If you think back to how you played when you were a kid you might have memories similar to mine. I climbed trees, including the crab apple tree in my back yard that had a cool platform my dad built. I rolled down hills and scrambled up rocks. I dug in the dirt and mud, dammed water, and huddled in bushes that were my hideouts. In the winter (I’m from the north) my friends and I built snow forts, snowmen, and had snowball fights. For hours, we sledded down and climbed back up hills. In the woods near my house that we called Indian Mounds, we jumped in piles of leaves, followed animal tracks, leapt from logs, and played hide and go seek. We pushed and rolled barrels on their sides, and pulled wagons.
But it wasn’t just the physical exercise of running, jumping, climbing, twisting, reaching, and lifting that strengthened our young bodies. The whole time we played there was an ongoing, imaginative narrative. Our minds were busily and spontaneously reeling out scenarios as we went along. We were cowboys, soldiers, explorers, scientists, families, dreamers, members of exotic tribes morphing into ever changing inventive landscapes. Our minds were being exercised and stretched, too.
When disagreements cropped up we handled them on the spot. Without realizing it we were shaping our powers of argument, persuasion, compromise and teamwork. We were developing our people skills, our emotional intelligence.
The time spent in outdoor solitude was important, too. I can remember using my platform in the backyard tree and the “cave” formed by the shrubs and bushes as places I went for solitude when I wanted to turn inward to reflect on things, sooth troubling emotions, or simply watch a busy robin. And I remember lying on my back gazing at the clouds drifting across the sky’s vast blueness or upward at the Big Dipper stretching across the night sky, my mind opening in wonder.
All this was natural play. This is the environment we want to design for our children at Coastal Empire Montessori Charter School.