final weeks of summer.
We’re going to ease back into it with a few weeks of trips to the playground. Yep, you read that right; we’re heading to the playground for school. One thing I hope to convey through this blog is that play is learning. The most successful lessons and curriculum are fun – for both the student and the teacher. I have no doubt that the next few weeks of curriculum will meet that criteria.
Water in the Park: a book about water & the times of the day By Stphanie Graegin
What a gorgeous book! This book describes and illustrates a park scene throughout a single day, from 6am until after bedtime. The park includes a playground with a sprinkler as well as a small pond where turtles bask and dogs wade. The illustrations in this book are charming. The language is simple but lyrical. I loved how it portrayed the passage of time, an important concept for preschoolers. B loved how it described park goers (both human and animal) by name and with identifying details; this encouraged her to look closely at the illustrations in an effort to find the referenced characters.
Playground Day by Jennifer J. Merz
This is a simple book about a little girl’s day at the playground. It describes her activities using animal illustrations, such as gallop like a horse and slide like a penguin. B really liked the illustrations and I hope to reference some of the activities while we’re at the park playing.
Please Play Safe: Penguin’s Guide to Playground Safety by Margery Cuyler
This book is ultimately a social story outlining a variety of rules to be followed while at the playground. The “adult” in the story is a penguin, and a variety of other animals first make mistakes (e.g. climbing up the slide) and are then corrected by Penguin to learn the rules of playground safety.
As I previewed this book, I didn’t love it. The first wrong and then corrected pattern throughout the book struck me as overly negative. The first rule given is to walk, rather than run, at the playground…. Um, I bring my kid to the playground so she can run-run-run off all-all-all of her energy; walking is obviously not going to accomplish my bedtime goals for B. Perhaps most importantly, I don’t want to promote rigid right and wrong play while we’re at the playground, I want it to be a place where B can fully express herself and experiment with her physical capabilities.
Despite these hesitations, I read the book to B. She loved it, of course. Preschoolers are rule driven, with a strong sense of right and wrong so the various clearly stated rules appealed to her sensibility. I couldn’t help but remember an analogy I’ve read of driving over a bridge in the dark (attributed to Janet Gonzalez-Mena via Janet Lansbury) – rules and boundaries offer security. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the rules in this book, but I recognize how comforting they might be to B. Additionally, as it turns out, my disagreement with some of the rules was part of what made this book especially successful. As we read, B and I discussed each scenario, what we did and didn’t agree with, and what we believed constituted appropriate playground behavior. In a few cases, she recalled incidents from her own visits to the park and we reviewed those. As a classroom teacher, I worked with my students to develop their own set of class rules each school year. As B’s teacher, this experience served a similar purpose of promoting autonomy and accountability towards a set of standards.
So, in the end… this book is recommended!
Plan playground activities: We’re city dwellers, without a backyard, balcony or patio to speak of. More days than not we end up at one of our many local playgrounds. Most of the time it’s an unplanned excursion, we just hop in the stroller or onto a scooter and go. Sometimes, however, we go with a bit more purpose – a jump rope, chalk, bubbles, toy cars, or a ball catch B’s attention and we head to the park with a special toy and plans to use it.
For our “school” trips to the park, we’ll be intentional about taking a few minutes before we leave the house to think about what we might like to play – Are swings, slides and running around enough? Do we want to write with chalk? Blow bubbles? Race cars down the slide? Dig in the sandbox? – We’ll plan our day and then pack accordingly.
Drawing and writing with chalk: We have an awesome playground about a mile from our house with a baseball theme. One of the pieces of playground equipment is a huge “scoreboard” that kids can write on with chalk. B has been interested in it since before she could walk, and it’s the first place I observed her making letter-like symbols, an important step in early writing. While we tend to think of the playground as filled with gross motor activities, there are some great fine motor opportunities as well. Chalk is inexpensive, simple to pack, and can be a great activity to mix in with running, sliding, swinging and climbing. No need for a fancy scoreboard, simply find a patch of sidewalk and get drawing!
Try a new game: Grownups, think back to your playground days. What were some of your favorite games? Have you introduced them to your children yet? I realized while reading Please Play Safe: Penguins Guide to Playground Safety that B has not yet played tag. We’ll spend some of our playground time this week introducing her to the game. And next week (spoiler alert) we’ll focus our playground antics on making friends and perhaps find an opportunity to play tag with them. The game you choose needn’t be complicated, here are a few ideas that I considered: hopscotch, four square, hand clapping games (e.g. Miss Mary Mack), relay races, jump rope, duck duck goose, hide-and-seek. How about this Wikipedia list for some inspiration, or just to reminisce!?
Notes about your child’s learning:
Playgrounds are inherently social places where kiddos are likely to interact with others. I plan to continue our playground outing next week and will focus on the social opportunities available at the playground then.
So, we live in the heart of the city… sometimes we see rats at the park. I’ll admit, it makes me squeamish and I am very intentional about distracting B so she doesn’t become interested in watching them. But, we also have birds, squirrels, ants, spiders, trees and plants…. These, I can handle. My city kid has limited opportunities to commune with nature so we take what we can get, often our opportunities arise at the playground.
Drawing with chalk is great for strengthening the hand muscles needed for writing. Climbing, monkey bars, and even swinging are also great ways to build upper body strength. All of these will help your child prepare for someday sitting and jotting notes at school – no worksheets required!
Hopscotch anyone? Use some of that chalk to draw a simple hopscotch board and then count your way through the squares. Talk about high and low as you swing towards the trees. Count the steps up to the big slide. Notice shapes throughout the playground.
The playground is full of motor opportunities! We discussed fine motor while writing with chalk. Gross motor activities obviously abound as well. Run, climb, jump, swing… you know what to do, and your kids know even better!