Friday, February 03, 2012

A Confessional

Some of you who've been reading here a long time, might remember the tree blocks I made from branches I pruned from some overgrown cedars. For some time after I posted about them, there was a little buzz in this early childhood/parenting blog world about them, and several of you made your own sets. It was flattering to think I'd influenced anyone out there, and cool to imagine all those kids around the world horsing around with these simple toys.

I think I introduced them to the kids during our maiden summer session. I'd thought they would be outdoor toys, but soon found that they tended to get kind of "lost" outside where, I guess, they looked like everything else. The kids really only played with them with any kind of concentration and purpose when I put them indoors. My theory was that it was in there that they stood out as something unusual, so they wound up in a box, stored on a shelf in the classroom, where they came out to play a handful of times.

Then we moved and the tree blocks disappeared into the shelves of our storage room, only to be recently unearthed as I was looking for something else. I'd worked hard on those blocks, spending an entire weekend cutting, then engraving them with letters of the alphabet and pictures.

As I examined them, they still looked pristine, perhaps a bit drier than they were when freshly cut, but still looking brand new.

This was not good. If I'm going to honor things with space at our school, they better look like kids have been playing with them and that means turning them loose. One of the most important principles of our outdoor classroom is that it must constantly evolve, ideally at the hands of the kids. Stagnation is the enemy of an outdoor space -- probably an indoor space as well, but I've not yet got my mind around how to make that work. So a few weeks ago, I set them free.

The first thing that happened to them, was they got painted with paint we manufactured by grinding chalk with mortars and pestels, then mixing the powder with water. It was a bit hard to watch.

Even harder was watching the kids peel the rings of bark from them; bark that had come naturally loose as they sat in a box drying out. But, you know what, they are playing with them now.

"Hey, there's a H! That's my letter!"

"These are tree wheels."

"Let's roll them down the hill."

They're still a fairly new toy, but I know it's going to wear off. I know, nay expect . . . nay want (that was even hard to write) them to eventually be scattered around our outdoor classroom where they can be discovered, used, re-purposed and played with. I want my shallow engravings to begin to fade. I want them to be painted again and again. I want them to be dug up in the sand box like the long lost treasure they are.

Yes, my name is Teacher Tom and I'm a toy curator. I'm taking it one day at a time.

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Chantel said...

Thanks for your honesty, Teacher Tom. You inspire me daily to be a better educator!

The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

I feel the same way when my children tear apart my carefully constructed nature table and play with everything till it's crumbs. Deep breaths to remind myself that it's not there to look pretty! Our tree blocks are a favourite...a good rub with beeswax polish now and then rehydrates them. They're beautiful on our coffee table and fondled by kids and adults alike.