There’s a theme emerging from our new climbing structure: I couldn’t do it, then I practiced. In under ten days, examples of strength, determination, courage, and triumph have shown up over and over. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
On the first day of school, one of the PreK students stood at the edge of the monkey bars with her hands grasping the new shiny bars. Undoubtedly, she was remembering her days of successfully mastering our old monkey bars that were lower and a straight set of bars. Her face held a slightly disheartened look, as she said, “They’re so high.” She asked if I could help her and I said she needed to try it on her own, that I’d be nearby if she needed me. She put her hands on the first bar and hung there, then put her feet back on the platform. I also suggested that she practice hanging and dropping down from the first bar safely to the ground. Just a few days later, I saw her zipping across the bars, skillfully landing on the far side. Evidently, she’d done more than practice dropping to the ground.
During a recess, I observed a teacher stationed beneath the monkey bars coaching another PreK student also trying to master the bars. For the entire recess she kept trying and trying, first one bar, then gradually adding another one, until she made it all the way. Certainly the teacher encouragement made a difference, and it was another example of what happens when practice is strong.
I witnessed another variation of practice by a first grader on the climbing wall. I’d seen her trying to reach the top previously without making it all the way up. Then I noticed her standing at the top. I asked, “Is that the first time you made it all the way up?” She beamed a big smile and said yes. For the remainder of that recess she repeated climbing up the wall over and over.
Reflecting on these three children and their devotion to practicing new skills, I saw a benefit of our climbing structure that goes beyond a cool new apparatus on which to play. It’s an open invitation to take affordable risks, for children to take on new challenges over which they have control. Even more, our new climbing structure offers built-in opportunities for students to grow their self-confidence. As one of the children stated, “I couldn’t do it, then I practiced!” And for teachers it gives us a chance to see children’s strengths in a different light, outside the classroom and the typical expectations of what we normally think of as school. For some children, being seen in this way makes all the difference in the world.