On Friday, February 21st, the third grade students of Heritage Oak Private Education took part in an exciting culmination to a two-week authentic project on inclusive playgrounds. Mrs. Laurel Kraemer, Brea resident and City Manager of Santa Fe Springs, CA, came to speak to the third grade students about what it takes to turn open land into a city park, and how those parks are designed to be a place for everyone, even differently-abled persons.
The authentic project, which was part of the conclusion of a unit on diversity in Heritage Oak’s Pearson language arts curriculum, began with informative articles and class conversations about how every child, regardless of physical ability, deserves safe spaces to play. The students learned about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the importance of ADA compliant play spaces. Stories in the literature unit featuring differently-abled characters gave students context as to ways different types of children learn, play, and communicate. The classes then did collective internet research on play equipment and playground designs that welcome every person. This included ramps, compact rubber ground instead of sand or woodchips, braille on signs, sturdy handles and grips, and wheelchair accessible tables and swings. The teachers could tell this research was effective when, on a subsequent field trip, students began pointing out the wheelchair accessible picnic tables present at the lunch area.
Each student wrote a persuasive letter to the school’s principal, forming a stance on the importance of inclusive playgrounds, and providing evidence on why every school should have a playground made for everyone. The letters included specific suggestions for school playground equipment. Each letter was accompanied by a labeled, full-color playground design made by each student.
The project concluded with the presentation given by Mrs. Kraemer, and the students had chances to ask her questions about real life dilemmas City Managers and their employees encounter when planning playgrounds and making sure play spaces are ADA compliant. The students greatly enjoyed learning from a real professional in the field, and through the project, learned new ways to put themselves in the shoes of others. It is a beautiful thing when a school project doesn’t only teach new information, but also empathy, one of the most important traits a person can possess.