As the school year was drawing to a close, the kids at Woodland Park were on a mixing tear. Everything from paints and plants to rocks and sticks had to be mixed up with other things.
You could hardly take a walk in the garden without coming across a stew of herbs in a terra cotta pot.
We were mixing indoors . . .
. . . but it was outdoors where the real action was, because everything in the outdoor classroom was fair game, and I was breaking out vegetable oil, flour, shaving cream, vinegar, powder paint, and just about anything else on our shelves with the idea that since we were moving anyway, I might as well lighten the load.
Many of these soups, potions, pastes, and concoctions found their way into the children's cubbies to take home to mom and dad, most of which were festering away, forming crusts, bubbling, overflowing, and otherwise looking like something you wouldn't want spilled on your car seats. Frankly, I'm delighted that the kids were bringing home these disgusting messes, and the stories that went with them, rather than the pretty sunflower paintings children might take home from more "traditional" preschools.
Not long ago, my brilliant and wonderful Australian colleagues, Sherry and Donna, from Irresistible Ideas For Play Based Learning posted about making sand playdough. Perfect, I thought, let's mix up some of that and finish the year with it instead of our regular playdough.
We started with their basic recipe:
4 cups clean sand
3 cups flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup oil
Okay, so our sand wasn't so clean. We just scooped it out of our sandpit. And, I'll have to admit, the basic recipe was only a starting point as the kids just kept right on mixing those ingredients, augmented by the chunks of miscellaneous debris that had been included with our sand.
What we wound up with didn't look as stretchy and pliable as what they created Down Under, but it was still a fascinating substance that acted very much like the "moon sand" they sell in stores, although "doughy-er." In fact, many of the kids said they liked it better than the store bought kind. (I know there are recipes out there for home made moon sand using corn starch, and we've tried it, but we like this better.) We stored it in a plastic bag overnight and it got too sticky for us, so we added cinnamon to dry it out a little, giving it a fragrance most of us associated with cookie dough.
It often looked crumbly, but came together into a nice smooth dough with
just a little pressure.
We really enjoyed using our sand play dough with ice cream scoops: it formed
into perfect balls that slid out without sticking.
So, I don't really have a recipe for you other than to start with Sherry and Donna's and add cinnamon, and a little more of everything, and kids.
But, that's not really the point of this post. The point is that Sherry and Donna are as much my colleagues as anyone here in Seattle. The point is that we preschool teachers who are connecting with each other across oceans, international borders, and cultures, are already sharing our best practices and ideas in a way that those politicians and gadfly businesspeople who are trying to take charge of educational policies will never be able to understand.
I'm thinking specifically about this much ballyhooed recent report which discusses how misguided our policy-makers are and that they really need to be looking at the successes of other nations as they seek to reform our educational system. The well-intended authors point to lessons we should learn from Finland and Singapore and China and Canada and Japan. You don't have to tell me that we have a lot to learn from each other, but what gets under my skin is that they still insist on framing their arguments in economic terms, referring to those other nations as our competitors and measuring "success" only in jobs, wages, and GDP.
These guys are so far behind us preschool teachers it's shocking. Education is about so much more than money. And even after they complete their surveys and studies, until they finally understand this, our educational system will still be there to serve the economy rather than children or our democracies.
We might just think we're sharing playdough recipes via the internet, but what we are really doing is the actual work of educational reform: sharing and mixing.
Keep sharing and mixing teachers. Keep sharing and mixing parents. This is the way we will change the world.