Friday, February 05, 2010

The Little World Experiment

couple days ago I shared about our first experiments with "fairy gardens" as part of our outdoor play. As I conceive of it, going forward we will provide a collection of materials (e.g., rocks, sticks, beach glass, moss, lichen, corks, pine cones) with which the children can create their own little worlds. We've added a couple of interesting bird houses to the area to get things going. The metaphor I'm using to guide me right now is that of "outdoor doll houses," but that may change.

I've been conditioned to think of our outdoor time as when we work on our large motor skills so the introduction of this sort of fine motor/artistic play outdoors is something I'm going to need some time to figure out. For one thing, when we play inside with toys that have lots of bits and pieces, it's fairly easy to reclaim them when they get scattered around the space. In the larger outdoors, our small parts will be gone for good if they leave their designated area. I'm prepared to give the whole concept up if it means too much "bossing" on the adults' part, but I also want to give the concept a fair chance to become part of the children's idea of what it means to play outdoors. I believe that once they get the concept of the station, and once we've figured out the right mix of materials, physical space needs, and adult help, the children will make it their own, including taking responsibility for it's management.

The first thing I learned is that our fairy gardens (or "little world," as I'm now starting to think of it) need to be physically separated from our very active digging/mud/water play area. On Monday, I spent a good deal of my time diverting boys with buckets of water, intent upon flooding our creations. For our Wednesday class, I moved our "fairy apartment building" complex (created from a salvaged diaper changing table) out of the garden area. There were still a few younger boys interested in scooping up handfuls of our building materials to throw into their "fairy swimming pool" (otherwise known as the "mud pit"), but our little world itself was not in nearly as much constant jeopardy.

Katherine had spent the most time exploring the concept on Monday and her first comment upon seeing the play station in a new area was, "It doesn't look the same as last time," noticing that I'd had to dismantle some of her work in order to move it. She and Josephine monkey-ed around with with it for awhile, but were soon off on some adventure with their stick ponies.

Annabelle asked if she could take one of the bird houses to a nearby tree stump. I fought back my initial instinct to tell her that the materials needed to stay in the designated area and gave her the go-ahead. That turned out to be a good move on both of our parts. She spent the rest of our outdoor play time, running back and forth between our little world supplies and her bird house, creating exactly the kind of tableau I'd envisioned evolving from this sort of play:

Yesterday, I moved the whole apartment complex next to our stumps (tree rounds) and added a second bird house that had been donated by Thomas and his mother Amanda. Again, Annabelle took the lead, drawing a few other children into her play:

The adults still found ourselves expending more energy than I would like in fending off children bent on their large motor pursuits until Ella's mom Jaimee had the good idea to begin encircling the area with sections of some cheep, white garden fencing that I'd brought in from home. It's less than a foot high, so the children could easily step over it, but it seemed to create just the kind of "notification" needed to let the kids know they were entering a different "world" where new rules of behavior may apply.

So far, the play that's evolved here has been of the decorative-construction-artistic type, but I'm hoping that it will ultimately begin to include a dramatic element as well. One of our adults yesterday helped a child create a character from leaves and sticks. I'm thinking that this is exactly the kind of thing that will jump-start dramatic play.

Next, I want to try adding more art materials like twine, fabric, and paint to this area.

After class yesterday the sun was out and many of the parents, as they often do, took advantage of the opportunity to chat while the children played in the playground. Since we're still in the experimental stages, I'm not yet ready to let the 2-year-olds, with their "randomizing" tendencies, loose in little world until I really understand what it's all about, so I began storing away the materials. Annabelle looked sad as she watched me put away her handiwork. I explained that the little kids would be playing here tomorrow and they would probably mess it up anyway. She answered, "That's okay, I can build it again."

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Unknown said...

Until your previous post, I had never heard of fairy gardens, except in books and imagination. What an adorable idea! I'm not sure I fully understand it yet, but keep us informed--I'm intrigued!

I'm not sure I have the gumption to go through with an idea like this, but you've planted a seed in my brain===ideas are sprouting!

Teacher Tom said...

I'm hoping our little world will anchor a permanent outdoor art station. I can imagine the kids learning things like twig and twine construction, working with clay, creating banners/flags, making all kinds of things that they can then play with in little world.

I'm also hoping to be able to send out "hiking groups" who will go out into our neighborhood to collect materials for little world, like pine cones, rocks, leaves. etc.

I'm also hoping that this becomes a year-round activity, which means that we might often be playing little world in the pouring rain or bitter cold. Imagine how that will change the play and create new opportunities to learn while being creative in a group.

I'm very excited.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

So cute. I like that Annabell. Those houses are beautiful.

Unknown said...

Oh, this is so exciting. I can't wait to see what happens next with the little world : ) Fascinating!

Christie - Childhood 101 said...

I love the idea of adding the bird houses, that is pure magic. Could you please move to Australia to teach my daughter!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
I've just been flicking back and forth between your posts and Jenny's. These little worlds have turned out so well!
We are big on using these in our early years setting too. We put out builder trays with different resources and let the children work to their hearts' content. Sometimes we just plant a treasure basket full of miniatures under a tree in our garden.
After reading The Gruffalo, we had the children work in teams to create a home for the monster in the "forest". We put out clay, twigs, fur, various paper, stones, etc. Each team got to present their gruffalo home to the rest of the class. We had lots of super ideas, like including a campfire for the gruffalo to do his cooking, or little tools for hunting.
I must pop back in a couple of weeks to see how the work is progressing! (Glad you got to use the Sean Scully project in your school!)
Best wishes, Caroline