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Painting Our Portrait

A legacy of supporting creative play: the first jungle gym was in Winnetka!

Attributes of our Portrait of a Graduate, such as building empathy and effective communication, developing collaborative skills, and becoming a creative problem solver, are reinforced through play. Fun fact: did you know the first jungle gym was in Winnetka?

Two Students Playing On Jungle Gym

According to the Chicago Tribune:

"The idea of a playground as an early catalyst for a child’s development...was gathering steam nationwide, but particularly in the Chicago area, fast becoming a center of progressive education. John Dewey, the reformer who founded the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, introduced a sandlot to the school soon after it opened in 1896...architect Dwight H. Perkins, (father of one of the Crow Island designers) who created Lane Tech HS & Cafe Brauer at Lincoln Park Zoo, designed many of Chicago’s initial playgrounds; he regarded the concept of the playground as a fundamental step in allowing a child to understand that they were a part of a larger world.

The closest (inventor) Sebastian Hinton apparently came to progressive education was his wife, a former secretary to Hull House reformer Jane Addams. One night at a dinner full of influential local educators, Hinton found himself talking with a Chicago man named Carleton Washburne, the new school superintendent of Winnetka. At dinner, Hinton told Washburne about growing up in Japan. His father, who invented the first baseball pitching machine, was also a mathematician. To teach geometry, he built his children a climbable grid of bamboo sticks...he would shout Cartesian coordinates & watch his kids race to the point. Soon, they became bored and just climbed and dangled for fun.

A bell went off.

What Hinton described was a physical manifestation of Washburne’s philosophy — of the need to push higher, at one’s own speed. So along with educator Rose Alschuler, who would later establish the first nursery school in Chicago, Washburne & Hinton left the party and began designing a climbing grid that night. North Shore Country Day got the first prototype. But the final version was installed initially at Horace Mann School, then at Crow Island, Washburne’s proudest creation, where it was climbed for decades."

While the original jungle gym is no longer on the premises of Crow Island, students enjoy climbing on subsequent iterations of the structure. Many generations later, we still firmly believe that play is essential to supporting our students’ growth and development.