Monday, August 08, 2011

The Concrete Slope

We have two of these concrete slopes in our outdoor classroom. They were poured, we assume, for erosion control.

The big slope is holding up the parking lot that sits above our outdoor classroom, behind fences. It's up this 45 degree angle of pavement that you'll find the lilac houses, where the older kids have been carving out a place of their own. I've not heard any "keep outs," but the slope itself is a kind of barrier to entry, one that requires the right combination of balance and strength.

Or perhaps all that is lacking is the courage that comes from experience, because after all, it's really not that much steeper than the lesser of our two slopes. Whatever the case, it does tend to segregate things a bit by age.

The smaller slope is the one that serves as the under structure of our two-level sand pit.

The idea of using the slope this way came from Thomas, one of the kids, although as he frequently points out, his original idea involved renting a jack hammer and removing the concrete altogether.

The slope here is pretty much the same grade as the bigger one, but because part of it is covered in sand and even where it's not covered it's a shorter climb, there is less of a psychological barrier for the younger kids, most of whom have tackled it as a "just right" kind of physical challenge.

Many of them use it as an impromptu slide, and you can see that someone has tied a rope ladder to one of the cedars that line the top of the slope. And kids have arranged a couple temporary planks leading up from the sand pit, although as sand-slippery as they get and as springy as they are, I'm not sure they make things easier, just more interesting.

A couple months ago, I also stacked several leftover tree rounds and a cinder block up the slope with the idea that they could serve as a "stairway." They were a little tippy at first, but by now they've settled in quite nicely and are solid enough to support even adult weight.

When we moved in two and a half months ago, I don't think any of us adults gave much thought to this slope other than as a necessary structural element, but it's evolved over the intervening time into a real feature of the outdoor space.

Of course, it doesn't "make sense" the way things might in a professionally designed playground, let's say, but the children seem to be getting their minds and bodies around it, making it into something.

They're making it into something all their own.

It's a concrete slope, the kind of thing that municipalities across the country are ripping out because, I guess, pavement is too dangerous for children, although once they step outside our fences, there's an almost entirely paved world out there. And in a city like Seattle, built as it is on steep hills, we live a huge part of our lives navigating paved slopes. Understanding a concrete slope, it seems to me, being at ease with one, is a fundamental life skill, at least around here.

We're getting the hang of life on the hard slopes. We've had a few falls, but they're no more frequent that falls in other parts of the outdoor classroom, and I don't think we've had to tend to a single raspberry or bumped head this summer.

I doubt that any kid will ever go home at the end of the day and announce, "Today I played on the concrete slope!" because it's not that kind of thing. It's just another surface, another topographical environment, another way of holding our bodies, of dealing the gravity. Our entire outdoor place, like the real world, is one in which you need to watch your feet, keep your balance, look where you're going. It's a place where your muscles are always being worked while you're doing something else.

And it's one of those things, our concrete slopes, that makes Woodland Park just like everywhere else, and also a place like no other.

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1 comment:

Barbara Zaborowski said...

Wouldn't it be nice if Facebook and your blog could synchronize the comments and they all appeared on both sites?

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