Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Little World Experiment, Part III

I took advantage of an unscheduled Saturday to bring some stuff up from the basement and scavenge around outside for things that I think might be useful in Woodland Park's all-hands-on-deck playground re-design undertaking. While dropping things off, I prepared for the next stage of the great Little World experiment. Initially conceived as a fairy garden outdoor play station, I've decided to try calling it Little World instead.

Ultimately, the idea is to have Little World adjacent to, or the location for, daily outdoor art projects, but first I really want to understand how the children will play with Little World itself. 

A few years back, one of the huge hemlocks in my yard snapped off in a windstorm, luckily missing our neighbor's house, although it did a number on their children's play structure. While the arborists were there dealing with the fallen tree, they recommended we remove a second huge hemlock as well as a large cyprus. (Luckily, we still have 3 giant cedars, one more hemlock and some other kind of massive tree that different people call different things.) I saved a couple dozen rounds and a few short logs from the chipper, which I've lately been relocating to the school. It was upon these that Annabelle relocated Little World last Wednesday in the pouring rain:

On Thursday, we learned that this sort of outdoor fine motor/artistic play developed better when given it's own distinct area in which to flourish. Last week we improvised with 1-foot high garden fencing to define the area, but today I finished encircling the area with hemlock rounds:


The red smudge to the left is our row boat. The white "tower" to the right is the multi-level former "fairy apartment building" (diaper changing table) which I'm now trying out for Little World storage. Those curlycue items against the wall are some old Ikea curtain rods that I used for years as garden stakes. I'd guess there's enough room here for 4-5 kids to play comfortably.

Those dried flowers in the foreground are the result of some better-late-than-never deadheading I did yesterday morning. I imagine this kind of material should be plentiful from our community of 40+ families, most of whom have home gardens.

I set up this little tableau for a little Monday morning inspiration:

That's a dish of beach glass. The dish is also made of glass. I'm intentionally including some more fragile objects. I'm sure they will eventually get broken, but I'm hoping that the presence of these kinds of objects will encourage more careful play than we usually associate with outdoors. I want the children to slow down when they come to Little World and concentrate on smaller things. 

There is a terrific business not far from the school called Bedrock Industries that recycles mostly glass, but also stone, into decorative materials for use in home and garden. They sell tumbled glass (beach glass) by the pound, pre-sorted by color or color theme. Here you see, we have the blue, green and white combination called "Sea Mix."

My daughter picked this out for her garden when she was younger: 

She's been neglected outdoors for the past several years, so I thought I'd give her a new lease on life at the preschool. I also like that she hearkens back to the original fairy garden concept.

We're going to want more rocks than this, but this is what I gathered in my yard this morning:

Those terra cotta shoes peeking out from under the boat were originally intended to rest under a pot to hold it off the ground for better drainage, but I never had more than two, which doesn't serve for the purpose.

I'd previously brought in a couple well-worn, child-sized whicker chairs a couple weeks ago and the seat gave way on one of them, so we put a pot in it:

That troll peeking out from the weeds is one of the three I picked up at Archie McPhee yesterday, along with a few small fairy figurines:

(Sorry for the blurry pic, but you get the idea)

In the former fairy-apartment-building-turned-Little-World-storage, I've collected a stash of building materials:

Those rectangles of thin plywood mixed in with the corks, twigs, and pumpkin stems were donated to us in large quantities by a family that had just completed some kind of remodeling project. We have many hundred of them.

I've also supplied shards of broken pots:

I don't think they're sharp enough to cut anyone, but they are sharp enough to, again, slow a child down a bit. You wouldn't want to just go shoving your hand into this.

And, of course, I've included a nice pile of natural materials, like bark, lichen, leaves and moss:

I plan to be hovering over Little World next week, observing the play and eavesdropping. I can't wait to see what they do with this. Is it art? Is it dramatic play? Is it construction? Who cares, it's a new way for us to play outdoors and it looks like fun!

(Note: Woodland Park parent Jen Widrig has a nice post up on her blog about cooperative preschool from a mom's perspective. I'm sure she'd be happy to have you drop by.)

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Anonymous said...

Looks great, Tom. Esme will be severely disappointed, as she is VERY big into fairies these days!

Unknown said...

Oh, I am SO excited to see what becomes of this! I am also thrilled to death that I read backwards this week so I went in order of your days : ). I love visiting your world and your school!

I just showed Kaishon the fairy world and he was excited. He asked if we could make one. Indeed we can : ) Well, if I can dig out a place in the backyard that is: )

Teacher Tom said...

I hope Esme comes to visit soon, Rachel. Next time there's a teacher inservice day, make sure she has a playdate with Thomas!

@Becky . . . I'm so excited we inspired Kaishon! Can you imagine a fairy garden in the snow?

Unknown said...

Since your first post about this,I keep telling myself this is more project than I want to undertake. But the idea is pulling at me with every post. I'm now starting to look forward to St. Patrick's Day (my favorite holiday)...maybe a leprechaun village? I don't know--- you've got me thinking!!! Darn you, Teacher Tom! ;)

jenny said...

I love this post, and I love that you are up and running with it. Its exactly how I imagine it at our preschool and I am extremely interested to see how the kids play. A couple of things:

1. Interesting about the defined area. I had a corner of the grassy area in mind: its kind of raised (think grassy knoll) so now I'm thinking of how to define it. Maybe a sunflower border? Maybe a path of tree cookies leading up the small hill? Maybe if someone has an old gate, or I can source an old gate we could just have the gate? I also love your idea of tree stumps because they are functional for the play as well. I picture kids using them as tables. I have my eye on some on the side of the road on the way to preschool - I just need to enlist someone stronger than I am (and stronger than my 10 year old who is also getting old enough to be embarrassed by my habit of picking things up from the side of the road.) Oh, I just thought of a garden arch as well - but these cost money.

2. Fragile items: I think these are important. They say "this is a special place". We are gradually replacing all of our plastic home corner cups, plates, spoons etc with real ones sourced from op shops and although there are the odd breakages, the kids are definately more drawn to them and they are gentle with them. I also think it shows respect for the kids by saying "this is your place and you deserve the same kind of things that grown ups do".

3. Sourcing materials from the local community - I really value this and want to do more of it. It is a way of not only using the resources available in our communities but also becoming a part of the local community. I'm thinking of ways to get the kids involved in this eg mini excursions with a handful of kids to different landscape supply companies in the area. It need only take an hour or so out of the day, but it really involves the kids every step of the way.

I can't wait to see how this all evolves for you. Its all very exciting!

BellaDaddy said...

Tee Hee:


Unknown said...

Hi Tom! I've been following your blog for a couple weeks now and I am enthralled! I've even taken the liberty of mentioning you in my own blog, hope you don't mind.

See, I am in grad school right now doing the Literacy program. Some of the techniques and strategies you have posted are very helpful. Thanks for letting us peek into your school.

dv.x.3 said...

i love this idea and, coincidentally, have been combing the kitsch stores for mini garden gnomes like the one you found (for another non-kid related project!).

We've been spending a lot of time out in the back yard with the great weather we've been having, and I know the perfect corner for such a space. May just skip some of the sharper objects until the one year old is a bit bigger, though. I'm off to rummage in my basement for Little World objects.

Thanks for filling up my afternoon!

Christie - Childhood 101 said...

I am wondering if some unadorned dolly pegs would encourage the children to create their own mystical characters for the little world? Or seed pods. I am not sure what your nut policy is but I could imagine the half walnut shells becoming all sorts of vessels for the inhabitants too.