Most of my childhood was spent on the street playing street games. We didn’t call it “street games” though, it was just what we did. It was our way of life. Growing up in Brooklyn, the street was my playground. Everyday I looked forward to stepping outside my house and discovering what adventures may unfold. Who will be home to play? What game will we play? Will we hang out in the clubhouse that we built in the alley way? Watching TV was something we did on saturday mornings, who would want to miss an episode of The Super Friends? Other than that, what else was there to do but play outside?
We had no ipods or ipads. We had “istreet” and “iplay”.
The games we played on our block back in the 70’s and 80’s taught me so many things. First of all, it was all mixed ages because we played with whatever kids were on the block, so our crew ranged from 5 years old up to 16. No grown ups were there to settle our disputes. We had to figure things out for ourselves. We had a lot of independence and autonomy and we managed to have a great time.
There were these intense and wonderful games of skelzey (also known as “scully” in other neighborhoods) that began with the process of dripping melted crayon wax into beer bottle caps. (Yes, we used matches on our own and managed not to burn anything down.) We became expert at creating skelzey caps that were just the right weight and we put quite a bit of effort into the design of the melted crayon wax. Then there was the whole process of drawing the court which was quite involved and required exact measurements. The preparation took as long as the game which sometimes took hours to finish.
“Chase” was the best collaborative game we played. It was like team hide seek. It involved the whole block of kids. We would play after dinner and usually my stoop was the “base”. Sometimes a group of kids from the next block over would come and we would play one block against the other. We were totally self organized. I don’t recall parents ever being involved in our play except when they were calling us in for dinner.
The dynamic of mixed ages, building problem solving skills, collaborative play, independence, autonomy; these are things I did not learn in school. I learned them through playing. I hear a lot of parents who come to our school seeking to instill these kind of experiences and qualities for their children.
How do you provide that in a school environment? PLAY. Yes, school can be FUN. I’m talking about the fun of learning not just fun for fun’s sake. It’s purpose driven fun and it’s very rewarding.
A community that comes together for games is a thriving community. I lived in a neighborhood where everyone knew each other, we had the safety net of the community. The parents had each other’s back and even though we had a lot of freedom and felt very independent, they always knew where we were, they knew who we were with and that we were safe. I think it was that safety net of community that allowed us to play to the fullest extent possible.
This is why we have embarked on a Community Supported Education model for The Garden Road School. With a strong community base, children have the benefit of an “extended family” of diverse yet like minded families who can support them and are intent on providing children with an education where play is learning and learning is play.
Last year we had our first Street Games event at our school and we attracted people from ages 0-80. Everyone had a good time, whether they were reminiscing about the old days or experiencing stick ball for the first time.
It cost very little to put on. All that’s needed is some chalk, a broom stick, some spaldine balls, and you have hours of fun. We decided to make it an annual event. Our next Street Games event is coming up on May 12th.
If you work with elementary aged children, I encourage you to get them outside, give them some chalk and a ball and let em go! They may need a little guidance in the beginning, but once they get the hang of it, they will have hours of independent PLAY.
If you want to host a Street Games event, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can tell you how we did it. It’s a great way to bring the community together.
Hope its useful.