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At Klyde Warren Park, Teaching Students That Learning Can Be Fun

Stella M. Chávez

Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park may seem like just another spot where kids play while their parents hang out. But the local education non-profit Big Thought is giving children another reason to visit. The group touts it’s written the country's first curriculum for a park that’s also aligned with state education standards.

On most days, you’re likely to find visitors at Klyde Warren Park sitting on the lawn, buying grub from a food truck, or playing a game. Like ping pong or table hockey.

On a recent morning, fourth-grade teacher Tenille Shade showed Sarina Carrington and her 6-year-old daughter, Willow, the other activities they can do here.

“Hi there! How are you guys today? Shade asked. “Come on over!”

Shade teaches fourth grade in the Denton Independent School District and also helped write the park curriculum. She said one of the lessons teaches kids about healthy eating and math. 

“You would have pre-taught a part of the lesson about what is a healthy food plate, what are diet restrictions that you would want to do, and then you would do a lesson on budgeting,” Shade explained. “So while the students are here, they’d have flip boards and pencils …”

Shade gave the Carringtons a worksheet and pencil. Then, mom and daughter headed toward the food trucks.

“Okay, Willow. So you have $40 to spend,” Carrington told Willow. “So, what’s one of the things that you think you really want to make sure that you get that would be a healthy choice from one of the trucks?’

“Uh, rice and, um, carrots,” Willow responded.

Carrington suggested they walk over to one of the trucks to see how much those items cost.

The lessons aren’t all about food and math. Kids can also learn about science, social studies, art and design.

“We want them to come and look at the plants and learn about, ‘why did we use those kind of plants’? These are the native plants that grow here in Texas,” said Megan Harrison, the park’s vice president of sponsorship and annual giving. “We also want them to see how we’ve designed different things that can be what’s called universal design, so they’re accessible to everybody else.”

Each of the lessons is targeted for third through fifth graders, and each is aligned with the state’s standards for what students are supposed to know at each grade level.

While this curriculum may be new, taking the classroom outside isn’t. LeAnn Binford, director of the Big Thought Institute, says it’s known as connected learning.

“As children, we spend a lot of time learning stuff in the classroom,” Binford said. “We learn the about. We learn the what. But we don’t always have the opportunity to apply that learning in the real world with hands-on activities, and it would help us really to connect that learning to something in our real life.”

Binford says for teachers, it’s important to justify taking kids out of school – that field trips to the park aren’t just fun and games.

And for students …

The first step for kids in becoming lifelong learners is to realize that learning can be fun,” Binford added.

Whether it’s through food trucks, colorful vegetation or showing kids how to design their own park, this curriculum gives parents and teachers plenty of options to get that point across.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.