The moment I saw this post from Donna at Irresistible Ideas For Play Based Learning I knew we would have to try it, and since there's only a few more days of school until summer break it was now or never.
We started off inside, more or less following Donna's paint recipe. I knew this would be fun to make because anything involving vinegar and baking soda is fun. Katherine and Lachlan's mom Kimberly worked very hard to help the kids follow the recipe. I pitched in as much as I could because this is the kind of project that could easily turn into a free-for-all, which under normal circumstances would be just fine, but I wanted us to actually wind up with paint. We'll turn them loose with vinegar and baking soda in the sensory table next week.
Anjali and Isak pretty much just camped out at the art table, mixing batch after batch, but almost all of the kids swung by to make at least a pot or two. The two who stuck with it seemed to be seeking to master a process. Anjali in particular figured out, by trail and error, the consistency she was looking for, often adding a spoon more vinegar or a bit more corn starch to get it just right. It took her 4-5 rounds to memorize the recipe, but once she did she began to subtly tweak it to make sure it turned out just right. By the end of the session she was instructing her friends on the process she had mastered.
I had originally thought we'd set up our easels and let the kids paint on the spot, but the weather yesterday was glorious and I couldn't wait to get out there to play with our new water wall and pulleys. So we had a quick circle time and took the easels outside instead.
When we first envisioned our new outdoor classroom we began with Little World. Even on the days when children don't play there, I still think of it as the quiet heart of our outdoor experiment. There is rarely a crowd, but a child or two always spends at least a little time there each day, and sometimes it gets full and stays full, like when we put something new there like small construction vehicles. More typically, groups of 2 or 3 will huddle around a pile of "gems" or lava rocks, carrying on a private conversation for a few minutes before moving on. I've wanted to think of Little World as an outdoor area designed to spark imaginative play, creativity and thoughtfulness, and as such I've tried to attach some kind of art project to the area each day.
Taking these paints outside yesterday seemed to spark, for the first time, exactly the kind of play I'd always imagined taking place in Little World.
Of course it may simply be that the ground is dry and the temperature mild, but whatever the reason, they turned from the easels after a few minutes, carried their little pots of homemade paint right into Little World, fell to their knees, and got to the work of creation.
I cannot think of a single thing outdoors that the children can't paint. I don't feel that way about the indoors.
Several of the little paint pots wound up along the side of the sand pit where a group of boys, lead by Orlando and Max, continued the scientific exploration by adding sand and water to the concoctions. They played as if they were getting away with something, snickering amongst themselves while buckets full of sand and water zipped by on the overhead pulley run.
And, of course, the little pots of paint found their way to the beach hut that the kids have started to call "the castle."
One of my concerns about the new outdoor space was that we hadn't planned any climbing opportunities. Yes, we have plenty of ways to practice balance and other physical skills, but we no longer have our slide or monkey bars. Increasingly, however, the kids have been using our step ladder and milk crates to take tools, paint, and even buckets of water to the upper levels of the castle, causing even the most adept climbers to slow down and concentrate. That coupled with the stairway we installed in the sand pit yesterday, I think, gives us plenty of climbing opportunities for the time being.
Indeed, our little paint pots took us everywhere in our outdoor classroom yesterday except for the garden, where never more than 2-3 kids puttered around with watering plants, digging in the worm bin, or planting seeds in egg cartons to take home. That's where I found Anjali having painted but a single artwork after making all that paint. Here she was, planting seed after seed, then eventually instructing her friends on another process she had mastered.