Bethune Elementary kicks off a month of playground fun for APS and KaBOOM!

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What’s up with Atlanta Public Schools and playgrounds in October? It’s going to be an exciting month if Friday morning’s event at Bethune Elementary was any indication. The school partnered with Atlanta Taskforce on Play (ATOP) and KaBOOM! to present students with the unique Imagination Playground in a BOX — a portable playground where kids can pull out parts and create their own playground figures.

(On Saturday, Oct. 3, KaBOOM! partners with Fickett Elementary for a playground build, and again on Oct. 22 with Peyton Forest for another playground.)

The morning was spent with Bethune Elementary Principal RoseMary Hamer and ATOP founder Cynthia Gentry presenting the box to kindergarten students during a morning break. After opening up the huge green box, they allowed children to run wild, pulling out the blue parts and doing whatever they wanted with them — together in groups and separately. The next thing they knew, the students had created imaginary trees, benches and other toys. Read more after the jump …

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“We decided this should be a component for our lower grades so they could use their imagination and creativity to use this equipment to create their own playground,” said Hamer. “They’re all portable parts of different shapes and sizes, and some interlock. They can build a structure as they want to, or make things to jump over, and crawl across.”

The school received a discount on the price and shipping of the box, which is the first phase of an ambitious playground project that school officials hope will inclue an arboretum — if they can secure the funding.

Why the push for all this play?

“We’ve seen studies that connect play to improved student academic performance and even help minimize the effects of Attention Deficit Distorder,” said Gentry, who first learned of the Imagination Playground in a Box after seeing its designer, famed New York architect David Rockwell, on TV. “In one project, the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, they discovered after schools had playground installed, the number of students who passed the math testing went up 25 percent. When children have recess during the day, they come back refreshed and ready to learn. That’s huge. That’s big!”

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Bethune parent Rachel Armour (pictured above left) was thrilled as she watched her son, kindergartener Bryce Armour, play with the new playground pieces — including a makeshift telescope. “I’ve never seen anything like it!” she said. “Before this, there wasn’t much they could come up with for the children in this part of the school. But this is perfect for him. He gets bored really easily and has a lot of energy. He’s learning to work together with his classmates.”

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