Most adults say that one of the most disappointing things about our school when they first visit, is our small, unadorned outdoor play area:
Look, we even have what appear to be prison bars on one of the window!
Little World now occupies the area just to the right of the boat in this pic.
I think these pictures make it look more grim that it really is, and we transform it each day into a more appealing playspace by the addition of rockers, balls, buckets, trikes, etc. And those three trees (a maple, a magnolia and a pine) are all very beautiful in their seasons. Still, I remember feeling deflated myself the first time I saw it 8 years ago, but the kids have figured out how to make it into a place of joy and it has served us well in spite of its drawbacks.
We have allowed ourselves to be hampered over the years by the fact that we continue to occupy a space subject to 1 or 2 year leases and a landlord that periodically considers selling the building or re-purposing the rooms we use. In other words, we've been reluctant to make any major, permanent improvements (like replacing cracked and pitted asphalt) because we always live under the threat that we may have to find a new home. Pushing the playground/courtyard further down our list of priorities has been the fact that we have a nice, large "gym" where we have climbing equipment and gym mats that we've tended to use on rainy days (a frequent occurrence here in the Pacific Northwest corner of the US).
We've also been limited by the fact that our courtyard was visible and accessible to any passerby, which made it impractical to leave anything out there that was not anchored down.
In other words, we've made the most of what we had, sadly sacrificing our garden (which has always had a ton of potential) to essential preschool pursuits like digging and mud play:
Only the toughest plants have managed to survive here.
This is all about to change. During our December break, inspired by blogs like Let The Children Play, I'm A Teacher, Get Me OUTSIDE Here!, and Playscapes, I began to rethink and reconsider what we could do to enhance our outdoor play experience.
One of the first steps in this process was the accidental one of our landlords adding a new 7-foot fence with a locking gate, which has unfettered us from having to put everything away every day, and reduced our concerns about intruders, vandals, and lazy people wanting to use our fenced courtyard as a place to exercise their dogs (yes, we have had problems with that over the years). The space isn't exactly impenetrable, but someone would really have to want to get in, and they would have an even harder time leaving with anything.
Little World, which we plan to use as the anchor of our new, daily outdoor art station, is already underway. We've also already begun experimenting with a construction/tinkering station, which will ultimately be based around a playhouse frame, featuring access to real tools like hammers, saws, drills, two sets of outdoor blocks and lots of scrap lumber. A large, full-body sandbox is going to replace our tiny sand table, moving our digging play there, thus allowing us to utilize our garden for its original purpose. And, of course, we are going to be making enhancements in our water play area.
We're shooting to get all of this done by March 1 when we will be implementing a new schedule that puts us outdoors, rain or shine, for approximately half of our school day. It might sound overly ambitious, but remember we have some 80 adults in our parent community who are accustomed to putting their arms and legs to work on behalf of their cooperative preschool.
I'm going to let these photos serve as our "before" pictures. I can't wait to share our "after" pictures.