Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Garden, Tree Blocks, And Metal Working Updates

I've written before about how Woodland Park's entire summer program is a great experiment in three parts. We are exploring the idea of running an indoor-outdoor program in our current urban location, testing the limits of class-size in a cooperative preschool, and for the first time expanding our age range from 3-5 to 2-6.

I already have a number of observations and theories on all 3 fronts, but I'll save those for later. At the same time, however, there are a number of smaller experiments within the experiment that deserve updating.

The Garden
When we re-designed our outside space in March, converting it from a rather meager playground into a real outdoor classroom, one of the aspects upon which many of us pinned the most doubt was the feasibility of a functioning garden. For one thing the area we called "the garden" had largely been used for digging and mud play up to this point and even though we'd provided a new sand pit at the extreme opposite end of our courtyard for these purposes, many of us wondered if the children would allow us to make the shift.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about how we were crossing our fingers and knocking on wood, but so far so good. We've already harvested a feast of radishes, and we're now starting to see success with some of our other "crops." Our green beans are looking delicious.

Our burlap-sack potatoes are starting to show themselves above the soil.

Our cauliflower is getting chewed up by something, but our red cabbage is thriving.

As is our celery, which seems entirely immune from the pests in our garden.

We have a little bit of lettuce.

And our snap peas are mighty and blooming.

And we've always had a healthy herb garden (rosemary, lavender, mint, basil) even in the midst of our mud days. Our pumpkin vines seem stunted, however, and we're not seeing much action with our cucumbers or tomatoes, but what we have is very exciting and will help us in planning for next season.

Tree Blocks
I've continued to try to find just the right "marketing mix" for selling the children on our new tree blocks.

I've recently removed our "glitter house" from where it has hung as art for the past couple years and added it to the mix. 

This is an old metal doll-house one of our parents found along the side of the road with a "Free" sign attached to it. Two years ago, the children spent a couple weeks covering it in glue and glitter, adding layer after layer, day after day, even on the inside.

Since then, it has hung on the classroom wall, out of reach of the fingernails that always start picking away at anything covered in glitter. (At one point a few years back, by way of trying to protect our glittery birthday throne from those fingernails, we covered a large piece of wood with a thick layer of glitter for the express purpose of glitter picking. It didn't work. The board now hangs on the wall as well.) Since the beginning of summer Liam has been wanting to play with it, so I relented last week, moving it outside, along with the tree blocks, rocks, bark, moss, and figurines from Little World. I think it's working, attracting waves of intense play and becoming a temporary home for our pet slugs.

I've also moved it all to the dead center of the outdoor classroom, like a bulls eye, and this weekend made a special trip into school for the express purpose of breaking down the "walls" of Little World, doubling the area of this outdoor "play zone." I'm very excited to see how play evolves this week.

And finally . . .

Metal Working
Awhile back I wrote about my excitement in discovering that the metal from aluminum beverage cans was so thin and soft that we could punch through it with these tools designed for paper cutting.

Last time we nailed the resulting shapes to wood. This time we used regulation hole-punches to perforate the centers of our shapes, then strung them together on twine with pony beads to create sun-catchers, which are now hanging beautifully from the eves of our beach hut/castle.

The fact that we've hung them in a shady corner is really beside the point.

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Ariella said...

So, do you want to move to Miami an open a school here so my kids can go?! What a wonderful place you've created for your students!

jaimeep said...

Man I miss preschool! Can't wait until we're "back in session!"

Transit Antenna Home said...

Teacher Tom- Just found your website through Childhood Magic. Awesome!!!!!

michellel said...

Can you share what your group size is? I realize you're a co-op, so there are volunteers aplenty, but I'm playing with the idea of how to create a free flow indoor to outdoors for the children in my program.

Your garden looks much perkier than ours, Portland seems to have rained out the crops up til now!!

Scott said...

Tom, I have so enjoyed reading about all the things your outdoor classroom is doing. The glitter house is great! And I really like those suncatchers (shade catchers?). Cool stuff!

Teacher Tom said...

@CHILDHOOD MAGIC . . . You know, it would be incredible to have an indoor-outdoor school right on a beach. Oh man!

@Jaimee . . . It's odd not having you around. I guess I'll have to get used to it for a year. =(

@michellel . . . We are enrolled to 26 kids during most of our summer sessions, but we usually cap our Pre-3 class at 20. Our 3-5 class is typically 21-23. I really like the indoor-outdoor flow so far, but the real challenge will be a NW winter, right? I'd like to take one on this year. I think our landlords would be thrilled if we could go an entire year without using the furnace. We're working up to that, I hope. Maybe a year from now. In a co-op you always need to make sure you have the buy-in of ALL the families for big changes and that sometimes takes awhile.

@TAH & Scott . . . thank you!

Play for Life said...

Looking good Tom, it's all looking really good!

I saw some of those paper cutters in Spotlight the other day and wondered why they looked so familiar ... now I remember it was on your 'Metal Working" post. I gotta get me one of those!

Love the glitter dolls house ... and I totally get the picking the glitter off thing. We had a birthday throne years ago covered in 'jewels' ... it was totally stripped within the year!

And your vegies ... well don't even get me started on them. I'm so ashamed we still have not planted one single thing! I've really got to get my act into gear!

Cheers, Donna :) :)

Let the Children Play said...

Its hard to remember what your outdoor area looked like just 6 months ago. And look at the amazing things that are happening (and growing - love the garden pics) there. It must be terrific to stand back and watch the kids play and imagine and create in a space you all worked so hard to achieve.

Unknown said...

I can not believe how it has grown and changed. It is so fun to watch the transition. I love it : )