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Play is a Complex Occupation...

Dear Friends,

While you are dropping off or picking up your child these next few weeks (or if you just have some spare time!), you might want to take a peek into our Upper Playground. At first, there may not seem to be anything out of the ordinary, but once you shift your eyes from the swings, slides, and jungle gym, you will start to notice something quite unusual. Nature seems to have rearranged itself on the playground. Walls of branches form intimate shelters, shelves made from tree bark carry rows of carefully placed rocks, and signs have been made by rubbing orange-hued rock against dark, flat pieces of wood. All around the playground there is evidence of a sophisticated interaction happening between our students and their environment. A society has formed in the upper playground over the first month of school, with shops that sell and barter rows of polished stone for bits of twine, or perhaps for the paint that a group of students has been making by adding water to different types of ground stone and mashed plant.

If you aren’t there while the students are out playing during outdoor time, then their scattered artifacts of an alternate society might not make complete sense, and to be honest the rules and norms that guide the interaction on the Upper Playground are not totally clear even when you watch the kids in action. What is clear, however, is that the students have created a complete, functioning society with fluid and constantly negotiated rules of governance. The students create and trade goods, promote their businesses, take on investigative journalism and reporting roles to convey important information and activity to the masses, elect representatives to help enforce rules and norms, negotiate leadership and supporting roles, and construct elaborate physical structures out of found materials. All of this is done while maintaining a sense of peace, social justice, collaboration, and respect that is quite inspiring.What is most impressive about all of this to me is that it is not a fluke occasion. It’s been going on at Randolph for many, many years. The teachers and administrators who have been at Randolph for a long time all see this as an “of course.” Of course our Upstairs kids are involved in rich and complex imaginative play. We don’t stop nurturing our students' sense of imagination and wonder once they hit kindergarten, because at Randolph we agree with Vivian Paley that “Play is, in fact, a complex occupation, requiring practice in dialogue, exposition, detailed imagery, social engineering, literary allusion, and abstract thinking. Being both work and love for young children, play is absolutely essential for their health and welfare.”

At Randolph, we believe that the joy and thoughtfulness of a child fully engaged in imaginative play represents an incredible opportunity for social, emotional, and cognitive growth. We encourage and cherish those moments, and feel that the type of complex learning and development represented by the branches and stones skillfully organized in our Upper Playground is a big part of what makes a child’s experience at Randolph unique and invaluable.

Be well,


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