Monday, October 06, 2014


Last week, the four and five year olds discovered our long, wooden planks. People often insist that our outdoor space is anchored by the cast iron water pump set in the upper level of a two level sand pit, and that is probably the feature the kids mention most, but I'd say that our planks are every bit as important to how we play together outdoors.

Six to ten feet long, there are a half dozen of them out there. I like that they're unwieldy, usually requiring at least two kids to move from place to place, which means they're usually found in the midst of high level cooperative play.

This wasn't the first time they've been used as seesaw-style "catapults," but it's the first time I've seen this sort of set up, involving three planks, side-by-side over a single pvc pipe fulcrum. 

They were filling buckets with water, setting them on one end of the plank, then launching the water into the air, sometimes dramatically, by jumping on the raised end. It was one of those magnificent activities in which they engaged in an ongoing negotiation with one another, disagreeing and agreeing as part of the natural flow of play.

Making it even more challenging was the fact that they had set things up adjacent to the swings, which were in pretty much constant use the entire time. I made a few informational statements, like, "The swings are almost hitting you," and "If you moved everything over that way a little you wouldn't be so close to the swings." 

A couple of the kids took the time to sort of visually acknowledge what I was saying, but obviously they didn't assess the risk as I did, and, to their credit no one was bumped, although there were a few close calls. The swingers occasionally took a splash of water on their backs, but none complained.

Meanwhile, a couple of other planks had been dragged over to the short flight of stairs at the top of our space. One of them had been set on the stairs like a ramp and the kids were taking turns using it as a sort of downhill "trampoline," bouncing their way from the top of the stairs to the bottom.

Beside that, the second plank had been wedged under the gate, allowing it to cantilever out over the stairs, which they were using as a "diving board."

It was almost as if they had set up a beginner and advanced version of the game. Most of the kids started out testing themselves on the inclined board, only moving on to the "high dive" once they'd mastered the low one.

Between these two impromptu plank-play stations as many as a dozen kids were involved, doing things together that have never been done under the sun.

This wasn't about risk taking, although there was some of that in both the catapult and bouncy board play. This was, like most thing are when groups of young children come together with time, space, and materials with which to play, a full-body social and scientific engagement, the sort of things to get lost in with your friends, which is a place of deep learning.

As we were wrapping up at the end of the day, I mentioned that one could use these "catapults" for painting, which, as I was hoping, was met with enthusiasm, so on the following day, we re-set the rig in our art area.

We employed the kids pvc fulcrum technique, then lay a piece of canvas across the planks.

We were using secondary colors, mostly because that's what we have the most of in our storage room at present, and diluting it with a lot of water in yoghurt containers.

The kids queued up on their own. When it was their turn to jump off the table onto the raised end of the plank, they were offered a choice about where on the plank the projectable paint was to be positioned.

Through a process of trial, error, and observation, the kids soon figured out that the most spectacular results, meaning the most flying paint, resulted from placing the container at the farthest end of the plank.

In the end of all this plank play, we wound up with no injuries, at least of the sort that rose to the level of adult involvement, and only one broken plank: the diving board cracked mid-jump.

The school year is young. I reckon we'll lose a few more along the way. I can't wait to figure out how we're going to break them.

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