Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A design that fights playground politics



Published in the Daily Herald

5/31/08

by Eric Peterson

Pictures by Bill Zars Daily Herald staff photographer.


Teachers and staff at Lakeview Elementary in Hoffman Estates know recess is meant for exercise, not playground conflicts. But they'd searched fruitlessly for a way to encourage the former and discourage the latter among students.

Then a staff member whose own child attends school in St. Charles heard of a program in use there that she thought might just be of help at Lakeview.

The Peaceful Playgrounds program was designed about 12 years ago by Melinda Bossenmeyer, director of the College of Education at California State University.

A former physical education teacher and principal, she's become recognized as a playground design expert through six books and is a nationally certified playground inspector.

Her daughter and marketing director, Andrea Bossenmeyer, said the program is sold as a do-it-yourself kit for schools or parks to customize based on their amount of blacktop or green space.

The multicolored boxes and patterns on the playground lend themselves to the innovation of new games as well, Andrea Bossenmeyer said. And the incorporation of letters into the playground provides for games that help build reading skills.

At Lakeview, the PTA recently purchased the program with help from a $1,500 grant from the Schaumburg Township Elementary School Foundation, school social worker Mary Brodie said.

The program met several goals of the foundation's grant selection committee, said member Leslie Eskildsen, who's principal of Stevenson Elementary in Elk Grove Village.

"One of the things we're looking for is to impact as many kids as possible," she said. The playground's design "eliminates competition and fosters teamwork. We see that as important."

The playground games -- painted onto the blacktop by parent and staff volunteers -- were chosen based on an assessment of Lakeview's available space.

Unveiled just a couple of weeks ago, the playground already has been deemed a success by faculty and students alike, Brodie said.

"Now that it's out there, I don't see any kids just out there with no one to play with," sixth-grader Ivette Figuera said.

Classmate Brandee Spates said she was impressed by the attention paid to how students spend even their recess time.

And second-grader Angel Almanza said there's a clear difference in how much more cooperative the games on the playground have become.

Brodie said there's also a clear difference in how far fewer disciplinary measures have been required on the playground in recent weeks.