Sunday, July 03, 2011

Evidence You've Been Somewhere

We have a secret place in our new outdoor classroom that I haven't shown you yet. It's up a steep concrete slope poured years ago as a form of erosion control, amidst the many spindly trunks of the lilacs that grow there. It's there past the windmill and boat, above the sand pit.

If you climb to the top, if you can climb to the top, there is a narrow catwalk along the chain link fence, worn in the dirt by years of children's feet connecting a pair of dusty depressions down amongst the lilac roots.

Above you, at least in the spring and summer, you'll see pieces of the sky through heart-shaped leaves, although the focus here, as it is in all cubbies, forts, and hideouts, is on one another, and inward and outward by way of your imagination.

This is a place to play stories with your friends, a place removed from the adults who might, with the best of intentions, try to steer or correct or even judge the things we are exploring together up in there.

But first you have to get up there and that's not easy. It's a kind of barrier to entry, an initiation even. Many of your attempts end in a slide back down to the bottom on your belly.

Few of the youngest children can make the ascent, so it tends to be a place for the 4 and 5 and 6 year-olds to play their games of adventure, treasure, and danger.

And getting down is an equal challenge.

Sometimes you can just run right down, if you're brave enough, and experienced enough, but it's a problem most often solved by sliding on your bottom, a dirty backside being the evidence you've been somewhere today.

And although it's clear that generations of children have played here before you, you're still a pioneer, each day an adventure as new and ancient as this day's sunrise.

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Emily said...

My name is Emily and I have summarized a few of your posts in my own blog for my edm310 class at the University of South Alabama. You can find them here. Tom, you are great! I think that it is amazing that you give these students so much room to imagine. You don't intervene you just let them do whatever they think up. I hope they continue to make their outdoor playground grow! Thank you for your posts, they really interest me!

Juliet Robertson said...

I'm a big fan of nooks, crannies and hideaways - I love the fact the children have to work to get there. This past year I've been working with a lovely nursery who have 0-5yrs olds. The staff initially were reluctant to let the children out of their sight, but now the big play hotspots are all behind the bushes and even the babies crawl there! Despite the nursery being located in the grounds of a psychiatric and psychology hospital, no adult has yet to jump the fence to abduct or terrorise the children. your new plays ace seems like a lot of fun.

Barbara Zaborowski said...

My siblings and I had a similar place when we were growing up, behind a row of bushes next door to us. A slope to climb would have made it perfect. Thanks for the memories!

inspiredmontessori said...

Just love the natural exploration aspect of your outdoor classroom!
You are endlessly inventive.

Aunt Annie said...

HOW I WISH this attitude was contagious... there is so much fear of litigation that many centres won't let the children out of the sight of staff, even for a moment. It frustrates me!

Jennifer said...

Hi Teacher Tom ,
love the little nook for the children, but I love the black cauldron more ..... Have you heard of the story Wombat Stew? This cauldron would make a great Billycan which is used in the story to make the stew.Your children would enjoy Wombat Stew and replaying the story in that little nook