Don't tell me about good ideas. They're laying all over the ground. Most people are just too stupid or lazy to bend down, pick them up, and do something with them. --Dirk Albrecht
It's hard to believe that less than 5 months ago, this is where we played outdoors:
We didn't even know how grim it was, of course, although newcomers and visitors would often tentatively ask things like, "Uh, how do you . . . uh, do you think . . . do the kids have fun out there?" And indeed, we would make the most of it by tossing out lots of toys and turning them loose, and it's amazing what the screaming, laughter and inventiveness of children will do to make up for just about any deficit.
I hesitate to share these "after" pictures because they're two months old and already quite out of date, but it gives an idea of our on-going transformation from slab of asphalt to outdoor classroom:
Although the major piece of this transformation took place during an incredible all-hands-on deck community work party last February, it started somewhat earlier as we experimented with what we called "Little World." If you're interested in reading about the evolution of Little World, click here and read from the bottom up, but essentially the idea was to create an outdoor area that encouraged fine motor and dramatic play with a sort of fairy garden theme. We were inspired by similar concepts and ideas floating around the blog-o-sphere at the time. After its newness wore off, however, Little World fell on hard times. Other teachers reported a similar phenomenon: at best these manufactured fantasy worlds would enjoy flurries of popularity, but mostly remained untouched after the initial excitement.
In our case, we had made a pretty big commitment to our Little World, essentially building our entire outdoor classroom around it. I've continued pumping new materials into the area, tried new arrangements, and tested new approaches, but without any real progress to show for it, I was starting to conclude that there was too much adult agenda attached to the whole Little World idea for it to ever become a child-driven success.
Without a great idea for repurposing Little World, however, it's been more or less left to its own devices for the past couple months. The baskets of florist marbles have been dumped and scattered, along with the strips of moss, beach glass, pretty rocks, sea shells, corks, statues, beads, bird houses, figurines, pine cones, and other treasures that I once so carefully placed there for the children to use in their fairy land play. They've been turning up in the sand pit, around the work bench, in the garden, and pretty much underfoot everywhere you go.
This might just look like the ground, but a sharp eye can
make out a shiny florist marble, a piece of blue beach glass,
a useful stick, and a rock.
Here are several interesting things like a polished pebble,
a red lava rock, and a tiny pink fairy.
It has probably been going on for longer than this, but a couple weeks ago, I noticed that many of the kids were finding the now empty baskets, vases and dishes that once held my pretty things and were using them to hunt around in the wood chips for "treasure." They were finding most of their loot in the old Little World site, but their scavenging took them to all corners of the playground, including the garden and digging in the sand pit. Currently, the florist marbles are the most prized items, but for awhile it was animal figurines, and before that they were all hunting for the 2-3 dragons that had been part of the original Little World collection.
Pine cones in a pot, a piece of broken bathroom tile and
right in the center is a bit of leprechaun gold left over
from St. Patirick's Day.
A tiny turtle on its back beside a polished stone.
A glass butterfly wing, a small pine cone with a pit of pipe cleaner attached,
and florist marbles
Once your eye is used to it, there are useful things everywhere. Here are some
ducks, a twig, and part of a space station.
I can think of a million things to do with a lamb and a
broken bamboo skewer.
At first I was frustrated with these photos because they didn't really show the details very well, but upon reflection I realized they do show the reality of what Little World has become. It's everywhere, but you have to "discover" it. Our ground is now paved in these tiny, random loose parts, any one of which could be merely part of a foot path or a treasure at any given moment for any given child.
Even the new tree part construction set gets in on the action.
(Those are fairies atop the dowels. Talk about coming full
Where once we played on asphalt, where once a single rock or stick was rare thing, we now live our days on a terrain made from a bounty not entirely of nature, but still a natural one for an urban preschool, full of great ideas, but only if we stoop to pick them up and put them to use.
Little World was never dead. It just needed time to take root, shed the silly bonsai restrictions of an adult agenda, and grow in its own way. I'll be dumping some more florist marbles out there next week.