Thursday, October 11, 2012

A "Hive Mind" Project

We originally set out to build our ladder as the first step in a bigger idea to build a tree house, and although the rest of the tree house never happened, the ladder has proven quite useful on and around our concrete slide. The fact that it takes us up into the laurels, one could argue, makes it a ladder into a kind of tree house, but so far I'm the only one who's made the connection and writing it here is the first time I've "said" it aloud.

Whatever the case, a couple of the guys decided it was in their way and pushed it down into the sand pit. When I told them I thought it was in a hazardous spot, they dragged it to the side where it wound up being used as more of a ramp than a ladder for ascending the "easy" way up to the top.

A few days later, someone had the idea of moving the ladder back onto the concrete slide. There was an immediate cry for, "Ropes! Ropes!" as children scattered to round up the half dozen 6-ft. lengths we have around the outdoor classroom.

At first they attempted to drag it up the "easy" way, which I could see from my perspective was never going to happen. The gap between the laurels and the fence was too tight. It wasn't long before they, without much discussion, came to the same conclusion. I figured this was when most of the kids would move on to other things, but as they wrestled it back down to the bottom and across to the foot of the concrete slide, more kids joined the cause.

This might have been an easier thing to accomplish if not for all those ropes and all those kids "tying" and re-tying. This might have been easier had there not, at any given moment, been a child or two who appeared to be working at cross purposes. This might have been easier had they talked to one another, but instead they all just worked, each doing what he thought ought to be done at any given moment, with a bare minimum of verbal communication. No one appeared to be concerned about making things easy.

An important decision that was apparently made simply by the purely democratic process version of "might makes right" was which end of the ladder was going to be the top and which the bottom. It could have gone either way for awhile, but eventually, more kids were pushing and pulling one end more than the other, making it the top, while the end the minority was pushing and pulling became the bottom.

At some point it became clear to everyone which end was the top, the tipping point seeming to not come until the ladder lay across the slope at a 45 degree angle. Things had been painstakingly slow up to that point, but once it was clear which way the wind was blowing, the rest of the process happened fast. (I did step in at this point, without speaking, as invisibly as possible, and made sure then bottom was secured in the sand.)

These kinds of impromptu projects spring up almost daily at Woodland Park. Usually, I know where they come from. Usually, there's more bickering and bossing, which is a natural part of any challenging process no matter what our ages. Usually, when a project takes more than about 5 minutes, the number of participants drops off as kids find other things they'd rather be doing. And often, I or another adult is evident at key points, offering ideas, encouragement, and a steadying hand. 

But this project had very little of those things: in fact, as I watched it, I felt it was a kind of magical occurrence, one that I could see happening before my very eyes, but even though I was right there bearing witness, I'm still not quite sure how it happened. "We" decided to move the ladder, everyone was their own boss. Decisions were made, not through a deliberative or negotiated process, but the way a flock of flying birds or a swarm of bees decides to turn this way or that. The longer it took, the more kids joined in bringing ropes, turning shovels into levers, pushing, pulling, bracing as they saw fit. It was a "hive mind" project.

And when they were done, there was no celebration, no cheering, no "good jobs." The project was simply complete, most moved on, while a handful stuck around to use the ladder to climb into what only I am calling "the tree house."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The following sentences need editing:

around our the concrete slide

makes it a ladder into a kind of a tree house