Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Learning To Live With Them

Prior to the beginning of our summer program, of all the objects that live in our new outdoor classroom, the swing set was the subject of the most discussion. We'd already removed the big slide and climber that pre-existed our arrival (actually, our wonderful partners at the Fremont Baptist Church did it for us) and there was a lot of debate about whether or not we wanted the swings.

There was a little concern about safety, but mostly, I think, it was because we'd been living for a long time without any of the "traditional" outdoor play equipment and it just didn't seem like a Woodland Park kind of thing to have around. Some of us worried that it would require assigning a parent-teacher to keep an eye on things, taking that person away from more vital parts of our curriculum. Others argued that there were already swings all over the city and if their kids wanted to swing they could just go to the park. Some were concerned that their child's passion for swinging would lead them to spend their entire day there. And then, with only two seats and 20+ kids, there was the idea that the adults would have to put too much energy into managing the turn-taking process. All of which were valid concerns, one's I to a greater or lesser degree shared, along with the biggie as far as I was concerned: swings are a one trick pony that take up a lot of space (especially when you include what playground people call the "jump zone") that might be better used for something else.

In the end, however, we decided to keep it, reasoning that we could remove or disable the swings when their play value was exhausted, leaving us with a pretty cool, sturdy structure that we could use for other kinds of play. For instance, wouldn't it make a terrific superstructure from which to experiment with pendulums, or even to construct a giant pendulum painter? And, of course, it could be easily made into a large temporary tent, which is what we did for a time last week, deploying a tarp for the purpose.

In this case, we left swings in place, one outside, while putting the second swing and trapeze bar inside.

And, of course, if we flip the swings up over the bar, putting them out of reach, this becomes a fort, a hideout, or a house.

One of the side benefits of this set up is that the kids walking past have a very clear indicator of where they can and can't walk without risking being knocked down by a swinger. 

So far, two weeks in, none of our concerns about swings have been realized, although it still strikes me as a little out of place in our outdoor classroom of loose parts and open-endedness, but I think we made the right decision to keep them. Learning to live with them will be good exercise, and I'll probably be entirely on their bandwagon once we've started swinging big buckets of paint from the cross bar!

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Jeanne Zuech said...

What I always love about your posts, Tom, is that you are so deliberate about what you choose - and what you do NOT choose - to be part of the childrens exploration space. Guess now and then something, like swings, fall in both the Yes AND No categories and you just "learn to live with them" :) Fabulous, innovative ideas of how swings do not have to always be swings. Well done.

Deborah said...

Oh the beauty of a swing. Learning how to get the flow of air under your feet. Feeling a small breeze in your hair on an hot day. Seeing who can go higher. Having a friend work with you to get you moving back and forth. Spinning rather than swinging and breaking all the other rules for swinging. Working though the pain of having to wait your turn and the joy of getting a turn. And all the creative ways you will use the swing as well. Just because it is traditional - it doesn't make it lack value :) I love that you kept the swing - and look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Juliet Robertson said...

What a fab use of blue tarp. Regarding the swings, a fun challenge is to stand on the swing, hold onto the chains and flip upside down and grip the chain with your legs too - when the swing's in motion, it can feel like a trapeze...! Do not wear a kilt if you are a real Scotsman.

BarbaraZab said...

@Juliet Well, now you've taken all the fun out of it by forbidding kilts.

Mary Anne said...

@Deborah...well said. Sometimes, I think, we throw the baby out with the bathwater too quickly. There is great physics to be learned by swinging, cause and effect and learning to watch your environment (by not walking to close to the jump zone!). It is good for teachers to get out of their comfort zones they create for themselves sometimes and try to do something new(or old, as the case may be!)

pink and green mama MaryLea said...

A Neutral Canvas Painter's Drop Cloth would be awesome attached to one side of this frame as a giant outdoor easel!! : )

(pink and green mama)

Deb said...

Swings are a one-trick pony?
You can stand and twist and go sideways and lie on them to get a bird's eye view of something on the ground and paint with your feet and see if you can get it going from a standstill and imagine you're a bird.
You're right, they take up a lot of room ;)

Barbara Zaborowski said...

By the way, Happy Solstice, Tom.