Forest Hills — “One, two, three… go!”
And with that, six Ada Elementary students began to race, following colorful lines that had them zig-zagging and turning in circles as they made their way to the finish line.
The squiggly-line maze, as students refer to it, is one of about 15 painted courses added this past summer to the school’s playground.
“We were looking for ways to promote kindness and teach play,” Principal Melanie Hoeksema said.
Funded by the school’s PTO, the painted courses are part of the school’s Kindness for ALL initiative. The word ALL represents three former Ada Elementary community members who died: Audrey Jandernoa, whose family created the Red Glasses Movement; Luke VanSprange, whose family formed the program Live Like Lucas; and Luke Ballstad, the son of a former Ada principal who often left notes of encouragement to the staff and helped with school activities.
Designed by Jason King of Rocket Ship Playgrounds, the painted courses include familiar outdoor games such as hopscotch and four square, along with several mazes, a planetary walk, an alphabet game, a dance circle and a challenge course.
“When I first tried it, before I was getting friends together for football, it was pretty hard,” said third-grader Richard Rogers about the challenge course, which includes stations where students are prompted to do activities such as push-ups, jumping jacks or lunges.
“I discovered I was not very fit,” Richard said, adding he has since gotten better on the course.
Third-graders Eleanor Baylog and Isabel Zabriskie said students have used the challenge course for races, getting teams of their peers to run the course.
“With the dance circle, the third-graders would lead the second-graders through the ‘Little Sally Walker’ song, where we would clap and go around two times and then switch,” Eleanor explained. “A lot of times it has been the third-graders inviting the second-graders, but recently there were some second-graders doing it and I got picked to participate.”
The Art of Outdoor Play
Having students from different classrooms and grades interact with one another was one of the goals of creating the painted courses, Hoeksema said.
Early childhood experts say play is essential to development: it builds cognitive and social skills, promotes physical dexterity and coordination, and grows cooperation and sharing skills.
“I don’t know if it is from the pandemic or it is just the era that we live in, but one of things we have seen is that the students do not really know these outside games or how to play together,” she said. “This is teaching them how to interact, how to take turns and how to play, which is really important.”
And the painted designs expand options for students who may not participate in football or soccer, or when other playground equipment is being used, Hoeksema said
The school also has been using the courses as a sensory opportunity, said Kara Dennings, the school’s multi-tier systems of support behavioral interventionist. Students who need time to “re-set” have been allowed to utilize one of the courses for a break, Dennings said.
Hoeksema said the school’s physical education teacher also is working with students to teach rules of games like four square, gaga ball and soccer.
Back on the playground, it is easy to tell that first-grader Blair Armstrong knows the rules quite well for her favorite game, the circle maze.
“It’s fun because you have to figure your way in to get to the star and then you have to figure your way out,” Blair said.