Okay, I’m back! It took a bit of recovering after the last two (very physical) weeks of summer camp, and a lot of chocolate and BBC consumption, and now I’m ready to share.
In the beginning…
I don’t know about you, but growing up in England in the 80’s I had a lot of free time. I spent a lot of time playing school yard games, and making up new games with friends and random kids that I bumped into everywhere I went (there were a lot more of those hanging around back then). Recesses were longer, my parents were too busy to hover over me, and I didn’t have many extra curricular activities apart from my dance classes (unless you count reading Indian comic books obsessively, and annoying the next door neighbor’s dog).
One thing I wish my nine year old and her friends had more of is this kind of unstructured time. Her recesses at school are pitifully short, and when she does have time to spare, she often can’t find other kids who are also free, I guess Fairfax County likes ’em busy.
So…. four years ago, I decided to run a summer art camp that has big chunks of unstructured play time built in, and lots of time outdoors. This has worked very well, the kids in my camps really bond and play together the way kids are supposed to, and their creativity outdoors pours into their art projects and vice versa.
However, this did not happen immediately.
At first, faced with longer breaks, and less adult intervention, many kids seemed confused and anxious. They kept coming up to me saying things like “Can you tell me what to do?” and “I’m bored” and even “when can we go back indoors?” after just ten minutes of being outside. They sat around looking miserable, and argued and complained a lot. I panicked internally, thinking that parents would start calling me up with complaints, but I stuck it out, nonetheless. I have noticed that after two days, a change takes place and the kids start playing together, organizing themselves into teams, and inventing new games and new rules for old games. Many of my kids return year after year, and it is very satisfying to see the way they play with each other.
I took things a bit further a couple of weeks ago, and made Games the theme of the week. The kids played art games with dice that they made, created their own board games. They also made articulated shadow puppets, and put on their own show. During recess, I showed them games that I had played as a child, and they taught me some new games as well. The game everyone seemed to love the most was played with an old loop of elastic, and jumping contests were all the rage.
Some Games We Played And Made Up:
The Orange Line
Apples to Apples
Sharks and Minnows/Octopus
Sticky Sticky Grapes
Of course, I played a lot of games with them (perks of the job), but I learned to leave them alone as well , because that is when the real magic happens!
Please, please, make the kids play more, and see their creativity, teamwork, negotiation, problem solving, focus, and motor skills improve!