Lately, I’ve put a lot of thought into a significant revamping of Woodland Park’s playground, or more accurately, Jenny over at Let The Children Play has been doing a lot of thinking about revamping her outdoor play space and sharing it on her blog, which has inspired me. I’ve just submitted a proposal to our boards, which if implemented will result in a wholesale repurposing of our little courtyard and garden, leading, I hope, to major changes in how we approach outdoor play.
I’m excited about those prospects, but I’ve been reminded this week how even small changes can make a big difference in the play that takes place in a classroom. My wife and her business partner spent part of the MLK Day long weekend clearing out some old offices and disposing of a bunch of unsaleable items left over from photo shoots. I went in to help move some of the heavier stuff. Seeing this stash of "garbage" brought out the middle class bag lady in me, and I got in some terrific scavenging.
For instance, this week we’ve been playing with a set of prop lap top computers. These are the cheap, plastic faux computers furniture retailers might put on a desk in a window display. On Tuesday, 2-year-old Charlie M. took a pair of back-to-back knocks to the head, not hard, but definitely blows to his sense of safety and dignity. He was inconsolable until I had the idea of popping open a pair of these machines, with their cardboard “Windows” screens. I've never seen such a fast transition from tears to joy.
For the rest of the week, our drama area has been set up as an office with these laptops as the centerpiece. I also picked up several new prop cell phones and cameras, which have the look and feel of the real thing. We plugged in our old pair of defunct adding machines with feed mechanisms that make satisfying whirring and clicking sounds when the right buttons are pushed (not to mention their LED number displays), along with a pencil sharpener, stapler, rulers and pencils, and we were in business. It’s been one heck of a busy office all week. Anjali spent nearly her entire free-play time on Wednesday busily making “books.”
The computers were not manufactured with children in mind, so I fully expected them to get destroyed this week, but amazingly they seem to be still going strong. I think it’s because that after a few minutes of pretend key pressing, they lose their play value, while retaining their ability to “set the office mood,” you know, like props!
I also picked up a few dozen electric “tea candles.” When lit, the little low-wattage bulbs flicker, creating the effect of real candles. I’ve been arranging them, a few at a time, along the top of our fireplace mantel (an idea I borrowed from Kristin over at Preschool Daze). It was encouraging to watch with what caution the children approached the candles, even though I assured them they wouldn’t get burned, but once they realized they were safe, these little lights have been integrated into all kinds of activities. At one point I noticed them lighting up the dark crawl space under our loft. Later several of them were giving a romantic glow to our snack table. They were employed as torches and other dramatic play elements.
We’ve suddenly had superheroes energetically performing “rescues” these week. We haven’t had a lot of superhero play so far this year, but the advent of a clutch of scavenged swim goggles really kicked their super imaginations into high gear. Ella was the first one to don a pair of these smoky lensed props, declaring herself simply “a superhero.” She has been leading teams around the room this week, looking for wrongs to right and rescues to perform, often bearing tea candles or cell phones as aids to their magnificent feats.
And, of course, we have been wrestling which I wrote about yesterday. To be honest, Wednesday’s session lead to far more tears than even I'm comfortable with, and I'd been reticent about continuing for a second day, but pulled myself together. We had a brilliant group discussion about the wrestling rules at circle time, including introducing a new rule about pushing people down. A few children raised their hands and declared that they would not be wrestling based upon what they had learned on Wednesday, but about half of them returned to the mats, having twice as much fun and virtually no tears during this follow-up session. Obviously, some real learning had taken place.
I’m still fired up about our prospective big changes, but I’m almost as excited about the remaining bags of small scavenged items still waiting in the wings, and the big changes that come with them.