The Polar Express: Creative Play at Lake Farm Park

What do you call a fishing pier that’s on land for the winter?   The Polar Express, a ship, and a ferry.  On a trip to Lake Farm Park, I thought that most of the Kindergarten and first graders would have rushed to the shores of Lake Waubesa. But, they didn’t. Instead, they immediately jumped on a massive pier, in three pieces, now setting on land for the winter. The played on it for an hour, making up a variety creative games. They jumped from one piece to the next in a kind of leap-frog game. They played alligator. They pretended to steer the ship to the North Pole and other far off lands. They counted down from 10 when the ship was about to leave and the kids pretended to almost miss the boat. This was truly a joy to watch. Creative play like this doesn’t happen on the familiar territory of the playground at the Center.

Meanwhile, a few kids totally ignored the pier and stayed close to water. Jim kept inching his feet closer and closer to the water, seeming to want to get his feet wet. He did a little. He and his buddies found a tree near the water with a small hiding place carved out at its base. They took great pride in being able to climb up the bank by using the tree’s roots as foot holds. Part of me wanted to say, “Stop, that’s not safe,” but the smarter part of me let it go. How could I stop them from testing their physical limits?  And, it really wasn’t any less dangerous that climbing on the jungle gym on the playground.  To them, this was a large obstacle. They were exploring.   “I did it,”  they shouted after maneuvering up the bank. I’m glad I didn’t stop them. They were on an adventure!

Kids learn creativity and gain physical confidence during outdoor play in natural settings. They learn their limits. They learn that if they stick their feet in water, they get wet. If they walk through the weeds, they might get burr’s stuck on them. And, if they come to this park in November, they’ll find a magical ship waiting to take them to faraway places.

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