Preschool Students Lead Efforts to Build Ramp in Outdoor Classroom

A group of St. Margaret’s Preschool students approached teacher Lore Fredette recently with an idea—one of the concrete sidewalks in the Ingrid S. Andrews Outdoor Classroom would be much more fun if it had a ramp for their tricycles.

That simple question turned into a learning experience for the young Tartans—a manifestation of the child-centered curriculum and philosophy of St. Margaret’s Preschool. Mrs. Fredette suggested that the students get permission for a ramp from Preschool Director Cris Lozon, and that writing a proposal would be the best way to do that. The project progressed from there, eventually expanding into measuring space, voting on colors, calculating costs and assisting in the ramp’s construction with help from a St. Margaret’s alumnus and parent.

“The ramp project incorporated so many avenues of learning here in our Preschool,” Mrs. Fredette said. “Over the course of the project, students worked on math, literacy, writing, problem-solving, teamwork and so much more. It was special to watch the students see this idea through.”

After initially asking about the possibility of a ramp, the students worked with Mrs. Fredette to write a proposal to Dr. Lozon outlining their idea and drawing possible designs. They also met in Dr. Lozon’s office to further discuss the ramp.

Dr. Lozon wrote back and taped the note to Mrs. Fredette’s room door: “I agree with you and wish we had a ramp on the playground, too, but I do have to keep the school safe,” the letter said. “So long as you talk to some carpenters who can help you measure and make the ramp safe, I think you should build a ramp for the bicycles.

“Please let me know how I can help you get started on this plan. Do you have a budget or supplies list that I can look at for this project?”

The last question was an intentional provocation that led to more writing, this time asking class parents for help in measuring the space and getting a cost estimate. Preschool parent and St. Margaret’s alumnus Ryan Downey ’98 answered the call. He visited the Outdoor Classroom, measured the space with help of the students, determined that the ramp could be made with three pieces, and gave a price estimate for each piece.

“Then we asked the students to figure out the overall cost of the three parts of the ramp,” said Mrs. Fredette. “The students did this by using Jenga pieces that represented dollars and counting the combined total of pieces.”

Additionally, the students reached out to their classmates to get feedback on both the desire for a ramp and the color the ramp should be. The ramp was overwhelmingly popular, and a color was voted on by all the students in the Preschool.

With the new information and price estimate, students met with Dr. Lozon and St. Margaret’s building and grounds manager Edgar Barriga to receive final approval for their project.

With the “permit” in hand, Mr. Downey then came back to St. Margaret’s to construct the ramp, allowing the students to help when it was safe to do so. It was an immediate hit upon completion, as the Tartans tried it out and quickly made it a popular addition to the Outdoor Classroom.

“Taking the students on a problem-solving journey to make the ramp was such a valuable learning experience for them,” Dr. Lozon said. “With the help of Mrs. Fredette, Mr. Downey and our Preschool faculty, the students learned so much about turning an idea into a reality and what it often entails.”

Dr. Lozon and Mrs. Fredette will share the takeaways from the ramp project next month in Virginia at the joint conference for The Association for the Study of Play and the International Play Association.
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An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California