Saturday, June 11, 2011


Our summer session is just a 3 day a week proposition, so sitting here reflecting on a sample-size that small, I'm probably not in a position to draw any conclusions about our new outdoor classroom.

That said, we've already learned, I think, a few things about the new space, including identifying one fairly significant safety hazard (the correction for which I expect will be a fun post unto itself), but for the most part we're still just feeling it out.

Those of you who have been reading here for a long time know I'm a baseball fan. Not long ago, the city built our hometown Mariners a state-of-the-art new stadium. I recall right fielder Jay Buhner saying that it would take awhile, maybe even a couple seasons, to get really comfortable playing there because of all the new "nooks and crannies." Others wondered how the ball would "travel" when hit?  How would the angles of the sun impact fielding? What would happen when the state-of-the-art retractible roof was closed? Would it be a hitter's park or a pitcher's park?  No one could really answer those questions until the team started playing there.

I remember the same sorts of fretting about our state-of-the-art concert hall in downtown. Even the world's greatest acoustical experts couldn't say for sure how an orchestra would sound until they actually played there.

That's what it feels like at Woodland Park these days: we've built an aesthetically pleasing space, a place that looks like it will be fun, a place we feel is state-of-the-art, but until we've used it for awhile, we really have only conjecture.

I think that it really took a year for us to really start to understand our old outdoor classroom, so I know we have a way to go, but that doesn't mean we haven't already started making changes and drawing conclusions when it becomes evident that our initial ideas didn't quite jibe with the way the children are using the space. As our chairwoman Amanda said to me yesterday, "This is the fun part." And while I think it's all been fun (albeit hard work) I know exactly what she means. This community brainstorming part is a collaborative creative process that should result in making this place not only truly state-of-the-art, but personalized to our community.

For instance, within the first 10 minutes of playing out there, we realized we needed to shift the boat a few feet to get it out of the way of the kids running down the steep sand hill from the top to the bottom of our two-level sand pit. That's what's so great about having built it ourselves: we had no qualms about just doing it on the spot. Not only that but we realized in the process that we no longer needed the frame that we'd always had under the boat to keep it steady, that instead we could just count on the sand to hold it in place.

We've spent the last few days tweaking and adjusting, fussing with both big things and details. On the first day, for instance, eager to use some of our new indoor space as well, I called the kids into our spacious new "social hall" (which I've found myself calling the "cloud room" because of the clouds painted on the back wall of the stage) for circle time.


Well, the first thing the kids did, almost to the kid, was to remove their shoes and empty the sand onto this beautiful dance floor. On the second day, we set a bench by the outside door and had the kids empty their shoes before coming inside. Still, what with sand stuck in shoe treads and cuffs of pants, and the 2-3 kids who slipped past the check point despite our best efforts, we still wound up with a very sandy floor. So, on Thursday we just had circle time outside. We've now assembled, with the help of the kids, some new benches and if and when we need to go inside, the plan is to just leave the shoes behind altogether, brush them off, and make them jump up and down a few times before going in. The floor will still need to be swept when we're done, but still shouldn't be as much of a chore.

It shouldn't surprise any of us that the children have started out by gravitating to many of the old, familiar things, like the boat . . .

. . . the water pump . . .

. . . the unicycle merry-go-round . . . 

. . . and the worm bin.

But while we adults have been focused on things we need to do, the kids are starting to discover those nooks and crannies.

For instance, we had a lot of left over logs and tree rounds, which we stashed away in a corner, jokingly calling them a "set of blocks." Well, that's exactly how a couple of the kids were using them last week, creating a hiding place for their stash of "jewels."

And a group of us have been "playing stories" with our stash of rocks.

And, of course, the overall slope of the outdoor classroom, which we've made even more extreme with our sand pile, has required a great deal of study as we start to understand how water flows around here.

Three days: that's all it's been. Yet already we've learned so much. All of us. Now that feels like a state-of-the-art school.

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wondersofnature said...

I want to come and play!!!

Its looking great-I can't wait to hear how it grows...

Shannon said...

I'm looking forward to seeing how your new outdoor space progresses as you continue to work with it.

jenny @ let the children play said...

And just like your old outdoor area, it will still be evolving and changing 3 years after you have been there.

Wolfsrosebud said...

like totally awesome... been working with kids 30 years... care for my grand often now... anything out-doors is a must for learning... great ideas... keep it up!