Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Thing We Can Only Do Outdoors

Man, we're having perfect Spring weather this week! Cool and sunny with about an hour in the afternoon that makes us strip off our jackets. 

Although I would prefer our school be set-up so that children always had the opportunity to choose between indoors or outdoors, our physical arrangement makes it so that we either all have to be outdoors or all have to be indoors at any given moment. The truth is that for most of this year it's not really mattered as we've just lived through a winter of record-breaking rainfall and it's been good to get a roof over our heads every day, if only to dry off together before plunging back in.

On Tuesday, our 4-5's class started the day outdoors as usual. We stayed out longer than we typically would. When I suggested that we just stay outside to enjoy the weather, however, I was met with rebellion. I don't know if it can be attributed to a dedication to routine, a genuine love for circle time and "indoor stations," or simple contrariness, but there was an overwhelming call from the children to exchange the chamber of commerce weather for fluorescent lighting.

Circle time was rowdy, so we kept it short. When we dispersed into free play, the shooting began almost immediately: "Pew! Pew! Pew!" A revolving half dozen kids, armed with something from our collection of old mobile phones, remote controls and the like were chasing one another around the room in a slow-mo trot (because they know they had all agreed that there would be no running inside) attacking one another as well as any other willing victims. It wasn't all boys, but mostly boys. They grew faster, louder, more spirited with each passing minute, "blasting" everything in their path, until it was what "we" were doing.

Sure, there were other children making art, squishing play dough, and figuring out how to play a board game, but the shooting game dominated. It dominated, increasingly, for 30 minutes, until the the trot had become running and every exclamation was a shout. The room was made smaller by the ramped up action and noise and the adult reminders that we had all agreed to this and that kind of behavior. The walls and ceilings were in the way.

I said, "It seems like you guys want to play outdoors." When they objected, I reasoned that outdoors was really the best place for loud, chasing, blasting games because there they wouldn't be confined by the rules they had made for themselves. Most of those involved in the game were against it at first blush, then, slowly, through a caucus process, convinced one another to support my proposal.  But there were others, those who were not playing blasting games, those engaged, for instance, in figuring out our print-making art project who objected. They weren't ready to leave their projects. I said, "We can just bring the art stuff outside." They considered it for a moment, finally coming to their own consensus that it would, under these conditions, indeed be better outside.

And that was that: we went back outside, where Spring was upon us, the place we really needed to be. There are very few things that we do indoors that can't be done outdoors, but there are many, many things that we do outdoors that we can only be done outdoors.

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Stephanie Pinkerton said...

We had a wonderful set up last year with our indoor/outdoor spaces where one adult could be in each space and the children could choose where to play. It was neat to see which activities children chose in each space...outside had room for soccer and loud/raucous play as well as painting, chalk, bubbles, etc. This year we fell out of that routine because of some questions from our unions about supervision/liability. It's been a loss. We find ourselves reminding the children all day long: we agreed that running isn't safe in the classroom, we don't shoot guns at school...argh! Then of course we have the melting snow/rain/mud issue which isn't an issue at all except for the school board's designation of "indoor recess" when it rains...I'd love to have a class set of water/mud suits so they'd all be prepared for wet/dirty play. So much learning and fun takes place outside.

Nicole Gepson said...

I love getting my students outside! I'm in Minnesota so it's sometimes hard, but we had some great days of perfect snowman building snow this year.

I notice you were mentioning kids playing guns. What is your perspective on this? Every school I've ever worked in has been pretty strict about no gun play. On the one hand, I get it. On the other hand, I wonder what the harm really is.

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