Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Our New Outdoor Classroom

Our move to the Center of the Universe is far from complete, but we started class there yesterday nevertheless. As it turned out, the move was rather precipitous. We shifted the bulk of our stuff one weekend, ran a week of school at the old place, then moved the rest the following weekend. We then had nine days to get things ready for our summer program.

Before I go any further, I've been authorized to mention that we still have a few spots remaining in said summer program during the month of August. If your child is between the ages of 2 and 6, and you have previous experience in a cooperative preschool, and you're in the Seattle area, you might want to jump at the chance to experience our little community here in Fremont. Here is the link for more information. And here's the email.

We've been working our proverbial posteriors off this past week, some of us putting in 8-12 hour days, which is saying something when there are young children to care for. Although we've now more or less set up the indoor spaces, and we still have a long way to go on our storage spaces, the real push was to get the new outdoor classroom ready because that's where we plan to spend most of our time during these next three months.

Fortunately, our community has some experience now in building an outdoor space, having recently done so on a smaller scale, and we have a pretty good of what we want. That said, we've also learned that whatever we do at the start, we are only constructing a skeleton; bones which the children and their families will bring to life through their play. What we did in the old space 15 months ago had only just begun to take on an organic shape when we moved, so we're fully aware that what I'm showing you in these pictures is a starting point and may only bear a passing resemblance to what this space is to become.

Here's where we started 9 days ago:





We decided fairly quickly that we needed to remove the slide and climber, both of which had seen better days. We kept the swing set. We knew we wanted a large sandpit, a place to make art, and a work bench. We have a nice large area for a garden, which is located on the other side of the building, but decided we didn't have time to get that going just now, so elected to construct a few raised beds instead.

We also remain committed to the concept of "loose parts," a notion that has grown from what we once called Little World, but has now come to encompass the entirety of our outdoor world. (I still haven't been able to get my mind around why we don't apply more of the loose part principles to our indoor space, but that's a rumination for another post.) I believe that we're going to want a "play house" of some sort, but that's something I hope will evolve over the course of our summer playing together.

Here's what we started with yesterday:

What kind of place is this? It's like a place we've seen before, but not as well. There are familiar things like our unicycle merry-go-round and our boat. But then there's this huge metal windmill with a dragon emerging from behind it.

Sadly, I neglected to take a proper photo of the dragon part. If you look closely (or double
 click on the pic) you can see the top of its head coming out over the sand pit, its wing 
from the other side of the roof and the tail curving out from the right side. 
I promise a better photo soon. I imagine this will form one of the walls of our
future playhouse.

Here's the familiar cast iron water pump.

But it's in now in a giant, two-level sand pit enclosed by massive, fresh cedar tree rounds.

See that tarp up on the fence? That's still there because the other end of it
is buried several feet under the sand. We've spread a lot of it, but essentially
we're playing on a hill of sand that we expect will eventually move downhill
and fill in around the boat.

Our workbench and worm bin have shown up in the new place relatively unchanged.

If you look carefully at the top of the new fence Fremont Baptist Church built for us, you'll
 see our blue glass flame. I'm hoping to persuade Fremont artist Rodman Miller
to donate a few more.

I was surprised and pleased when I discovered that we had filled a couple
buckets with worms from our old worm bed to get us started in our new place.

Although our garden is puzzled together from parts of our old familiar place, it's now set right in the center of the outdoor classroom, instead of off around a corner where it once was.

The amazingly wonderful raised bed garden was built almost single-handedly by Jody's mom 
Jennifer. She reclaimed wood from our old raised beds and transplanted an array of plants
from the old place.

I've seen parts of this before, but here, outdoors, they're out of context. What's going on here?

Every part of this is moveable by a determined preschooler or two. I imagine
that ultimately these parts will get distributed throughout the space, but
for now they're a kind of risk assessment training ground where we can
teach children to test things for stability and look before they leap.

Yesterday they were a place to perch while investigating little things.

The swings are an entirely new thing, yet we already understand them, so are they new or old?

It shouldn't surprise anyone that our good old boat was the center of much of our play yesterday, our first day in our new place.

Interestingly, the workbench was essentially left for our youngest classmates to explore.

Look at the teaching going on right here. These children are barely 2, yet look at the focus
 of both the children and the adults working with them.

And our art table yesterday served as a sort of respite for those of us who needed a little quite time.

We have another of these tables we've yet to assemble. I'm not sold on the umbrella, but it
 comes with it, so we'll try it for a time. We might find a better use for them elsewhere.

All in all, not bad, I think, for 9 days work and children to raise.

The stairway to nowhere, now goes somewhere.

Now it's time for the children to make it their own.

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Males in Early Childhood said...

What else can I say, "Inspirational stuff indeed." Dedication in it's truest form.

Greg :)

Betsy said...

Wow. Quite a change from your tiny play yard. I am extremely jealous!

Muma Paparazzi said...

Wow - I am so inspired! What and amazing transformation, what vision, what lucky children. Congratulations to all who've been involved in making life for these little people so amazingly special...I wish I could come and play with my children. I look forward to hearing all about how the new environment is explored :)

Scott said...

I can't wait to see what it will become.

michellel said...

It looks wonderful already (of course). What a big space, full of possibilities.

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

Awsome, and amazing transformation!!!
We need to work on our play space, I'll be sharing this with some of my coworkers.

Kudos to you and your hardy group of teachers and volunteers!

Lindsey said...

