Sunday, April 08, 2012

Moving The Gutter

I have a photo of this boy from last summer in which he had to resort to crawling to ascend the steep, sandy slope between the lower and upper levels of our sand pit. I remember him in the summer wanting so much, struggling, and often failing, to keep up with his 6-year-old sister as she scrambled around up there in the lilac trunks at the top of our concrete slide.

After our gutter and ball play the week before, I've left all the gutters in the outdoor classroom, thinking the kids might want to take it from there, and they have, mostly by moving them away from our work bench area and creating ramps and runways leading down from those lilacs. These are the older children I'm talking about, the kids who are now mostly 4 and 5 year olds. For the 2 and 3 year olds I've been presetting a couple gutters at the beginning of each day down which to roll their cars and balls. 

When he came upon my preset deal last Friday, on the day he turned 3-years-old, he proceeded to meticulously dismantle it. 

I said, "You're knocking it down."

He answered, "I'm destroying."

He then grabbed hold of an end of one of the 10-foot lengths and began wrestling it across the space, over the manufacturing patterns that are slowly rotting from being outdoors year-round in our Northwest climate, around the raised garden beds, and all the way to the brick wall of the building near where we make art outdoors. Once there, he wrangled it around, and headed back from whence he'd come, finally taking it to, then up one of the side accesses to the top of the concrete slide.

As he struggled to squeeze himself and the gutter along the narrow ridge pathway between the lilacs and the cyclone fence, I said to an adult who was watching with me, "He's working hard."

She answered, "He is. Did you see him take it all the way over there and back?" I'm proud of how we're all learning when and how to stand back, observe, and most importantly, be amazed by what the children do when we get out of their way.

I recalled him during the summer, wanting so much to be able to do what he was doing now, but incapable. Part of it, of course, is a function of the passage of time, those birthdays, of normal development, but part of it, I think, is our outdoor classroom. I said, "If we traded facilities with another Pre-3's class for a day, those poor kids coming in without experience here would kill themselves."

"You're right." She knew that I meant more than just the concrete slope, a unique feature that we've learned to leave to the children to figure out on their own. I was talking about the entire outdoor classroom; a "supervision expected" place; a place where the adults' main focus is teaching children in the art of risk assessment; a place where no surface is even, where rocks, logs, and flower pots impede every pathway; where even the sand pit is on two-levels; where nothing is nailed down; where all the parts are moveable so you'd better watch out. In fact, maybe that's what we should name what we've got going out there where another school might just have a playground: Watch Out! 

As he tugged his length of gutter, he occasionally used his free hand to find a steadying hold among the lilac branches. He kept an eye on the downward sloping concrete that ends in the sand pit, only a misstep away, out of caution, but not fear. I know this because fear is incapacitating, while caution learned from experience is empowering, and this guy was definitely feeling powerful. I wanted to think he had a master plan as he heaved that gutter, but that's probably because I'm an adult. 

Once he finally got to the top of the concrete slope, to the place where we've installed a couple ropes for the children to hold onto, he still had to maneuver the other 8 feet of gutter through the lilacs and get it pointed down the slope, which may or may not have been his idea all along. He then straddled one end and sat there.

After awhile I brought a ball up to him. He rolled it down the gutter, but that was more of a concession to me than something he really wanted to do with the gutter he'd brought to the top of the slope.

One of his friends started shoveling sand into the lower end, but he objected, "No!" The friend responded by correcting his mistake, scraping the sand back out, but it apparently wasn't happening fast enough, so he lifted the gutter up over his head, letting gravity to do the work.

He then had an altercation with another friend who wanted to "help." It turned into an intense negotiation over exactly which 1-inch of rope each got to hold onto. The gutter was forgotten for a moment and I scrambled up there to suggest that they each slide their fingers a few inches one way or another, a solution that satisfied them both.

He then repositioned the gutter and returned to his straddling position. 

I stood beside him, without saying anything. After several minutes of what felt like a meditation, he tossed the end he held in an arc under the bottom rope and the entire gutter skittered down into the sand pit.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

oh we have been meaning to add some gutters to our blocks and outside! thanks for the inspiration and reminder :-)