Wednesday, June 02, 2010

It's Summer

(Note: Thank you for all the incredible ideas for using our hundreds of vinyl belts! Holy cow, you guys are a creative bunch. I was genuinely stuck on how to use them; now I feel like I have a treasure on my hands. We have enough of them to try every single idea. I'll keep you updated on how it goes, giving credit where credit is due, of course.)

Everyone seemed to arrive all at once on our first day of our summer program yesterday and a bit of a snarl of parents and children developed in our entry area as everyone figured out name tags, coat hooks, signing in, and the other niceties of getting going on our first day, but after that I'm happy to report that things went so astoundingly smoothly that I'm pounding on wood with both fists today in the desire to keep those tommyknockers at bay.

We've never run a summer program before and, frankly, I've never wanted to before now. There is no other feeling like that of standing at the end of May on the precipice of 3 whole months of summer, freed from having to be anywhere at any particular time. It's not about sleeping in for me, nor lazing about. When I have typically looked forward into those 3 months, it's with an eye toward spending uncounted hours listening to baseball games on the radio while engaged in home improvement projects. Others use their summer vacation for getting out of town, but frankly, they're fools. We've lived through our nine month rainy season and it would be a real pity to miss the glories of summer in a place made as lush and mild as this one. And since I'm not a lounging by the pool type, there is nothing I love more than to putter around the garden in the sunshine, covering the driveway with saw dust while replacing the upstairs baseboards, or learning a new skill, like the time I spent a week applying stucco to a cinderblock wall.

But this summer is different because of our new outdoor classroom (and because we're selling our house, which means I have to keep the driveway tidy). The idea from the very start was to transform our curriculum into one that put a much greater emphasis on outdoor learning. We took great strides during the last 3 months of school as we allowed the children to show us how to use our new space, what was missing and what was superfluous, but I felt as if we were just hitting our stride as the school year wound down. I'm excited about continuing the experiment without a gap in between.

About half the kids there yesterday are new to Woodland Park so there was a great deal of simple exploring, accelerated by the play of the more experienced children who know their way around. The bulk of our day yesterday was spent outdoors, making "duck ponds" and "swimming pools" in the sand pit, creating our own "stress balls", playing with our worms, riding the unicycle merry-go-round, painting, identifying the plants growing in the garden (I made "check lists" with pictures of the food we expect each plant to produce, then the children hunted for the matching garden signs), and exploring Little World.

Indoors the kids could drop by the snack table or take a few quite moments with the play dough or a book, but those were, as I'd hoped, not particularly well-frequented stations.

I'd been prepared to have to help some of the kids, especially some of the younger ones, get engaged, but whenever I paused to take stock all I saw were busy, focused children, playing together in mixed age groups. So busy and focused in fact, that parent educator Dawn Carlson and I were convinced that many of the 26 kids had missed their first day. The vibe was so calm and quiet that we guess there were only 15 or so on the premises, but however we counted it, we came up with 25. I wonder if that will continue.

We had a rollicking circle time, erupted our volcano repeatedly, played Caps For Sale with our hundreds of hats, quietly worked puzzles, and rowdily rode our wheeled vehicles in the gym, all in 2.5 hours.

It was a pleasant day yesterday, not sunny nor particularly warm, but it felt a lot like summer anyway as I stood in my driveway. I then turned on the baseball game and got busy with the miter saw and drill, making a new set of blocks to play with today.

I got the idea for these "blocks" from Childhood Magic. They used them to make snakes over there, and you can see the beginnings of my own snake in the picture. I'm planning to combine them with twine and yarn needles, as well as bailing wire, and bamboo skewers. I've pre-drilled holes in most to them, as well as in some longer pieces of stick, but left several un-drilled for the kids who want to break out our eggbeater drills. I'm taking my jig saw with me today, just in case we need more. I can't wait for them to show me how to use them.

There's saw dust on the driveway. It's summer.

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Unknown said...

I am glad you are happy. You have a great outlook on life. I love that. Kaish is in school until June 21. He is none too pleased by this...

A Magical Childhood said...

How exciting! Just as a note, the blog with the wood blocks is Childhood Magic, not mine. It's a wonderful idea!

Here's to a fabulous, messy, creative, hands-on summer!

Monkey's Mama said...

Darn, I wish I had known about the summer program!

Unknown said...

Sounds like fun! Just as you are starting your first summer program, I am FINALLY taking some time off this summer. Keep us posted~since I'm only working select days, I'll have to live vicariously through you!

tashanarenee said...

I think an outdoor classroom is a wonderful and exciting way to motivate students in a fun and exciting way. Like you said when May comes you're thinking about packing up and looking forward to the summer months where you plan for the new school year. This summer I will also be teaching pre k in my classroom. However I have been motivated by your post to allow the students to do more work outdoors and see what that does for their learning.