Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Power And Joy Of Being Water

Our cast iron water pump had been out of service since about mid-November. Yes, it needed new leathers (the internal parts of the pump that help create the seal and must periodically be replaced) but the main reason was simply that big, muddy water play and cold winter weather aren't particularly compatible. Naturally, we still had a full rain barrel for the kids who needed to get wet, as well as our seasonal Pacific Northwest rains, not to mention the indoor sensory table that frequently features water. But there really is nothing like the pump which has been back in full operation for the past couple weeks.

I really haven't had to plan much else for outdoors given that the suck of the pump's piston draws kids in like they're water molecules themselves being made to move together in a big, cooperative flow that rushes, spills, eddies and ebbs. Sometimes there are conflicts over who gets to man the pump handle when we first hit the outdoor classroom, but after a few minutes most of the kids are just grateful that someone else wants to do the hard work of making the water flow.

Sometimes when the pumper gets too enthusiastic we threaten to flood the work bench area which would make for hazardous work conditions as the kids over there need to concentrate to use their tools and materials.

Wet feet won't help, so it's important to remind ourselves how to build dams that redirect the water and keep it in the sandpit.

Most of the time, there's a nice balance between those wanting to pump (meaning one kid) and those happy to play with the result of that effort (meaning everyone else).

Usually, the pumper is drawn in by his study of how the process works. How pulling up on the handle is a necessary step, even though pushing down is when the water is brought to light. If you look down into the cylinder as you pump, it's possible to see what's happening in there.

And, of course, the water then follows along the path of least resistance, coursing down to where our friends await.

And just in case there are any questions, we make a test of our theories by either not pumping until the others shout, "More water!" or by using something, like a little plastic fairy we found on the ground, to see if it moves the same way the water does.

Shovels are the main tool the kids are using these days to interact with the flowing water as it runs into the sand. Those construction vehicles you see are just in they way. One of the kids, it seems, always drags them into the sandbox, which is where they then sit, unused, in the way. No one complains, although I often round them up and pile them where they belong when they're not being used, only to find them back in the sand the next time I turn around. There is something about them belonging there, I guess.

It's amazing to me how no one needs to direct children how to dig out a channel in the sand, or to make a hole into which it can cascade and swirl.

They just do it with the kind of hive mind that is such a wonderful part of the human species, and so horrible as well.

This really is from where the continued thriving of humanity must come. It's what we want to do, milling around together, doing our part for a cause greater than ourselves, but too often this instinct becomes a destructive craze or pogrom or mob or political movement bent on destruction rather than construction. Maybe that's why those kids want the vehicles with them in the sand -- as a reminder.

I don't know about the larger world, but here in preschool, we have adults at hand to guide the flow of play when it threatens to flood or flow in undesirable ways, helping to create a core memory/feeling for how things ought to be when we're all in this together, including, flowing, imagining where we want to go, then going there, each contributing as he can.

There's a temptation, in think, among those of us who advocate for a play-based curriculum is to stand over the children, pointing out to others, Look there! See they're learning physics! or That's a pre-literacy activity! And that's an important thing to do given the current drive to make school into something akin to the drab work of a factory. But for those of use who've been doing it for long enough, and who are fortunate enough to not have to daily defend what we know is the right thing, that's all really a given, almost an incidental result.

We know that play is where we learn about the power and joy of being water, together. And that is perhaps the most important thing we teach when we let the children play.

Water is frail and feeble.
Yet it gets its water work done.
It moves toward its goal.
Just being water.
You know its power.
Just be water.  

                                             ~The Tao Te Ching

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Juliet Robertson said...

For me it's images like these which sum up what pre-school is all about. I agree with you totally - when people analyse play to fit an artificial curriculum it becomes contrived.

Now on another note, I'm really keen to experiment with tarp, tyres and water. I've heard that it's possible to create a seascape with rock pools with big tarp and other bits. I've also seen children build canals from blue tarp wrapped over bricks - it took over the whole playground!

Thanks for this post (and all the rest)

Unknown said...

love this post!

Let the Children Play said...

I want a pump!

Thank you Tom once again for giving us such a thoughtful tour through your children's play. It really is special.

And I agree with the over analysing bit. I love when the children are really into something, and us teachers just look at each other and smile. We know what is happening, but we don't have to pick it to bits.

Anonymous said...

What a great post. Good reminder for educators and parents. As well as a good reminder for all those people out there causing serious unrest and struggles in my state right now (WI); if only we could all be working together.

GianneCurry said...

That's so cool! I wish I lived in Seattle with my girls. They would love this!!

Amanda Lynn said...

This is such a great post. I am glad you have addressed the teacher who tries to prove what the children are learning through their play. I am envious of this. I feel at times like a broken record reminding those who think we just play all day what really is going on in those little minds. Are you required to fill out any form of a formal lesson plan? if so I'd love to see what system you use, I am required to have weekly lesson plans created and though I continue to change the format I still have not fallen in love with one yet.