All in a day's play
Guidance counselor uses play to stimulate creativity

By Lynn Hall
The Clemmons Courier

Scott Ertl, a guidance counselor at Clemmons Elementary School, has a no nonsense philosophy about the importance of having fun and takes being silly very seriously.

At least outside of the classroom.

Which brings us to the reason there were more than 100 youngsters, moms and dads and teachers blowing soap bubbles, hopping around with a rubber ball clinched between their knees and traversing dangerous shark infested waters inside the school gym and cafeteria last week.

Ertl, who worked in marketing and performance prior to pursuing a career in education, believes one of the best ways to get the creative juices flowing is to simply relax and play.

"With the growing demands for succeeding in this fast-paced world, it has been even more difficult to make quality time with our children," Ertl notes. "That's the reason for starting these Playshops."

According to Ertl, the purpose of these groups is to help provide positive relationship-building exercises that allow parents, children and teachers to spend quality time together.

"What we're doing here is bringing everyone together in a safe atmosphere and allowing creative thinking and problem-solving and good old fashioned fun. We want to remind families of the importance of spending this sort of quality time together."

Beginning this year, Ertl has organized "Playshops" for two grade levels at a time.

"I send home announcements and invite parents and siblings to come for the evening, and then once here, we divide everyone into small groups of about eight to 10."

There are activity stations set up, and the groups move from station to station using their imaginations and creative thinking skills to solve problems or simply have fun. "It's a team building experience," Ertl explains.

The experience allows students who may not know each other well or at all, to become better acquainted or make new friends. Making everyone feel involved translates into a better learning environment in the classroom and less room for alienation.

He said this also is a good way to break down barriers between teachers and parents, and to build rapport. "I've had parents tell me this experience makes teachers and school administrators seem more approachable. With the sort of problems going on in the world with ouryoung people, we need more of this sort of cooperation between home and the schools."

He said while a student may not be in the same group with his or her teacher, they can still see them relaxed and having fun.

Ertl says, "We've become a drive-through society. We drive the kids to school and drop them off, or to other activities, and at home everyone is busy doing their own thing. Kids have a lot of high tech toys now - video games and computers that provide structured activities and real creativeness needs free form."

At the end of the various activities, the parents, teachers and students evaluate the experience, and Ertl hopes they take away the idea of doing things differently.

Kindergarten students will be coming with their teachers and families in January, and after that, Ertl said he would like to work with other schools doing the same sort of programs.

"I've had overwhelming response from places where I've done this in the past and that's been encouraging. I think this is important and hope it's something I can continue to do."

For more information of Playshops, check out Ertl's web site,

Published: Thursday, November 25, 1999