Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Thumbnail Sketch Of Our First Day Playing In Our New Space

As we'd worked on building our new playground, many of the adults speculated about how the children would react when they got to play in it for the first time. The general feeling was that they would start by swarming the sand pit, which is exactly what happened yesterday. There must have been 15 kids in there for the first 10 minute or so, but it wasn't long before they discovered the garden with its new coffee bean ground cover (compliments of Upcycle Northwest) and the new water play area.

It was kind of like a wave you make in a bathtub, the way they surged from one end of the play space to the other, the height and intensity of the wave diminishing with each pass, until they were pretty well dispersed around the playground.

It's impossible to draw many conclusions about our new space from this first giddy day of playing there, but it gave me so much to think about that my head hurts this morning.

Sand Pit
Before heading out to play here for the first time, we had discussed the fact that we already had a rule about throwing dirt, and as Thomas said, "Dirt and sand are the same thing, so we don't need a new rule." Fair enough. I had told Jack's dad Karl that I felt his biggest job as the the parent stationed in the sand pit on this first day would be to remind kids to not throw sand and to not intentionally remove sand from the area. I'm pretty sure that's what he spent most of his time doing.

Burying things and digging deep holes were two of the most popular activities yesterday. At one point I tried to get a little construction going by dragging a pair of old fencing planks into the area and creating the beginnings of a lean-to against the wall, but they were far too busy digging to even notice.

Little World
It took awhile as the kids washed back and forth across the playground, but our expanded Little World/Art area attracted a group comprised mostly of our older girls who spent a lot of time "hiding" the various loose objects available there. As I've written here before, I've put quite a bit of effort these past few into weeks teaching about what belongs in Little World and what doesn't. Yesterday, we flooded the area with new materials which seemed to greatly reduce the incidence of hoarding special objects.

Charlie L.'s mom Shelly was working that station and said that most of the kids, herself included, found themselves whispering as they played there, a pretty revolutionary concept for me, considering that up until a couple months ago I thought of outdoor play as exclusively loud and physical. In fact, one thing I noticed overall was that after the initial excitement wound down a little, the overall sound level seemed lower than normal. Is it because they have more things to concentrate on? Are they more engaged in the materials and less with each other? Will it continue this way as they grow more accustomed to the new space?

At one point I brought out a table, pencils and clipboards charged with paper. I had planned to make some kind of sketchbooks for the kids, but ran out of time. Many of the kids brought figurines and other objects from Little World, stood them on their paper and traced their shadows. I will get some sketchbooks made, but this was a great, spontaneous activity.

Our "secret" tree-round pathway connecting Little World to the sand pit wasn't noticed for the first part of the day.

But it was eventually discovered.

Whenever I checked in with this station it seemed like there were always one or two kids, wearing our new safety goggles, using rubber mallets to hammer dowels into the holes on our build-it-yourself Ikea wine rack.

We will be introducing more exciting construction methods and materials over time, but with all the new stuff this week, I wanted to keep this area relatively simple. The thing that really struck me was that instead of using the work bench, the kids chose instead to use the "floors" we made from a pair of pallets as their work surfaces:

The idea had been to turn one or both of them into framed-in playhouses for the kids to build-out as they see fit, but I'm going to keep an eye on how they use them for the next few days. We may want to convert a few more pallets into "work floors."

Garden/Water Play
This was definitely our most challenging area yesterday as most of us anticipated. Lacking a sand pit, our garden has long been our messy, muddy, digging play area, which made it impossible to use as a proper garden. As we started the day yesterday, we did so with the intention of using half of it as a garden and half of it as a place to play with running water.

There's a cast iron water pump at the top of this contraption.

We had a collection of new boats for the water players and a flat of pansies for the garden players to sink into the ground. The kids had a great time getting the flowers into the ground, and the water players enjoyed experimenting with the contraption, but it wasn't stable enough and as it got knocked about, the water stopped flowing in a satisfactory way. Not only that but kids kept showing up in the area carrying shovels and pails from the sand pit, ready to get to work on their old style mud play and had to be turned back. To top it off, it became abundantly clear that the space is simply too cramped for both kinds of play to take place at once. Finn V.'s mom Karolyn did a fantastic job of managing things, but at the end of the day we made the decision to relocate the water play to the other end of the playground, adjacent to the sandbox.

Amazingly, Thomas' mom Amanda agreed to make the move yesterday afternoon, so we can have it in place for the rest of the week. Wow!

In the past, mostly in the interest of time, I've called the children in from outside for circle time, leaving outdoor clean-up to the adults. From now on, we will be expecting the children to help with this task just as they already do inside. After they got the idea that we're weren't just running inside, most of them got busy taking care of their new space. I'm sure it will take us awhile to get to the level of participation we get indoors.

I have so much going on in my head right now about what happened, what could happen, and what will happen that I could write for the rest of the day. Instead of doing that, I'll let this stand as a thumbnail sketch of our first day in our new space.

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Scott said...

Sounds like the redo was a rousing success. I look forward to hearing how the play adapts and evolves.

Michelle said...

I have anticipated this post... eagerly awaiting details of how your kids played in thier new space! It sounds like it was a lot of work, but a great success. They must have wanted to touch everything and yet were consumed by certain aspects of the new space. Did you find anyone was upset by not getting to try something long enough or at all? I have had that problem before. But I am sooo glad they loved it, and that you have such great parents to help in this new Magical Space!!

jaimeep said...

Random breakfast conversation statement from Ella:
"Mom, that playground you made is amazing!"

Unknown said...

It sounds like an amazing day! I can't wait to hear what happens next.
You may be right about additional pallets. I can think of several occasions when I've brought materials to school for one purpose and the kids had other ideas about how to use them. Eventually, you end up getting more materials, just so you can accomplish the intended project! (But what a great thing to allow and support the ingenuity of the friends!) :)

Noah said...

oh wow.
It sounds like it was super!
I'm glad and not surprised that you're all flexible and moving stuff around already. I bet the kids'll have a great time with the water closer to the sand pit.
I also was eagerly awaiting this - thanks!

Elizabeth said...

From Charlie today after school: "Mama, my friend Connor and I pump, pump, pumped the water down the slide and watched the boats. I have a C in my name and Connor has a C in his name and because of that, we did teamwork and pumped the water". Tom - Charlie loved the new playground. In his words "there was lots of new things".

Deborah Stewart said...

I love your emergent playground! It does take some trial and error in order to find that perfect place for everything but that is part of what keeps it interesting.

Eternal Lizdom said...

What a fantastic space for learning and experiencing and playing! I can't imagine the amazing adventures you will have!

Eternal Lizdom said...

Oh- and what about a garden? Growing tomatoes or something easy like that...