Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Don't Let The City Change You!"

As I've spoken with the children about the school's move to Fremont, I've emphasized that the "important things" will be the same: namely, the people. And that's true, where ever we and our friends gather, that is where we exist, but at the same time, I don't want to minimize the importance of place to a sense of community and self. 

"Don't let the city change you!" they say to the country boy heading off for a job in Manhattan, but everyone knows it will. We've had a few members of our community express concern that our little seat-of-the-pants neighborhood preschool won't be the same in our new digs, even though it's really only just down the hill. And they're right, it will change us. I suspect much of what I write about here over the course of the next few months and even years will be about how the new roof, walls, and windows are shaping us. I already know, for instance, that our larger outdoor space will invite us to play games together we've never played together before. The bathrooms are farther from the classroom, we have a wall of mirrors, our immediate surroundings are more commercial than residential, there is a swing set; all of these things will make an impression in the play dough of who we are.

One of the things I've been thinking about a lot during these past few days of spending many hours alone in the place, unpacking and arranging, is what we will sound like in here. To put it mildly, our former facility had acoustic challenges. Even when we tried to be quiet, we were loud, so when we tried to be loud, and sometimes we did, it could be overwhelming. Our new classroom has an acoustic tile ceiling and you can hear the difference. Not only that, but we simply have more space in which to make our noises when you include the "social hall" with it's dance floor, mirrors and stage. That will be a great place for punching piano keys, banging drums, or singing at the tops of our lungs.  

And we'll be able to do this without asking for a sacrifice from the children who are either temperamentally or just temporarily inclined toward quite and cozy.

We've spent a lot of time in school together at Woodland Park, learning to tone it in down in deference to our friends who are more sensitive to loud noises. And while we'll still make a distinction between indoor and outdoor voices, and we'll still look for the universal signal for "too loud" (covering our ears with our hands), I'm looking forward to having the ability to let those spontaneous joyful sounds we sometimes make together -- music, laughter, delighted squeals -- fill our space without having to constantly break in with cautions about volume.

"There's a monster in there!"

"Here it is!" Then everyone shrieks and laughs, the joke getting funnier with
each retelling.

Oh, I know we'll still get too loud at times and have to "take it outdoors," and we'll have a great space for that now too.

But this new place where we've found ourselves will be much more forgiving on the inside. And I think that will be one of the ways this new place subtly changes who we are. I'm looking forward to that.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Now The Fun Begins!

And now the fun part begins. Now that our final week of school is behind us, the Woodland Park community now turns its attentions to our new home in the iconic Fremont Baptist Church. We have exactly one week to have things ready for the start of our summer program.

Yesterday, I attended services, where Pastor Judy told us that there was at one time 6 churches in the neighborhood, but FBC is the last one standing. We are so incredibly happy they are here and touched by how widely and warmly they have opened their arms to us.


On the Saturday of our first stage of moving, a huge contingent from the congregation turned out to help us, our two communities working shoulder to shoulder. I was stuck at the Phinney Ridge end of the project for most of the day, but when I took a break to come down to Fremont to see how things were going, I found a tired, smiling group, feasting on the spread of sandwiches, donuts, and cookies they had provided for the day.

I took a fair amount of good natured ribbing from the congregation for for how much stuff -- much of it, I'm sure, looking like pure junk -- that made it onboard our moving trucks.

As the end of our work day approached, our families exhausted, our final two truck loads for the day arrived at FBC, and there was a general feeling that the work before us would far exceed the time alloted. As we stood in front of the church, drooping, trying to come up with a "Plan B," a group of young men walked down the hill toward us. FBC's building manager Jan, said hopefully, "Are you here to help?" thinking they were part of our group. The man who appeared to be a kind of chaperone asked, "Do you need help? I have 7 teenagers with me."

As it turned out, one of the boys was celebrating his 18th birthday by visiting the sites of Seattle with his friends and they were just returning from the Fremont Troll. They then proceeded to empty one of the trucks for us, then devoured sandwiches the way only teenaged boys can. In her sermon, Pastor Judy called them "unbidden angels." And that's exactly what they were.

Here are some photos of our basic spaces before our stuff arrived. 


This will be our main classroom. It's slightly smaller than our former classroom, but it is adjacent to a kitchen that we will be able to use for snack prep, which will free up floor space. We'll be a little cozier, but not much. 


And the room is no longer blue. We've already given it a couple coats of the same "butter yellow" we liked so much in the old space.

I'm particularly excited by the "Social Hall," which is really a very, very nice performing arts facility with a real dance floor installed by a former tenant, a theater group, complete with floor to ceiling mirrors along one wall, and a large stage with curtains at the far end.


