Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mouse Trap

One of the lessons I've learned about our still-new outdoor classroom is the importance of regularly refreshing the space. I'm not necessarily talking about tidying up, although that's a part of it, but rather about constantly rotating "old equipment" out of the space and "new equipment" in. I think this is a fundamental difference between the traditional playground with all it's permanently installed swing sets, climbers and slides, and an outdoor classroom.

For instance, I'm very happy that we manufactured our water walls on moveable frames. As fun as they were, they ran their course after a few weeks and are now relegated to storage until they can be new again. The same goes for such things as the cookie tree, the bottle bush, the forest house, and so many other installations, all of which were popular playthings for awhile, but became exhausted, and in a limited space like ours, you've got to pay the freight or you're just in the way. The sound garden has been dismantled entirely, its parts repurposed elsewhere, awaiting a time when we get around to building a new one, as has the elaborate system of pulleys we once had strung up all around and over the beach hut and sand pit.

At the same time, each of these items leave vestigial reminders of themselves, both physically and in the minds of the children, waiting like smolder embers to re-ignite into full-fledged play. For instance, the forest house left behind a pile of cedar branches that the children have, for the last week been using for their own constructions. The sound garden left behind several pot lids and the thunder drum, which still get banged and clattered like echoes of what once was, just biding their time until they are once again part of a symphony.

Thunder drum

I was beginning to believe that our mud pie kitchen had already run its course given that the pots, pans, plates and utensils were already being repurposed for all kinds of things (which is fine) other than as kitchen implements. I'm still probably going to dismantle the stove and oven parts before next week, but we did get a nice pot of "gumbo" out of it yesterday.

And as some fires are cooling, others seem to be heating up. 

Left over from our pulley play is this small bit of the once much larger system:

It still gets a tug or two almost every day, especially by the new and younger students.

But yesterday, those embers re-ignited in a way that tells me it might be time to toss a little more fuel on the fire.

If you can't tell, it's a trap that involves lowering the cage onto its victim. Orlando took the lead in creating it, but at one point it had drawn in at least half the kids, who took turns placing items under the trap, activating the trap, rescuing things from the trap, and generally fiddling with it to make it function better.

It reminds me a little of the final stage of the trap one builds while playing the classic board game Mouse Trap.

I had other plans for today, but to them I'm definitely going to add more ropes and pulleys.

Bonus Spider and Fly Story
And speaking of traps, I wanted to mention an amazing little incident we experienced yesterday involving another spider. This time it was a large orb spider in the garden sitting in the middle of a perfect web.

In fact, we arrived yesterday to find a dozen of them in and around our garden, which means perhaps we finally have some predators out there to help us with our pest control efforts. There were also a lot of flies buzzing about. 

At one point I managed to snatch a fly from a leaf. (I know, impressive right?) I really don't know what possessed me, but I tossed it toward the spider's web and as luck would have it, the fly actually hit the spider right in the abdomen. Oh man, I've seen things like this on nature shows, but never in real life. The spider reacted instantly, getting the fly wrapped before we even knew what was happening. It was vicious and efficient. Fortunately, there were several kids around to witness this nature show as the spider worked furiously, then stopped, I suppose, to paralyze the poor thing with its venom. It must have been hungry because it then proceeded to devour the fly as we watched.

The kids wanted me to catch more flies, which I was unable to do. They did not want me to catch a butterfly.

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shar said...

What a wonderful scene to have witnessed with the spider. Isn't it amazing to think how influential these experiences can be on little people. Little people who, because of today may not run screaming from the room or saturate their breathing space with pesticides when they become big people.

Another great read Tom. Thank you.

Saya said...

How long, in general/average, do these outside things last in your school, with adding small things to it (like more rope, etc)?
I'm just wondering.
My school's outside is still traditional, permanent kinda playground. I take some activities outside, but mud pie kitchen and other things, if I were to install them, my admin. probably would like it to stay for a while for various reasons (well, funding being one, even if it's cheap fix.)

Shelly said...

I've heard the spider and the fly story twice from Charlie already. He has been looking all over for spider webs in the yard.

Abbie said...

Moving things around, packing them away for a while or coming up with a new way to use something is SO true. I do this all the time in my girls rooms and playroom. It is just so fun when they take an interest in an old toy again!
Thanks for sharing!!

Deb said...

I'm really hoping to do this at our new house. It happens to a certain extent inside, but storage space is limited (at least compared the the amount of stuff we seem to have). I love the idea of rotating and moving on, it will take a bit of organisation on my part.

We had an enormous orb spider colony in Darwin - a huge web construction that had up to 10 spiders dotted around it. But we never managed to see them in action.

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