“I want children to have the benefit of a true childhood and the benefit of true play,” explained D’Lynn Smith, owner and operator of Acres of Play, a pre-school and daycare that promotes growth and development for children from birth up to 12-years-old. It is located at 200 High Street in Charlotte.
Acres of Play is a 100% child-led, play-based program, Smith explained. Adults are present, at a ratio above what the state requires, but are there mostly as facilitators. The program is similar to Montessori but works without interjecting adult “wants” to the children.
“You can’t fit every child in the same box,” said Smith, regarding learning styles. The program stresses that learning occurs from natural hands-on experiences, and when children are forced to learn things they aren’t ready for they may get frustrated and give up. Children are given control over their work and their areas of interest at Acres of Fun.
“We provide the materials and opportunities to explore, to get messy, to move, and learn in ways that are natural to young learners,” explained Smith. “They engage in true child-led play.”
“Learning should be fun, and when they are ready and have the desire, we want to help spark the desire to learn the next thing.”
A much-needed expansion is in the works for the new Little Acres of Play; a new building for the smaller children has been purchased. Smith expects the building, the former Charlotte Community Nursery located at 216 West Lovett, to open this fall. It will add 12 additional spots for children ages birth to two and one-half years.
“There’s been an infant boom,” Smith explained, “Which is probably due to COVID.” There have been no COVID cases at Acres of Play, Smith pointed out, although she’s noticed some children play “COVID,” as it’s something that they all can relate to. She feels that spending so much time playing outside was beneficial in preventing COVID in the children with the extra vitamin D that being in the sun provided them.
With a child-led, hands-on daycare, is it a dangerous free-for-all? No, says Smith. Even in conflict, there is learning, she explains. A child will learn how to ask for their turn and learn to manage and resolve conflict. They learn independence and important social skills. The basic rule at Acres of Play is “Be Safe, Be Kind.”
“We value mistakes. It’s an opportunity to learn,” Smith explained. Those who grow up without this learning opportunity often hesitate to try things as adults, in fear of making a mistake.
“Children need to experience getting hurt, within limits, so they know that they can handle it when they are older,” Smith explained, “So they can figure out that they can handle whatever life hands to them.”
“I can do hard things,” is another concept that is emphasized with the children at Acres of Play.
“They have the freedom to choose where they play,” Smith explained. “Nine out of ten choose outside.”
“There is no bad weather, just bad clothing,” Smith explained, and showed the vast array of all-weather gear they have for the children. Boots, raingear, jumpsuits, and more, so that the children can be outside in almost any kind of weather, if that’s what they chose to do. The children always have the option of playing outside or inside, and similar activities are offered both outside and in, such as paint, brushes, blocks, and more.
“They all get dirty, they all wear stained clothes,” Smith said, “and when they are outside, they have the time of their life!”
Even their meals, which are prepared onsite, are served outside. A group of tiny picnic tables is tucked in a shady corner of the yard and the children enjoy fresh fruit, vegetables, and “nothing out of a can.” They are offered new foods that they might refuse to eat at home, served in individual bento boxes.
Michelle Robles Henry, local muralist, added some bright and colorful Doodle Art murals to the windows in the front of the building recently.
For more information about Acres of Fun, call them at 517-213-6281, visit their Facebook page at @missdlynn, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website at missdlynn.com.