Community, Education

“Kids Learn More From Exploration…”

Playing is an energy release for children as well as a way to develop life skills.

By Kelsey Snider ITHACA, N.Y. (NCC News) – Humans have energy whether young or old. Energy that we need to burn. Children use playing as a way to release that energy, but also use it to build up confidence and learn ways to interact with other people.

The entrance to the Hands-on Anarchy Zone. (c) 2016 Kelsey Snider

“At the end of the last school year both of my kids were experiencing some hard times in school both social, emotional problems and one was a kindergartener and one was a fourth grader at the time,” said Kate Dimpfl, a parent who brings her children to the Ithaca Children’s Garden. “They felt like they couldn’t really do anything. What my husband and I saw over the summer is that through the type of play that they had here, they we’re able to gain that sense of self mastery again and confidence and skill building so they felt like the things that were challenging them they could meet in a completely different way.”


The Hands-on Anarchy Zone is a place where children can play with shovels and tires and build structures like forts. They have the opportunity to interact with other children without a parent stepping in to tell them what to do and how to do it. Parents take a step back and let their children figure out the world around them.

“We know that kids learn more from exploration on their own than a parent just telling them things,” said Dr. Cyndy Scheibe, a psychology professor at Ithaca College.

Scheibe says this type of parenting, letting your children have free reign to let go and do what they want to a degree, leads children to become more self reliant. She said children who are more self reliant do better in school and are more equipped to take on the challenges of life.

The executive director of the garden, Erin Marteal, believes children who don’t thrive in the classroom, thrive in the in a space like the Anarchy Zone because they can get their energy out.

Materials children can play with in the Anarchy Zone. (c) 2016 Kelsey Snider

“Cutting back on recess and cutting back on physical education has led to decreases actually in children’s learning in part because it makes them have more difficulty focusing for long periods of time. Their attention span drifts off,” said Dr. Scheibe.

Marteal thinks children who play in the Anarchy Zone learn life skills such as collaborating and negotiating when another child doesn’t want to play the same game,and or when a child is playing with something that another child wants and that leads to success.

“It’s incredible to see how children are so capable when we just step back and trust them. They really are very good at setting their own limits, but they do need practice and it’s not something that they just instantly have yet,” Marteal said. “If they can begin developing those skills in childhood, those skills will serve them so well for the rest of their lives.”