Friday, July 23, 2010

Little World Is Dead. Long Live Little World!

Don't tell me about good ideas. They're laying all over the ground. Most people are just too stupid or lazy to bend down, pick them up, and do something with them. --Dirk Albrecht

It's hard to believe that less than 5 months ago, this is where we played outdoors:

We didn't even know how grim it was, of course, although newcomers and visitors would often tentatively ask things like, "Uh, how do you . . . uh, do you think . . . do the kids have fun out there?" And indeed, we would make the most of it by tossing out lots of toys and turning them loose, and it's amazing what the screaming, laughter and inventiveness of children will do to make up for just about any deficit.

I hesitate to share these "after" pictures because they're two months old and already quite out of date, but it gives an idea of our on-going transformation from slab of asphalt to outdoor classroom:

Although the major piece of this transformation took place during an incredible all-hands-on deck community work party last February, it started somewhat earlier as we experimented with what we called "Little World." If you're interested in reading about the evolution of Little World, click here and read from the bottom up, but essentially the idea was to create an outdoor area that encouraged fine motor and dramatic play with a sort of fairy garden theme. We were inspired by similar concepts and ideas floating around the blog-o-sphere at the time. After its newness wore off, however, Little World fell on hard times. Other teachers reported a similar phenomenon: at best these manufactured fantasy worlds would enjoy flurries of popularity, but mostly remained untouched after the initial excitement.

In our case, we had made a pretty big commitment to our Little World, essentially building our entire outdoor classroom around it. I've continued pumping new materials into the area, tried new arrangements, and tested new approaches, but without any real progress to show for it, I was starting to conclude that there was too much adult agenda attached to the whole Little World idea for it to ever become a child-driven success.

Without a great idea for repurposing Little World, however, it's been more or less left to its own devices for the past couple months. The baskets of florist marbles have been dumped and scattered, along with the strips of moss, beach glass, pretty rocks, sea shells, corks, statues, beads, bird houses, figurines, pine cones, and other treasures that I once so carefully placed there for the children to use in their fairy land play. They've been turning up in the sand pit, around the work bench, in the garden, and pretty much underfoot everywhere you go.

This might just look like the ground, but a sharp eye can
make out a shiny florist marble, a piece of blue beach glass,
a useful stick, and a rock.

Here are several interesting things like a polished pebble, 
a red lava rock, and a tiny pink fairy.

It has probably been going on for longer than this, but a couple weeks ago, I noticed that many of the kids were finding the now empty baskets, vases and dishes that once held my pretty things and were using them to hunt around in the wood chips for "treasure." They were finding most of their loot in the old Little World site, but their scavenging took them to all corners of the playground, including the garden and digging in the sand pit. Currently, the florist marbles are the most prized items, but for awhile it was animal figurines, and before that they were all hunting for the 2-3 dragons that had been part of the original Little World collection.

Pine cones in a pot, a piece of broken bathroom tile and
right in the center is a bit of leprechaun gold left over
from St. Patirick's Day.

A tiny turtle on its back beside a polished stone.

A glass butterfly wing, a small pine cone with a pit of pipe cleaner attached,
and florist marbles

Once your eye is used to it, there are useful things everywhere. Here are some
ducks, a twig, and part of a space station.

I can think of a million things to do with a lamb and a
broken bamboo skewer.

At first I was frustrated with these photos because they didn't really show the details very well, but upon reflection I realized they do show the reality of what Little World has become. It's everywhere, but you have to "discover" it. Our ground is now paved in these tiny, random loose parts, any one of which could be merely part of a foot path or a treasure at any given moment for any given child. 

Even the new tree part construction set gets in on the action.
(Those are fairies atop the dowels. Talk about coming full

Where once we played on asphalt, where once a single rock or stick was rare thing, we now live our days on a terrain made from a bounty not entirely of nature, but still a natural one for an urban preschool, full of great ideas, but only if we stoop to pick them up and put them to use.

Little World was never dead. It just needed time to take root, shed the silly bonsai restrictions of an adult agenda, and grow in its own way. I'll be dumping some more florist marbles out there next week.

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Lindsey said...

This makes me happy! :D

We have the same treasure all over our garden! Lots of florist's glass nuggets and various shaped and sized sequins, which is pretty darn cool because you never know when one will twinkle in the sun and catch your eye! I haven't put them there, but just like you said, from many play episodes they have spread around and I think it makes the kid's envoronment even more magical. Love it!

Unknown said...

I love what you (and the community) accomplished in little world. Fabulous.

Scott said...

Little World is definitely growing. Those constructions are a great synthesis of so many things. Cool!

Juliet Robertson said...

I think this is one of the most poignant blog posts of 2010.

Children need opportunities for exploration and discovery. I'm wondering too, where, if and how this can continue to evolve.

My gut feeling would be to ensure there were buckets or container for collecting and transporting. I'd also be interested to see if the "hidden gems" ended up in the coffee bean path or other places. And perhaps that's how we need to offer our little worlds - not as specific "lots" but with all the parts just naturally fitting into the outdoor and indoor area but with "permission" to be moved.

It'll be interesting to see what happens - I hope you'll keep us posted.

Jo Liversidge said...

Sometimes we just need to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective! (or at least that of a 'little person'. Often we are focussed on tidying up and restricting resources to a certain area or timescale - look what happens when we don't. I have often had the conversation about 'treasures' with the children at my school and am always amazed at the number of children who have never experienced this concept! SAD but TRUE!
Thank you for giving us a reminder about the important things!

Play for Life said...

I guess little world just aint so little anymore!
You could send the children out on a treasure hunt to collect all the 'little world ' pieces so they can rediscover them and allow the process to start all over again.
Donna :) :)

Early Childcare Resources said...

I really enjoy visiting your blog time and time again!

Keep writing and inspiring!
~Early Childcare Resources

jenny @ let the children play said...

When I read the title to this post I thought "Oh no, not little world". I feel invested in little world, having seen it evolve from the beginning. But reading the post I see it is not dead, just different. Phew.

We have been thinking alot at preschool about the living history of a preschool environment. When we moved into our new buildings it felt like a very different preschool, and we think that was because there was no history in the walls, the floors, the garden - the space was just space.

Now four years later it is beginning to fill with memories of children and play and games gone by and it feels more like home.

I think finding little treasures from little world is a bit like finding little memories of play and games gone by and this all helps to make up the fabric of your space. It is a lovely story.

Anonymous said...

I thought the same thing Jenny! I love the photos could actually make a "I SPY" book with your class with these photos.

Okay, I do want to know where you got those great stones...I am searching for them, but so far either all too small or polished. I proposed my outdoor classroom idea (inspired by your outdoor space) to my principal and she LOVES it, so now to gets costs for everything so we can apply for the grant!

SquiggleMum said...

The evolution of Little World has been fascinating... especially this part as the children make it what they truly want it to be.