Italian Community Park Experience by Melanie Orama

As a graduate student, I participated in this study abroad program to further my knowledge and experiences for my future career. As a part of the program, the other graduate students and I planned and facilitated therapeutic play activities for children in Italian communities. We created and implemented four activities over the course of four days. We planned to do activities such as pasta jewelry making, watercolor painting, and other crafts. Although there would be a language barrier between the children and the students, play is universal. We went to a community park called Giardino di BorgoAllegri; this translates to a garden in the community. I was unsure what to expect going into the first day of community outreach, but the children were very welcoming and interested in our activities. There were many children present at the park of all ages, from infants and toddlers to preschool and school-aged children.

The activities we planned were open-ended, and children were free to take it where they felt they needed and wanted. Language barriers may have made the interactions a bit longer, but given the time and opportunity, I feel that I figured out what the child needed based on gestures and nonverbal cues. For example, one child came to me with his finished drawing and showed me each aspect of the drawing by pointing and stating words. Although I did not understand the words, the child was content showing me his completed work. Many times, I could deduce when a child needed paper, wipes, glue, or markers. It was a unique experience where I witnessed authentic Italian culture and children and family interactions. There were various ages and families present during our activity, and the children were excited that we would come back throughout the week. The community programming allowed me to witness a continuation of Italian culture and how it influences families and children. Italian families and communities continue to amaze me with their cultural differences. The community park is a central location for many families and children to interact. This park was an actual representation of a community and how collective ideals work versus the United States’ individualistic ideals.

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