Playground to get educational uplift to combine fun, learning

Checking out what will be the Blast Off Discover Area in the playground at Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning are kindergarten students Andrew Rickman, Audry Scott, Cole Robinson and Halye Barlow.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Checking out what will be the Blast Off Discover Area in the playground at Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning are kindergarten students Andrew Rickman, Audry Scott, Cole Robinson and Halye Barlow.

At Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, the business of making learning fun is serious business, especially on the playground.

The teachers and administration are working with school boosters to upgrade the playground with three new areas which will be equal parts free play and learning/instruction areas.

The idea for upgrading the playground with instructional/play areas came from watching students voluntarily split time between playing on the playground with traditional equipment such as slides and swings and playing in the gardens already on the playground.

“We noticed a lot of kids like the garden area,” said principal Ramona Best. “These are areas to explore and learn -- places for free play that can also be used as learning areas. We wanted to create dual areas.

“If you know anything about this school,” she added, “you know we don’t like to things the traditional way.”

Fort Craig is a year round, school of choice in the Maryville City School System. No one is “zoned” for Fort Craig, and all students must make application to attend the school. Parents are responsible for transportation and are also required to volunteer in some capacity at the school. The school began in 1995 after a team of educators researched “best practices” in education and chose what is now the Highly Effective Teaching model for the school.

The Playground Committee came up with three ideas for the learning areas: the Blast Off Discovery Area, the Dig for Fossils Discovery Area and the Life on Earth Discovery Area, Best said.

“We have a garden area that has concrete planets that were painted and placed there several years ago, and it’s a nice area but we want to expand it with activities for free play but area for instruction. It’s going to be called Blast off Discovery Area,” Best explained.

Upgrades will include such things as signage on the solar system area of the playground that shows a diagram of our solar system.

Best said the Maryville City Schools Foundation opted to fully fund the Dig for Fossils Discovery area with a $3,420 grant. “We’re getting data now on how to link it to curriculum,” she said.

The last area is the Life on Earth Discovery Area, which is still in the early planning stages. Activities that students already enjoy will be incorporated into this section of the playground, she said.

“We’ll finish the Blast off Area, move to the Digging for Fossils and implement that and finish up with Life on Earth,” she said.

Getting the Digging for Fossils area prepped proved to be a challenge. “The area where we’ll do the Digging for Fossils used to be the kindergarten garden area. We had vines and plants that had overgrown it,” Best said.

Personnel from the non-commissioned officers training academy at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base volunteered their time to help with the project. “The folks from the airbase helped and cleared the area out on a Friday night,” she said. “Eighteen folks came out, and they were like locusts.”

Best said it was a parent on the Playground Committee who came up with the Digging for Fossils idea. “We want to have fossilized prints of animals our kids might encounter in this area,” she said. “Then they’ll have a visual where they can locate what kind of animal it was.”

“Our goal is to have Digging for Fossils done by the end of the school year and start on the Life on Earth Discovery area in the fall,” she said.

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