Learning and Play: Intern Reflections on Summer at the Park
This special guest blog post comes to you from Juliet Schraeder, who is completing a summer internship at Friends of the High Line as part of her graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin. All summer long, Juliet has played a strategic role in leading our family and youth public programs on the High Line.
As I began researching internship opportunities, I remember my first peek at the High Line’s Web site revealed a history of dance, visual arts, storytelling, puppeteering, music, and more. I was sold. As a graduate student in Community-Based Arts Education at the University of Texas at Austin, I was drawn to working with Friends of the High Line because of the organization’s commitment to strengthening the connection between artists and the community.
Fast forward to the present. I feel fortunate to have been able to work alongside the fabulous staff during the inaugural season of bi-weekly family programs on the High Line. It has been an honor to contribute to this extraordinary park’s curriculum development and program execution. Time flies when you are having fun, and it seems like the weeks have gone so fast.
Our goal was to create engaging opportunities for kids and their families to combine learning with play, while actively investigating the art, design, nature, and history all around us on the High Line.
We organized public programs for every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon, and planned a curriculum that featured activities for both new and returning visitors.
On Saturdays, we maintained a focus on creativity and observation through varied arts-based activities that integrated different senses and creative outlets, drawing from the works presented by High Line Art. We danced with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, created cityscape prints inspired by Kim Beck, designed postcard art inspired by Julianne Swartz, and made sound comics, temporary murals, and even musical instruments.
On Wednesdays, we built upon the success of last year’s Wild Wednesday program, creating opportunities for kids and their families to investigate the natural world on the High Line. We looked at seed shapes and dispersal methods, planted our own miniature gardens, studied beneficial insects, released ladybugs in the park’s planting beds, and even watched the metamorphosis of caterpillar into winged Painted Lady butterflies.
The new addition of the Children’s Work Yard Kit at our Saturday Play and Wild Wednesday programs helped us meet our goal, and it was a huge hit with the kids. Designed by Cas Holman, the Work Yard Kit is a mobile crate of building materials designed specifically for creative play on the High Line. It contains wood planks, wheels, ropes, gears, pulleys, tools, found objects, and natural materials for kids to design their own play. Eager builders constructed and deconstructed creatures of their imagination and invention – robots, skyscrapers, and futuristic automobiles came to life at the hands of our participants. As the summer progressed, we found the same kids came back week after week to see what they could create next alongside new friends.
Each week, we spent time speaking with the kids and caregivers to get feedback. Our participants had fun, meaningful, and unique experiences, and learned about the history, design, nature, and public art in the park in the process. Without a doubt, this summer has been filled with successes for family programs on the High Line.
I know that a little bit of my heart will be left on the High Line when I return home to Austin, Texas to finish graduate school. As I pack my bags over the next few days, I know I will be bringing with me so many great memories of what I can truly say is one of the most inspiring public spaces in the world. I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone at Friends of the High Line for this memorable summer.