One Gift Opens Up a World of Play

One Gift Opens Up a World of Play

By Christine Dinh, Instructional Technologist

When we received the wonderful news that an alumni family made an anonymous major gift to The Joy School for our outdoor space, the AEIOU (Association for the Evaluation & Improvement of Outdoor Utilization) jumped into action.

If you visited TJS this school year, you probably noticed two major additions to our playground which were funded by the generous donation: a Gaga pit and a custom-designed wooden playhouse. While these new structures are obviously fun, they also contribute to our students' social, physical and emotional development.

More Than a Playhouse

The House

Once you see it, you might make the connection that the playhouse architecture mirrors the design of the School's new building with its wooden slats, and it features a red door similar to the original building.

We made sure it didn't look too childish and was large enough for middle schoolers to enjoy. While the structure gives students their own space to play, its big windows and wide-spaced wooden slats allow

teachers to monitor the kids' activity. Middle school students use the space as a place to sit and chat and decompress while having a sense of privacy. The windows also allow for interaction between the inside and outside.

The Play

Once the building design was established, we had the idea of including themed prop boxes to offer kids a framework for their dramatic play. This allows the students to build on imaginative play and take on roles they see in society or their day-to-day lives. For example, many of our students played "flood" after Harvey, cleaning "mold" out of the playhouse. Dramatic play gives kids a medium to physically work through their feelings. It can be hard for some children to put their worries into words. Along with talking about their homes suffering mold damage, they can act like they are removing mold from the playhouse.

In addition, the playhouse offers the opportunity for kids to practice appropriate, expected interactions. Since so many of our students struggle with peer communication, it's the perfect way for them to have more constructive interactions on the playground.

Girl pretending to style boy's hair in the acorn salon

Problem Solving

Our restaurant prop box is a big hit with students. The first time the prop box was used, everyone wanted to be the cashier. The kids quickly learned you can't have 10 cashiers and only one customer. They settled the dispute by rotating through the different restaurant roles so everyone could be the cashier at a different time. Teachers watch and guide students, but also give them space to experiment with solving conflicts on their own.

A Tradition Carries On

Long before the playhouse was in the works, a group of students created what became known as the Acorn Salon. Naturally, once the house was built, the salon got its own prop box. Sam, a second grader who helped form the salon, submitted a supply list to get the box started. As different prop boxes emerge, we can't wait to see the imaginative ideas our kids develop.

Gaga Pit: A Place for Everyone

While the playhouse centers around make believe, the Gaga pit is full of real-time action.

What is Gaga Ball?

"Gaga Ball is a fast paced, high energy sport played in an octagonal pit. The more players, the better! Dubbed a kinder, gentler version of dodge ball, the game is played with a soft foam ball and combines the skills of dodging, striking, running and jumping while trying to hit opponents below the knees with a ball."

– Gaga Center

One of the perks of Gaga Ball, the game played in the pit, is there's no limit to how many kids can play at once. There is a lot of waiting around with four square and basketball, but Gaga Ball allows all kids to be involved at once. Even when they're not playing, students watch closely, help make calls and cheer each other on.

Gaga Ball also allows students with diverse skill levels to be part of the game. Even if a child isn't the best at throwing, they can stay in the game by dodging the ball. It's also much easier for kids to learn than more complex sports. Students who prefer not to be front and center can participate by standing closer to the edge of the pit. What's most important is that all kids can be involved and say, "I played Gaga Ball today."

Around the Corner & Beyond

The generous gift we received opened many opportunities for our students, including the Gaga pit and beautiful playhouse. In addition, TJS has a new shade structure for the playground and basketball court!

The students are thrilled with these new additions to our outdoor space. We look forward to brainstorming new ways to create more joyful memories and experiences on the playground.

Playground enhancements were evaluated and implemented by the AEIOU: Dianna Archer, Lara Leigh Bergoon, Scott Brown, Shelly Carey, Tammy Christou, Christine Dinh, Rachel Gerke, Michele Kemper, Brady King & Tamara Mayne.


Christine Dinh
About the Author

Christine Dinh graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences. She earned her Master's degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Houston. A huge proponent of the "can-do" attitude, Christine believes that children can excel at anything – they just sometimes need a helping hand to guide and support them. Christine has had the opportunity to "wear many hats" at The Joy School. She worked with upper elementary and middle school students in one-on-one and small group settings as a resource teacher and worked as a language arts and self-contained classroom teacher for third through fifth grades. She became The Joy School's first Instructional Technologist in 2015 to assist both teachers and students in integrating technology into their classrooms. A native Houstonian (and now resident of Katy), Christine enjoys spending time with her family, arranging monthly family game nights, reading and working on various arts and crafts.

Degrees Held
Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences from The University of Texas at Austin
Master of Education from University of Houston

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