ESCANABA - Students at Lemmer Elementary School now have new blacktop play surfaces allowing them ample opportunities for fun games and activities during recess.
The project was made possible through the school's involvement with the Peaceful Playgrounds Program, which according to its website, is designed to "introduce children and school staff to the many choices of activities available on playgrounds and field areas."
Lemmer Elementary Principal Matt Reeves said the original hope was to designate some funds toward these new playground surfaces during the school's bond project, which brought many major renovations to both Lemmer Elementary and the current junior and senior high school. No funds for the project were left afterwards, so the school sought possible funding through grant money, but was unsuccessful. However, it still spurred conversation on the improvements needed.
Students at Lemmer Elementary have new blacktop play surfaces, like the one pictured above, allowing them opportunities for activities during recess. The surfaces were laid out based on research on what activities children need to be doing for their age level. (Daily Press photo by Jason Raiche)
"The space is really 1965 or older, so it was clearly failing," said Reeves. "Grass was growing up in between it and there were cracks all over the place. It was hard to dribble a ball even."
Reeves got some cost estimates for the project and eventually some funding came along when the school board sold the Franklin Elementary School building, and gave money to each of the district's three remaining elementary schools. Lemmer's $25,000 portion went toward the beginning of the playground project. In addition, $5,000 was secured from the Lemmer PTO and former Lemmer school teacher Don Aronson.
As the project continued, Reeves said they needed to look a bit closer at the kind of space the students would need - and define it to fit specific grade levels. This led to one side of the playground geared more toward kindergarten and first-graders, while the other accommodates second- and third-graders with games and activities focused more toward their age group.
"We came across this Peaceful Playgrounds Program, which has really laid out, based on their research, what kids need to be doing and what the size should be for the age level that you're working with, so we were able to put in the right size space," said Reeves.
This included expanding the upper grade levels' blacktop space by almost two-thirds.
Through Lemmer's involvement in Peaceful Playgrounds, the school also has received a year's worth of equipment - everything from tether balls to utility balls and soccer balls, said Reeves. They also are supplied bean bags as the new areas contain an alphabet grid that can be used by the kids for letter recognition or for spelling practice.
Through the program, staff, including teachers and playground supervisors, participated in a one-hour webinar with the program's director to discuss their research into playgrounds and playground supervision. They also identified the games and activities that could be played on the blacktop surface and how to teach these games to students.
Staff also participated in a two-hour online course through the program to learn about safety and other playground-related issues.
Students are now learning how to play the various games and activities on the new surface, as there are more than 100 different games that can be played.
Staff, parents, and other volunteers have been working hard to help paint the gaming surface areas, which is nearing completion. Reeves said he expects this will be finished by the end of October.
He noted one other positive aspect of the project - it helps with conflict resolution.
"Clearly one supervisor or two supervisors can't solve all the conflicts for kids at recess, so a big piece of this has been teaching kids about solving their own problems with conflict resolution," said Reeves.
One way he hopes will help is through the basic 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' game, which is helpful in determining whose turn it is first, for example.
"It's all things we need to be teaching about social skills and how to play in an unstructured environment," he said.
For more information on the Peaceful Playgrounds Program, visit www.peacefulplaygrounds.com.