A couple weeks ago, I shared the Woodland Park version of a "light and dark den," based on the work puppeteer Alison McGowan is doing with young children in England (I wish I had a way to link to her, but everything I find is from years ago). The set-up is based upon these little push lights . . .
. . . in a darkened space . . .
In our case we used a piece of fabric to darken the area under our loft.
. . . and various loose parts that react in interesting ways (reflective, refractive, translucent) with the lights.
We were having so much fun with our light and dark den that we kept it up and running for a couple weeks, fluffed up each day by new things found by scavenging in our storage closets and along the shelves of Goodwill.
As the play evolved over several days, there was a group of boys, in particular, who were taking up residence there for large chunks of the day, converting it into their "monster cave," or their "superhero hideout." We paid close attention to make sure it wasn't becoming a scenario in which others were being arbitrarily kept out, and there was some of that, but since those on the outside seemed to be taking it in good spirits, as you can see . . .
. . . we let it ride.
That is until last week when Max and Connor decided they were going to throw a party under the loft. Now the teacher in me was quite proud of this concept. Playing host is a great way to be powerful and in control through inclusion rather than exclusion. Although I had no idea how it had happened, I was convinced that we had somehow masterfully guided them into this type of play, and as the boys began circulating around the room inviting others to join them, I was feeling pretty darned good about us.
As this wonderful dramatic play seemed to be evolving under its own steam, I focused more on our "traffic school," where a bit more adult involvement was needed.
As time approached for clean up, I finally returned to the scene of the party to find that it had been a party indeed. Upon lifting the fabric to see what was going on, I found a half dozen guys sitting on a mound of what looked like pure refuse. I regret not thinking to photograph it, but that private, dark and light space under our loft now contained just about every loose part in the classroom. They had dumped out all the toy food, all the toy dishes, all the cookie cutters and other play dough toys, all the devil duckies, all the stuffed animals, and just about everything else that was not nailed down, not to mention the original collection of light/dark materials with which they'd started.
Charlie M. said, "We're having a party."
I answered, "It looks like it. It's almost clean-up time. I'll expect the guys who made this mess to clean it up."
I had very low hopes for their enthusiasm to do anything other than heap everything randomly into the various empty containers that were included in their communal mess, especially since there were a number of voices swearing that the place had looked like this when they got there.
I'd been aware for several days that the presence of the fabric had created a perfect spot for a few of the guys to "hide" during clean-up time and when I saw Connor and Max heading for the dark corners I removed the fabric entirely leaving no place to hide.
I was mostly keen on collecting all the materials that I'd been carefully assembling for our "light and dark den," so I handed a box to Connor saying, "The light stuff goes in here." I then moved on, asking Sylvia's mom Toby to manage the project. I was resigned to a half hour after school, at least, of re-sorting.
The massive project went on for longer than a normal clean-up period and I finally left the finishing touches up to a pair of adults, although the kids had made huge progress on their own, doing a much more complete job of sorting than I'd anticipated. Most amazingly, Connor had taken on my challenge with focus and gusto, sorting through all the crap under there to come out with an utterly complete collection of all the "light stuff" right down to the last florist marble. It knocked me out. I was convinced that I was the only human on earth who could have possibly done that job.
And it must have knocked Connor out too because his mom Laura later reported that he'd boasted at home about his part in the massive clean-up project. The following day when I beat the drum for clean-up, Connor didn't hide, but rather was front and center, the newly crowned king of clean-up.