It was great. What else can I say? Kids who signed up for one week later signed up for another week and another. The kids played their way just like we write in our advertisements. It never ceases to surprise me watching this method in action. Watching the kids learning and developing through play was incredible. I witnessed kids engaged in different types of play, challenging themselves, learning to resolve conflict, interacting with new and old friends, taking risks, learning new skill sets and trying new things.
The multiple age groups are fantastic: watching the older children lead as the younger ones are in awe of their ideas and then watching younger children take the lead while the older ones are amazed by their fluidity and flexibility. By the end of each week I noticed groups of ten or more playing together.
Week one’s theme was construction. We brought out nails, wood, screws, hand drills, saws- the kids brought gloves and hammers. We made one example of a shelf and some chose to build something similar and others simply sawed, nailed or created their own piece of furniture. Others didn’t touch the wood option and built with cardboard, painted, played dress up or went in the pool. The pool was a new addition to KOOP’s activities and although we adults were ambivalent at first with the amount of kids it attracted. But they continued to make up new games and rules of their own: “this pool is the no splash pool- the “quiet pool”, this pool is the jump and splash pool”.
The second week’s theme was a DIY wipe out course. We put out the materials, even started to make a balance beam or other possible obstacle course challenges. Normally the kids jump in and take over and we stand back. This didn’t really take off. The kids did other things. I guess they just had other play opportunities that motivated them more. The very last day two girls took the lead and created an amazing obstacle course. They called attention to all the campers, showed them how to do the course and everyone took part. It was great to watch.
One of the girls knew I was a rope expert and asked me to build something. We built a zip line and the kids all tried it. Sometimes being flexible and allowing the kids to take the lead in their experience is challenging for us adults who have an idea of how things should be but we all learned that there is no should. How it happened was how it should be.
Week three was themed around fairy gardens and whittling. We placed all the fairy garden materials out and told them they could use things that weren’t in front of them as well. The creations were simply superb. I enjoyed watching them create, deal with the disappointment when it got knocked over accidentally and then watching the process begin from the beginning.
Some kids chose to make more than one and even helped us make gifts for school staff. While whittling they learned the risk of using a sharp knife, how to respect the space in which they whittled as not to hurt anyone surrounding them, as well as take responsibility for this sharp tool. Some kids created the first day and then only touched it again the last day while others worked on it continuously throughout the week- improving, changing and defining.
The fourth week was a combined week. All the materials were out. Most of the children knew that if something wasn’t out they could ask for it and it would be brought out. They never seemed bored or idle. We had little conflict, no injuries and an amazing group of kids.
The approach of allowing kids to lead and decide based on their interests grouped with the loose parts and raw materials is a great combination. The kids become innovative, challenge themselves, learn from one another, give and get ideas and resolve their own conflicts if only given the opportunity. They play, they learn and they develop.
Parents would come and tell us that their children found more things to do on the weekend, were more confident and in less need of their support and played with random things around the house. Led by their own motivations and interests they would fill their time with innovation and creativity always active and heading towards the outdoors.
The staff was fabulous. We had an open dialogue about children’s play, always reflecting on our own actions and reminding ourselves to see through the lens of a child. We learned to work together very easily and appreciated each others differences learning from one another. As an advocate to create opportunities for children’s free play, to let the children learn and evolve instead of adults facilitating and jumping in to the rescue prematurely, I believe that KOOP offers an outstanding outlet.