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Thanks to the passionate efforts of a local social worker and author, the students of Old County Road School can now enjoy an outdoor recess “oasis” aimed at providing a relaxing area for reading, playing and “resetting” before returning to classes. The creation of this outdoor therapeutic area was the brainchild of Smithfield School Department social worker Kerri Lanzieri. Due to the generous support of the Smithfield Education Foundation, Lanzieri received a grant to begin the creation of what she envisioned to as a “rest and reset” area for Old County Road students to enjoy during recess. While many students enjoy very physical activities and games after lunchtime, Lanzieri noted that there was also a need to accommodate those students seeking a quieter place to enjoy a more thoughtful moment in the fresh air, before once again engaging in the second half of their academic day under fluorescent lights and within the brick walls.
The first component of the outdoor area was an outdoor Mancala board game, inventively crafted from an existing tree outside the school. Michael Depetrillo, husband of OCRS 5th grade teacher Christine Depetrillo, created this unique outdoor piece especially for Lanzieri’s project. This weatherized Mancala board was grooved into the side of an existing stump of a tree, along with a seating area. The game of Mancala involves problem solving in order to “sow and capture” an opponent’s pieces. Acorns, shells, or polished stones can be used to play the game either by multiple students to promote team building skills; or individually to promote mental stimulation and fine motor skill development.
The second piece of the project was the purchase of a weather proof “bookhouse” library from the Little Free Library company (www.littlefreelibrary.org). Roughly the size of a birdhouse, these little libraries have a small Plexiglas door from which children can choose from the plethora of books stocked within its handmade walls. The goal of the Little Free Library is to encourage children to “take a book, return a book” via the free book exchange. Students can now enjoy time spent reading in the area’s oversized Adirondack chairs placed comfortably in the shade of the tree.
This new area encourages and promotes reading during recess as an activity of choice for students. As a published children’s author herself, Lanzieri is very aware of the need for encouraging reading and its effects as a stress reducer.
Lanzieri’s next goal is to apply for a second grant to create a similar area at William Winsor Elementary School, where she is also employed as social worker. Each component she would like to create for the school is aimed at providing specific assistance to her students; a Zen garden with crushed gravel in order to assist children with attentional difficulties in clearing their minds of the day’s chaos; wooden beams with built in pullup and pushup bars to allow a wide range of movement breaks; a chalkboard slate for use as a canvas for art therapy; and a mounted, large, rotating, ‘rain stick’ to provide sensory input and could comfort children when they turn it.