Student volunteers started their day with a trip to Salem’s Royal Oaks park. We teamed up with Salem City Parks Department to help maintain the park, work that ensures a safe and enjoyable place for local kids to spend time outdoors. We met up with a Salem city parks employee and he directed us to a number of tasks we could do to improve the park. My favorite part about the trip was hearing the way he talked about the tasks in relation to the kids who play there and explained each maintenance task through how the kids play. First, we shoveled pebbles around the playground back into a play pit. While doing this, I wondered how these rocks got all the way across to the other side of the playground. Honestly, it was an impressive distance for so many immobile objects to have travelled. So while shoveling I couldn’t help but imagine the innumerable pairs of tiny feet that must be running through them every day. So many tiny feet, running and yelling and laughing and exploring. There weren’t kids at the park this morning but you could still see where they dragged their feet under the swings and the spot they all fall out of the slide onto.
After we filled in some of those holes and reshaped some horseshoe pits we took some time to reflect as a group. In our reflection we talked a little bit about why parks matter to communities and some of the tangible benefits living next to a park has for people. It was nice to connect the simple tasks we did to the more complex benefits that they can have. These connections are often unrecognized but this trip allowed us to take some time to consider them a little more. It got me thinking about how experiential learning is often put in the background of modern pedagogy, behind academics. This is the learning that happens outside of the classroom when kids practice the independent mobility and environmental learning that can help them develop skills and resilience they will need later in life. More and more research is providing evidence of the critical role experiential learning plays in child development. Children who engage in this kind of learning have “higher grades, greater levels of fitness, motor skill development, increased confidence and Self esteem, show leadership qualities are socially competent and more environmentally responsible”(Malone, 2008). In her report, Every Experience Matters, Dr Karen Malone confirms that if “children experience the world through explorative play and environmental learning more, they are more likely to develop sound foundations for growing knowledge, confidence and identity” (Malone 2008). Development that has long term implications for their future and wellbeing. While we know this, I think people often forget about the logistics and work that goes into creating time and spaces for kids to have these experiences. There is so much work put in by local parks departments that goes unrecognized and underfunded. It was great to take some time last Saturday to help out and appreciate the impact these people, and parks departments all around, have on communities. Some of the most important ways we help others can feel indirect like this but it’s these interactions and the people that dedicate their lives to them that make a true difference.