Educators: Dominic's Story
Dominic Randolph is Head of School at Riverdale Country School.
“We’re using the Imagination Playground on our elementary school campus. All the grades, from Pre-K to Grade 5 have had access to it and played with it during the course of the year.
“Recess is not as sacred as it used to be in schools, and people are I think thirsty for the idea of how do you bring really productive play back into schools? It’s not just mindless entertainment. You want kids to be engaged and passionate about something, and that’s what I’ve seen these blocks inspire, is a sort of passion. There’s a real engagement with these blocks.”
“thinking and problem solving”
“When I see the kids engage with this and I see them having fun and I see them problem solving, I have to believe that it’s doing something to improve the quality of their thinking in a way that we weren’t necessarily tapping into in a more traditional elementary school program.
“We’ve had teachers using the Imagination Playground to support the work that they’ve been doing in classrooms with fundamental physics and mathematics like geometry and mass. As they’re studying 3-D shapes, they’re able to play around with that and think about how does that work actually with these big blocks?
“I’m really focused on this idea of sort of how do you develop critical and creative thinkers. We’ve got to get kids to think critically, think creatively, work collaboratively, and develop character strengths like grit, resilience, and self-control. I hypothesized that the Imagination Playground would support that type of development, and I think through the year as I’ve seen kids play with them, I really do believe that those are some of the things that kids are developing as they play with this.
“One thing that I saw when kids are playing with it is the furrowed brow, the sort of questioning brow on a really young kid faced with looking at this structure they’re building and realizing something’s not quite right. It hasn’t got a strong enough foundation to go up much further or we should have used another block here or there’s a spot missing. I think that’s interesting because that seems to point to me that the kids are really engaging with it and thinking.”
“Another thing that I’ve seen is this idea of active collaboration: someone saying let’s do this and another person going no, no, no, let’s try this over here. Then they negotiate the idea of finding a solution to build their structure together.
“It’s so critical for kids to learn how to collaborate well in high performing teams, and yet if you actually look at what happens in schools, collaboration is really rarely taught. It’s true you’ve got some things that happen in the class or group projects, but a lot of it is about individual performance. So how do you find ways to actually get kids to learn about what it means to collaborate well? Athletic teams are one way that I think it happens, but I think there’s also a really wonderful thing that happens with the Imagination Playground. You’ve got people who step up as leaders. Small groups often play together with this and then they try and combine with several other groups to see if they can build something more considerable. I think that sort of idea of trying out ideas, working with people, and understanding people’s working style as they’re playing around with these blocks is critically important and comes out of playing with the Imagination Playground really well.”
“We want our kids basically to grow up to be independent, autonomous individuals, right? In order to do that, from the very earliest ages—there’s a lot of research to back this up—you need to let kids have that autonomy. You need to let kids, say, fail. You need to let them try to build something and it doesn’t work. You need to then say: “How can I take this and re-think this structure?” That needs to happen and that doesn’t happen enough in schools. It doesn’t happen enough in the classroom. I do think the Imagination Playground allows kids to play around with the very same outcomes that we want to get in classrooms out in a free space on their own or with others kids.
“A lot of playgrounds can impose a certain world view on kids. You go there, it’s already set up, and it’s got types of things that you can do. The interesting thing about Imagination Playground is that there is very little imposition. You can experiment and do all sorts of things. I think that lack of imposition is essential for our kids. And it’s something that differentiates Imagination Playground from a lot of other playgrounds.”
“they’re just wowed by it”
“Usually when you put in things in a school, some people engage. Other people stand on the sidelines. It’s sort of 50/50. Some people really go for it, some people don’t. I think universally everyone has wanted to engage in some form with the Imagination Playground this year and that’s been somewhat surprising to me. I didn’t anticipate it would go quite as viral as it’s gone.
“When people see the Imagination Playground and start pulling out blocks, they’re just wowed by it. Kids of all ages are wowed by this, and even adults are wowed by the Imagination Playground. From the very start, this has been probably one of the most cool things that’s happened on our campus in a long time. Teachers are excited about it. Students are excited about it. Parents are excited about it. It’s really excited the community.
Seeing is Believing
“The best explanation for Imagination Playground is to just look at kids playing with it. I’ve seen kids who are 17 years old playing with it. I’ve seen kids who are 5 years old playing it. When you see them working with it, when you look at kids thinking through something, thinking through things physically and kinetically with their body, then you understand immediately the value.”