Monday, March 01, 2010


In the comments to yesterday's post about our new playground, fellow preschool teacher, artist and blogger Marla McClean left a comment, in which she wrote:

I'll bet more than the space got transformed . . .

I know what she means and will lay my own bet that she's right. Any time people come together to work shoulder-shoulder on a creative project that has meaning for them as individuals and as a community, an unconscious kind of transformation takes place. Talking is an incredible and necessary thing, but doing things together is really what gives words meaning when it comes to human relationships.

Based upon the conversations and email exchanges I've had with parents over the last 48 hours, I know I'm not the only one who feels the transformation taking place.

We're all excited for this morning, we all want to watch our own children discover the new outdoor landscape we've created for them, and we're all excited for the children to place their own hands on it and, shoulder-to-shoulder, shape it into something that is their own. What they wind up making will be "messier" than this organized, tidy space we left behind on Saturday:

Thomas and his younger sister Charlotte dropped by as we were finishing up on Saturday to see their mom Amanda. They immediately started shoveling sand onto the top of our temporary sandbox cover and then went to the garden where they began putting fists-full of our new coffee bean "pea gravel" into the new water "raceway." You can even see their handiwork in this picture:

Part of the transformation that is yet to happen for me will be setting aside that underlying urge to boss the kids around about how to play here. All the adults will be walking a fine line these next few weeks between letting the children show us how to play in this new space and teaching them how to play in it.

Part of this process in the coming weeks is to gather feedback from parents about what is working and not working, what challenges they encounter and what opportunities they see. As a cooperative preschool we will have adults manning each of our major outdoor play areas, both observing and teaching.

For instance, I'm sure that our parents stationed at the sand pit parents will need to spend a lot of time reminding children not to throw sand this week. On Saturday I replaced the old "leathers" in our cast iron pump, so  the water station parent will probably have to help some of the kids with pumping until things loosen up a bit, and the whole raceway contraption is a bit cobbled together anyway, so I'm going to ask that they keep an eye out for ideas about how we can make it more functional. We're going to have some pansies available for the kids to plant in our new garden, but I suspect one of the biggest challenges for our garden parent will be to remind kids that the garden beds are not for digging or making mud puddles, since that's what we've been using them for up to now. The construction/tinkering station parent is going to have rubber mallets to teach about as the kids take on building with the parts of an old assemble-it-yourself Ikea wine rack. And, of course our Little World/art station parent will be tasked with the job of teaching about the new boundaries of this already established play area, while introducing the children to outdoor sketchbooks.

One thing I'm confident about is that our parents are more than up to the challenge. As Benjamin's father Andrew asked me on Saturday, sweat on his brow, hammer in his hand, dirt on his knees, an expression as happy as any delighted child, "Why co-op?" The answer being obvious to both of us in his rhetorical question: So we get to do this!

As I did yard work at my own house yesterday, I reflected a lot about how our new space will transform the children's play and have tried to anticipate as much as I can. That said, I know I've only scratched the surface of the challenges and opportunities that will arise. As I worked, I also thought about the kind of transformation Marla was talking about, anticipating, but I'm sure not even coming close to the actual form in which it will ultimately show itself. 

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Noah said...

I am so excited to witness this along with you all. The playground is so beautiful - can't wait to see what the kids share.
I was reading the morning about a school in France that inspired Malaguzzi when he and all the other amazing educators were starting up Reggio Emilia - they would inhabit abandoned farmhouses and the curriculum for all the kids was to rebuild and renovate the farmhouse.
This post, rebuilding the playground and transforming in so many ways reminded me of it.

Launa Hall said...

Of all the wonderful things going on in this post, outdoor sketchbooks really jumped out at me. Would you elaborate, Teacher Tom? Are they kept outside? Are they made of sturdier stuff than what you use indoors, or are they ordinary (by which I mean extraordinary) sketchbooks that are simply made available during outdoor play? I'm eager to learn all I can about sketchbooks in early childhood classrooms.

Unknown said...

I know the momentary feeling when you have to resist the urge to "boss" when introducing new items. You're a pro, and I'm sure they will have it down pat in no time. Look how soon they took to really caring for the Little World!

@Launa, just a thought, but we carry an "outside box" (small portable file box) with art, writing and literacy materials with us when we go out daily.

Deborah Stewart said...

It is such a pleasure to watch you work with parents and create the early childhood environment together but you know what I loved most about this post? This "sweat on his brow, hammer in his hand, dirt on his knees" Sounds like a good line for a song:) I might have to think on it!