Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Little World Experiment, Part IV

I really didn't want to write about the Little World experiment until I had another week under our belts, but I can't help myself.

If you haven't been following along, here are my other posts about the experiment in order of appearance:

Our First Fairy Garden, Isak's Maps, And Tape-Off Update
The Little World Experiment
Little World Experiment, Part III

Yesterday was our first, full-on day of Little World play. For the third day running, Annabelle has spent her entire outdoor play time here. Others have joined her in short bursts, but yesterday Katherine spent an extended amount of time playing with her. One of my big questions about this play space is what kind of play it is. Of course, I don't really care what we label it, but I'm curious to know how the children are approaching it. I learned a lot more along these lines yesterday because instead of playing quietly alone, I now got to hear the girls talking about what they were doing.

The play definitely took on elements of traditional doll house play, and I'd expected that especially since adding the fairy and troll figurines. When Annabelle discovered a large piece of moss, for instance, she immediately enthused, "This could be a bed." Katherine agreed and they carefully laid it out atop a log. As the play evolved, however, the fairies found a new, cozier home:

 While the mossy bed was transformed into an artistic expression:

Annabelle and Katherine have known each other for 3 years and have certainly played together before, but this was the first time I'd seen them pair off so intently in a single activity. Other children stopped by Little World, and some even joined in the play for several minutes at a time, but the heart of the activity yesterday was in the relationship between the girls.

At one point they were having an animated, friendly give-and-take when Katherine said, "I know," and raced over to an outdoor chalkboard that was new to our playground and that I'd leaned against our fence about 10 feet away. She very carefully drew a picture of a house, then called back to Annabelle, "This is what we need. We need to make a plan of our house."

I didn't need any more prompting and re-located the chalkboard (which, incidentally my father made for my daughter, and features a piece of real slate from his now defunct high school in Kansas) to a spot nearer Little World:

Obviously, other artists got here before I could take the picture

This development was exciting to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that I've envisioned incorporating daily outdoor art projects into (or adjacent to) Little World, and this was confirmation that the two go together naturally.

This isn't to say that the other children weren't involved with Little World. On our maiden voyage a week ago, one of my biggest challenges was fending off kids with buckets of water seeking to extend their mud and water play by flooding Little World. Yesterday, instead of buckets of water, children arrived with watering cans and carefully moistened the soil in the pots. Thomas made the dish of beach glass and florist marbles into a "swimming pool":

As I'd hoped, the children who visited Little World tended to slow down when they entered the small, defined space and they handled the pottery shards with particular care. Some of our outdoor blocks also found their way into Little World:

Yes, that's a terra cotta Scooby Doo head.

A lot of yesterday's play, I think, had to do with exploring the stash of materials I'd made available, so just about all of it got used in some capacity:

That ceramic bunny's ear was already broken

This is what they did with the old Ikea curtain rods

We've discovered that we can open one of our two birdhouses, but the one made from a birch tree can't be opened. Annabelle was worried that someone would put the fairies inside and "we won't get them back." I suggested that we stop up the hole with a cork, but that was too small for the aperture. She then found an old pumpkin stem that worked just right. I helped her wedge it in tightly:

While I've been intently focused on the play in this area, many of the children haven't seemed to notice it. I've not made a big deal out of it, but have rather chosen to try to let it enter our play more organically. Dennis checked Little World out for the first time yesterday. After a few minutes of study, he snatched the ceramic snake you see in the lower right-hand corner of the above photo, and took off. So far, I've taken it upon myself to gently inform other children that Little World items "stay in Little World" (mostly because, as I've said before, I'm concerned that in the outdoors, once small items like beach glass or figurines wander off, they'll be gone forever), but in this case Annabelle and Katherine took it upon themselves and shouted, "Hey!"

Dennis stopped in his tracks.

Annabelle said, "That has to stay in Little World!"

Dennis smiled and tried to balance the snake on his head. He was standing on an asphalt surface.

Katherine said, "If you drop it, it will break!"

On cue, the snake slid from Dennis' head, but he caught it, then brought it back to Little World.

I don't want to have to have an adult managing this station as intently as I have during this experimental phase and it was good to have evidence that the children are able to take on some of that responsibility themselves.

At the end of the day, as the children left school, I noticed Ella cautiously entering Little World on her own while her mother chatted. She began carefully and quietly rearranging items. I wonder if she had been intimidated by the intensity of the other girl's play? Are the other kids going to start thinking of Little World as belonging to Annabelle and Katherine and avoid it, or are these two girls going to emerge as the kind of "master players" who can teach the other children? How am I going to draw more boys into this play or is that a necessary concern? Does Little World need to be bigger to make space for more varied play?

I've learned a lot already, but there's still a long way to go.

For instance, today the 2-year-olds get their first real chance to play here. I suspect it will be a whole new Little World.

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Launa Hall said...

As I read about Little World, I keep thinking that if I were 4-years-old right now, I'm certain that I would be up to my elbows in Little World every chance I got. Just the right mix of magic and practical matters to attend to.

jenny said...

I can't tell you how much I love this. And as you write I can picture it all happening. I could so see myself having to fend off certain little people flooding a little world! Its magic reading how it is all unfolding Tom. And it seems you are like me and just love to see what kids actually do with stuff - usually its what we never imagine!

Unknown said...

Gosh Tom,
I'm finding myself rushing to the computer when I come home from school---I can't wait to hear what is going on the the Little World. I'm still mulling it over, but the idea of a leprechaun village is starting to gnaw at me!
Keep us posted and thanks for sharing it with us!!

Scott said...

I've been away so I had to catch up on Little World. What an intriguing idea! The kids seem to be developing their ideas about what it is and what to do. And so do you, Tom. I'm so interested to see what happens next.

dv.x.3 said...

ok, so our own 'little world' project is up and running, though it's not nearly as exciting and varied and thoughtful as the one its modeled on. Since we had no tree stumps, I used some 'logs' of branches from a tree we pruned last spring, and stacked some terra cotta pots and short stubby 2 x 4s together and some other random stuff, including elves and fairies and a tiny house I found today at Goodwill. Jules's first task was to destroy little world with an earthquake, an activity he caught onto after listening in on NPR news reports on Haiti while driving in the car and asking me lots and lots of questions about why they said 'killed' and what do the words 'injured' and 'shelter' and 'survival' mean. Now death and disfiguring and miraculous earth-shattering recoveries are a daily part of his repertoire. It's fascinating and a little heartbreaking to me to see this kind of play, to see him working out his own private understanding of 'current affairs' in spaces like this. It was also hard, very hard, for me not to step in and immediately rebuild it. OK, let's just say it was impossible, because that's exactly what I did--re-stacking and re-ordering while requesting a gentler kind of play. Sorry for the long comment. apparently I have a blog post of my own brewing in here somewhere. Maybe I'll get around to it, but in the meantime, thanks for inspiring me (yet again!).

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

the photos are great.