That's just wonderful! It must seem epic in proportion to the little adventurers. I bet it's going to be one of those amazing magical places that is seared into the children's memories as being even bigger than it is and made up of so many different areas that it's almost like a Narnian continent that you could make a fantastic map for.

Jeanne Zuech said...

Congrats on all the progress made so far! Lovely photos - makes me want to join in straight away! Keep on sharing the transformation and we all look forward to seeing more!

Ms Debbie said...


I Am Rachele said...

Wow! Love it!

ShareandRemember said...

I love the tree stumps & boat! Great space you have!

Pepper said...

What a wonderful outdoor classroom! As a Head Start teacher, who works in spaces provided by elementary schools, I'm very jealous. I'm tired of traditional blacktop and bark chips with climbers, slides, bars and swings.

Anonymous said...

Gosh I haven't tapped in for awhile and I'm so excited by what I see happening in your space. I'm moving across the hall and I'm overwhelmed ad a bit dispirited...lucky you for such a wonderful new space.

Maestra Glenda said...

Hi, I'm a preschool teacher in Puerto Rico. And I've been delighted with this idea. Congratulations this beautiful.

Unknown said...

Tom, I'm so glad y'all took the boat with you. I love the new outdoor classroom--can't wait to see all the adventures that will happen there!

Kierna C said...

WOW - can't ay anymore :)

Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings said...

Oh WOW, that looks amazing, Tom! Love that it is such a combination of old and new. I love the stumps! I really want to get that here in our backyard. Sand pit and boat are also great. I am loving the "small parts" concept and am working to build that up here as well -- I've seen it work well at my daughter's school, too. I think it would work well indoors, too! We sometimes use it indoors with different types of toys, but it's not quite the same....

Can't wait to see how things progress for you guys! Lucky, lucky kids! And grownups!

jenny @ let the children play said...

So much to love Tom. I am so happy for you and your beautiful outdoor space and it is wonderful that you are already putting your stamp on it. I LOVE the stumps and the vegetable garden looks amazing.

Justine said...

Just a small tip, oil the cedar logs. It doesnt have to be any fancy oil. just cooking oil will do. It will save them from splitting later down the track! And save little hands from getting stuck inside if they do split.

jen said...

Wonderful! I love how a pile of simple objects inspire such creativity! Thanks for sharing.

MommyLabs said...

Inspirational! I admire the vision and how simple things have been put to use to make such a meaningful outdoor space!

CaSandra said...

What an amazing transformation! Hats off to all the hard workers who came together to form such an amazing space for the kids. I can't wait to see the future of this space, so many possibilities!

Thank you, as always, for sharing your inspirations with us!

Juliet Robertson said...

Just playing catch-up with your posts. It's lovely to see the equipment from your old setting in this new one. Hope the children enjoyed the move.

Briana said...

This is so perfect as we make our own move to a new space with an even blanker slate than you started with. I love the hill you have in your sandbox, and am wondering if something similar could work in our new space. the only trouble we have, being in a neighborhood, is cats.
The most inspiring part was the idea of setting up certain areas with the intention that things will adapt to what the children want and need. That is our goal for both the new space, and redesigning the current outdoor classroom for infants and toddlers.
Thanks for the inspiration!

Shaunda Devins said...

Well, congratulations on your new outdoor classroom! It would be a great learning ground for the kids. I'm sure they'll have a lot of adventures and learning experiences in that classroom. Kudos to your efforts!

Jen Bais said...

Hi Tom

Loved looking at your outdoor transformation....I am wondering , did you place your sand and barkchips simply over the asphalt? I am in South Australia, Australia, I am principal of a small community school. I have been in the early childhood game for the last 14 years but have decided that I wanted to see my very capable young children continue to be seen as capable as they went to primary school..... hence my new position. ( you can see our facebook page Felixstow Community School)

We have a large asphalt area that we need to ‘soften’……It is costly to remove hence my question. Would appreciate your response. Loveya work! Regards Jen Bais

Jen said...

Do you do anything to preserve your logs? I'm getting an outdoor classroom started in Columbia, SC and just picked up some giant tree cookies from the side of the road... not sure it will take long before they are rotten though.

Teacher Tom said...

Our logs are mostly cedar, Jen, so they should last a long time without treatment. FYI, I lived in Columbia, SC as a boy. =)

Unknown said...

Hey! I was on pinterest and I found your post about the transformation of your outdoor playspace. I originally started reading it becuase of the "theory of loose parts." I didn't know it had a name, but I have done it before and my kids loved it. We had bricks, an old iron stove (small), some beams, boards, and other odds and ends, such as half -barrels and chairs. . The girls and their friends would rearrange it into whatever suited them. I thought it was just like legos or blocks but larger, and for older kids. Looking at this reminded me how much fun it is for kids to make their own small worlds. I have worked with preschool age children but now I work as an art teacher and it is the best job ever!!! It looks like you are doing a great job for those kids! Seattle is my hometown. I am not surpised at all that your preschool is located there. Where else?? Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the photos, they are very inspirational. I love outdoor classrooms and seeing how others design theirs. Good work!

wisdom evolves said...

Thank you for sharing! I love your design elements and everything you share :) Can you tell me where you found your shovels? I'm looking to invest in a good durable brand that will hold up for a few years in our democratic preschool. Thanks!

Teacher Tom said...

@wisedom . . . We just get our shovels from Discount School Supply. They last a couple years.