By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager
Remember the days of free play, when the recess bell rang and you and your pals would storm the schoolyard for a game of Hide and Seek, Kick the Can, Tag, Hopscotch, and Double Dutch? You were independent. You were ingenious. You learned to be a leader – or a follower – all while using your imagination to achieve a common goal.
Those days are back, even in this hyper-technological age of iPads, cell phones and laptops. Introducing Big Thought’s Thriving Minds After School Themed Boxes. These hard plastic trunks are fully stocked, portable exploration centers.
Each trunk is thematic. There is always a book to encourage reading, a set of instructions, and a bag of clothespins. Kids write their names on a clothespin and then “own” the activity they are working on. As they move from activity to activity, the clothespin moves along with them.
The boxes are in four Dallas ISD schools for kids in pre-kindergarten to 5th grade. Over at DeSoto ISD, six schools have boxes for kids in kindergarten and 1st grade.
“These are trunks full of themed activities that encourage self-guided exploration,” says Big Thought’s Lisa Schmidt, Director, Center of Excellence. “These are not teacher taught lessons. They promote imagination and creative thinking. They teach kids that they can create their own entertainment, that they can problem solve. This is scenario play.”
For kids in kindergarten through 2nd grade, there is Exploring Food and Farms and Exploring Transportation. For the older kids, there is a design trunk, as well as a shapes and connectors trunk. A dozen trunks are currently out at schools. After two weeks, schools trade trunks.
To give kids that sense of freedom, of this being an opportunity for freethinking creativity instead of a regimented class assignment, a teacher’s aide supervises and motivates the kids to dig deeper in the activities. Kids are challenged to go a step further even when they think they are done.
The idea for the trunks, or exploration centers, comes from the Montessori method of education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori. Montessori encouraged “multi-age groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity,” according to the American Montessori Society website.
Also, research points to enriched play as being a huge part of child development. When children participate in enriched playtime, they use executive function. Penn State University’s Extension publication describes executive function as “specialized cognitive skills, primarily in the frontal lobe of the brain which work together to regulate, recall, and plan a person’s actions. These skills help a child remember and follow multiple-step instructions; avoid distractions and impulsive responses; adjust when rules or instructions change; keep trying after an initial failure; organize and manage projects and long-term assignments.”
For kids in lower income households, these boxes are keys to unlock their inner potential, their leadership skills, their ability to work with others, and their free flowing imaginations. That’s the best way we can think of to close the opportunity gap.
We aren’t surprised that the thematic boxes, which were conceived and culled by Schmidt, Big Thought’s Maria Marwill-Magee and kinder experts from the New World Kids program, are a resounding hit.
“Right now there has been a hugely positive response in DeSoto,” says Schmidt. “The kids don’t want to leave them. They are shocked they can just play with them. This is how kids learn. It is all self-directed imagination.”
Thriving Minds After School is supported in part by City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs; Pizza Hut; The David M. Crowley Foundation; Sid W. Richardson Foundation; Sammons Corporation; and Theodore and Beulah Beasley Foundation.