At my school in the South Slope of Vancouver, we have just raised just over $11,000 to put towards replacing our deteriorating wooden playground structure. The Parent Advisory Committee now has just over $30,000 in the designated savings account. Students and adults alike are now starting to dream about the possibilities that could come alive in the new playground.
Clyde Hertzman and Kim Schonert Reichl have had a profound impact in British Columbia. Hertzman clearly articulated that “[o]ur childhood experiences influence health, well-being, learning and behaviour for the rest of our lives”. Then he went about facilitating the use of The Early Learning Development Instrument to look at populations of kindergarten students and identify vulnerabilities of specific regions. Kim Schonert Reichl’s focus on social and emotional learning turned our attention on fostering empathy, altruism and resiliency, as well as implementing the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) to allow for consideration of longitudinal data. They have made us more aware in British Columbia of the need to create contexts for students to develop social, emotional and academic competencies. Play spaces in community parks and schools lend themselves to allowing children to stretch their limits physically and learn to play imaginatively with peers. Wouldn’t it be great it they could directly incorporate experimenting and exploring language with family, friends and caregivers in free play public spaces?
Vi Hughes is an educator, children’s writer and early literacy advocate. Frances Warner is a community planner and educator. These women have been posing the crucial question… WHY ARE THERE SO FEW WORDS, NUMBERS, OR RHYMES IN PLAY SPACES?
Their brainchild, LITE – Literacy in the Environment, is based on the premise that placing foundational reading experiences in play spaces will support the development of literacy skills. Hughes and Warner emphasize the importance of encouraging collaborative talk between preschoolers and parents / primary caregivers to spark curiosity and conversations about letters and their relationship to words. Imagine the possibilities if letters and words could be incorporated into school play spaces and classroom lessons could be developed and consolidated on the playground with vulnerable learners. Check out the LITE facebook page to see some of the possibilities that playground companies are beginning to provide. Hughes and Warner reports that several strong examples of incorporating literacy elements into playground design are emerging. John Lawson Park in West Vancouver has incorporated literacy elements and won a regional prize for their design. Ryall Spray Park in New Westminster has also incorporated literacy elements. Several spaces in Vernon are incorporating LITE and Warner is participating in the City of Vernon’s Master Plan for Parks. As the demand builds, they hope that playground manufacturers such as Landscape Structures, Kompan, Blue Imp and others will continue to respond to requests from clients for play spaces that support literacy through play.
On the LITE facebook link, there is a great picture of a rock with a blueberry label adhered to it and placed in the school garden.
In my previous school, we had a wonderful garden. I had students research the plants and animals in the garden and we secured a small neighbourhood grant to create signs that could be part of student or self directed garden tours. It soon became quite apparent that the placement of the signs had to be carefully considered to avoid becoming hazards as students moved through the garden. Rocks! If only we had thought of rocks!
If you have any ideas, suggestions or stories about possible ways to incorporate literacy into the environment, please leave comments.