Oh boy, are we going to have fun in there!


But as exciting as that is, it's the outdoor spaces that have me the most excited. We've already removed the slide and climber as they weren't in particularly good condition, but we've kept the swing set.


I would estimate that we have about 5-6 times more space here than we had before, so it's exciting to think about what kind of outdoor classroom we'll be able to create, especially as it evolves over time.


The church has already replaced the back fence with something more sturdy . . .


. . . while we are in the process of replacing the chain link fence on the street side. As you can see, the posts are already set.

The congregation yesterday was curious about the tree rounds, shipping pallets and other things we've brought in to get started. Pastor Judy visited our old outdoor classroom and reads this blog, so she knows what to expect.

We took a delivery of sand last week, which will fill our planned two level sand pit.

And our work bench is already more or less in place between two wonderful cedars.

Ultimately, we'll have a large garden space on the other side of the church . . .


. . . but since time is precious, we're going to start the summer with a temporary garden based upon the plants we salvaged from the old place.

A new addition to the outdoor classroom is this 10-foot tall metal windmill, which was given to us by the former director of the now defunct Cirque de Flambe. 

As I understand it, this was a set piece for a fiery bit base upon Don QuixoteAttached to the back of this, is a tangle of wire and pulleys that holds the head, wings and tail of a dragon that apparently emerges from behind the windmill.

I haven't quite figured it out yet, but if we can make that part work . . . Well, oh boy! Our plan is to use it as one wall of a four wall playhouse frame that will anchor the center of the lower level of the playground, one side facing the sandpit, one side the work bench, one the outdoor art area, and the other facing a part of the space yet to be determined. 

So now I must be off on my bicycle (did I mention that the center of the universe is just a 12 minute ride from my home?) to get started. Seven days of preschool creation. What fun!

(Sorry for the weird typefaces and formatting at the bottom of this post. I really must run and will have to fix it later!)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Set Is Now Struck

Last week I showed you a few pictures of what was left behind at Woodland Park after the first stage of our move to the center of the universe.

Yesterday, we more or less completed the move, but in between we had our final week of school. Speaking strictly from the perspective of classroom management, it was a piece of cake. We'd left behind just what we needed. My curriculum supplies for the week fit on one small table.

It was easy because there were no decisions to make. No bells or whistles to add. Several times I went into my former storage room for a piece of string or an extra container, only to be reminded that I was essentially working on a preschool set with nothing behind the facades.

Maybe it's because this was the week of our incredible Pre-K play, in which the children were, frankly, triumphant, but I wasn't the only one feeling last week as a kind of performance. Charlotte's mom Amanda, the dynamic leader of our move, told me last night as we wrestled the last few items from the truck into our new digs, "I kept telling everyone we were striking the set."

I suppose if you haven't spent the last 9 years coming to this place, these pictures mean little to you, but Woodland Park was a rather echo-y place with much of it's sound absorbing shelving gone.

Our magnificent sensory table had already made the trip down the hill, but we had Old Bessie, the milking cow as a capable stand-in.

Her udders were full on some days with mere water, although on others she gave colored "milk" with which we painted the paper on the floor.

The art table too was gone, but we still had our easels, which work just fine with tempera and watercolors.

And instead of play dough we used a mound of floam in our toy kitchen, which is a nice change of pace, even though it will never replace the "good stuff" on a day to day basis.

It's taken all year, but the boys in our 3-5's class have finally stopped spontaneously wrestling on our blue rug, but right on cue, the newly minted 3-year-olds in our Pre-3 class have discovered the joy of wrangling one another's bodies.

In other words, we played on this set just as we had in the "real" preschool. "Playing stories" . . .

. . . .and building castles with blocks.

Yesterday our rooms in Fremont were stacked to the ceiling with our stuff.

As our families worked most of the day up on Phinney Ridge, I spent my time at this end, as I will all next week, organizing, clearing out spaces, putting furniture where I thought it ought to go, only to have the next wave of stuff show up and re-fill the voids. That's okay, I know the way moving works, you're never done until you're done. 

Lachlan and Katherine showed up with their parents for a time, as did Peter. I tried to sell them on this place as the new school, but I could tell they really weren't buying it. Yes, they saw all the familiar stuff, the things with which they've spent 3 years of their lives, but I could tell they didn't buy it. As much work and effort as we've been putting into the sets and props, they know that it won't be preschool again until the actors are back on the stage.

What a lot of work we've done. What a lot of work ahead of us. What a lot of fun we've had. What a lot of fun to come. The set is now struck. The show is on the road. A week from Monday, the lights go on and actors once more take the stage.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts . . .
                                      ~William Shakespeare

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