Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Day of Play unites Ridgecrest students, allows for creativity, fun

May 05, 2023 01:08PM ● By Julie Slama

Ridgecrest Elementary students engage in yoga as one of the Day of Play sessions. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

In the middle of a school day, Ridgecrest Elementary third-grader Sophia Munsee was painting a rainbow on a rock with the words, “be happy” on it.

“I like rainbows and being happy so when I’m sad or someone else is, I thought it would brighten up the day,” she said.

Sophia, like all the Ridgecrest students, was participating in Day of Play, a couple hours set aside at school twice per year to allow students the opportunity to engage in other activities. Students of all grades intermix in chosen activities, allowing them to make friends they might not have met otherwise and to bond over similar interests.

Principal Sara Allen said that the school holds the Day of Play for a couple reasons.

“Our students work really hard most of the time and this gives them a chance to just be kids and play, which helps build positive community within our school and gives them a chance to build pro-social skills with peers they don’t interact with most of the time,” she said.

After the time set aside for Day of Play, “most students are a little tired and it helps them to focus through the rest of the day,” Allen added.

Leading up to the Day of Play, students pick four top choices for rotations, then attend three of the options. Kindergartners, who have fifth-grade buddies, attend the sessions with the older students.

Fifth-grade teacher Annette Hubley appreciates the intermingling amongst students.

“They’re all different age levels which allows them to teach each other skills,” she said. “That’s pretty cool.”

She and PTA volunteer Anna Whiteley were overseeing the chess and checkers rotation.

“This is a favorite; the kids enjoy playing,” Whiteley said, who also helps with the 25-member before-school weekly chess group that will hold a schoolwide tournament at the end of the year. “This is a packed choice every round during Day of Play.”

In other rooms, students joined Allen, who participated in Just Dance, or they worked their Play-Doh into creative sculptures. With the inclement weather, chalk the walk was brought indoors as they used sidewalk chalk to draw on black butcher paper. 

Students chose yoga, musical instruments, domino building, and sport cup stacking, the same activity which in November 2022 Ridgecrest helped set a new World Sport Stacking Association record for the most stackers participating in multiple locations worldwide during the same time.

Art was another favorite amongst students. In second-grade teacher Melanie Lee’s classroom, the kids were learning from Art for Kids Hub videos how to create step-by-step masterpieces. 

“They love it, especially doing animals and characters,” she said. “This is a folded-up surprise so they learn to create a drawing inside, but there’s one on the outside of the folded paper as well.”

Third-grader King Hill chose this rotation.

“I wanted this because I love art,” he said. “I haven’t made a drawing like this before, and I want to learn how because I want to be an art teacher.”

In another classroom, third-grade teacher Bonnie White had Q-tips, pencils, straws, silverware, spirals, straws, yarn and other items with paint to allow the students to be creative.

“We used to have art club before COVID-19, and I like them to experiment with items other than a paintbrush,” she said. “In the fall, I had them paint with forks, but then I thought, why limit them to a fork? I looked in the supply closet and pulled out what all we could use.”

On a table drying, there was a painting of a monster, some of flowers, the school mascot and a painting using all dots.

“Abstracts have been huge, but students have created other beautiful drawings. I love that this allows them to use their creativity,” White said.

Kindergarten teacher Amy Dinkelman encouraged students to use soft and wood blocks for Day of Play.

“I love watching kids play without any restrictions,” she said. “They’re learning life skills like problem-solving, cooperation, and collaborating when they have ideas of what they can build and doing it together. Some just like the quiet times to play, and that’s fine too. Together, we’re building a community and it’s fun to see the old (former) students come back to be buddies with my kindergartners.”

In amongst a day scheduled of curriculum to teach and standards to meet, Dinkelman said it’s been a good time block to set aside.

“The best part is just letting them be kids. Sometimes, we forget to allow that time for them just to play,” she said.

Allen holds Day of Play on the day before a school break to incentivize students to be in class on that day.

Day of Play started at Ridgecrest four years ago, however, with COVID-19 restrictions it was suspended for a while, said former Ridgecrest Principal Julie Winfree.

“We did it to help students get to know other teachers and students,” she said. “We did it to create unity in the school and help everyone feel safe.”

That precedence was one of the reasons it returned, Allen said.

“It was one of the first things the teachers asked for us to reimplement once COVID restrictions were lifted. It felt like our community had lost some of its cohesion, so this became a priority for us,” she said. “We felt it was important for students to interact in fun and positive ways, so they feel invested in the Ridgecrest community and in taking care of and being kind to each other.” λ