Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Greenhouses, Glue Guns, And Climbers

Most public park playgrounds are anchored by some sort of large climbing structure, and when children visit it's usually the first place they go. Having observed thousands of children at these playgrounds, I've noticed that most kids hit that climbing structure hard for the first 15-20 minutes or so, then they're on to other things. Families with climbers in their yards complain that their kids never use them except when briefly made new again by having friends come to visit. 

When we learned that Chinese New Year is traditionally considered to be, in part, a celebration of Spring, our 5's class decided to start a few seeds indoors. Of course, they're now the first plants in our new greenhouse.

This is one of the main reasons we've never had a permanently installed climbing apparatus at Woodland Park. Our outdoor classroom is a place children play day-after-day for a full year, usually at least two, often three, and sometimes even for four: we can't afford to give precious real estate to something that is going to lose its novelty after the first 15-20 minutes.

We have plenty of places for children to climb, including the concrete slope area with it's steep pitch, epoxied rock handholds and lilac branch hand grips. We also have several step ladders, a homemade ladder, long moveable planks, and an over-all terrain that includes precious few flat spots. We're always moving things around, creating new challenges, but mostly just playing our games in which climbing, often risky climbing is just part of the game.

We briefly gave the climber new life a few months ago by propping the homemade ladder against it, but after about a week, it had gone back to being forgotten.

That said, we have, for the past 18 months or so had a small climber situated at the top of the hill. Made of aluminum, designed to be lightweight and moveable, it was fairly well-used earlier during the school year, but really has been ignored since the early Fall. We installed it, frankly, because I couldn't bear to throw it away after our move to the Center of the Universe, and it fit a "dead" space out there along the fence, above the swings.

Recently, Luella and Giovanni's father, a professional gardener and regular granter of amnesty to unwanted plants and other garden-type things, came into possession of a very nice greenhouse that he was able to remove from a client's residence on the back of his pick-up, and which has as of this week become ours. 

A team of parents installed it over the weekend and as part of the process dismantled the climber, leaving its parts, along with some other random large "loose parts" in a clump where the unloved climber used to live. The idea is that we need to figure out what to do with that stuff.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from climbers in my experience are glue guns. We could have those out every day and I'm quite confident that kids would use them every day, just so long as we managed to have enough scraps and odds and ends for them to glue together. Our 5's class, in particular, are avid glue gunners, usually stopping by the work bench to create something to use in the game they're playing that day -- a weapon, a spaceship, a kitty house. Unlike with one of those immovable climbers, where once mastery is attained, they're sort of used up, glue guns and other tools, once mastered, open doors to endless possibilities.

It wasn't long ago that the kids struggled to get the glue to do what they wanted it to do, burning themselves, using too much or too little, but on Monday as they crowded around the workbench, eager to construct whatever it was they needed, there was a kind of casual expertise evident, a concentration that was focused on both creation as well as proper, safe tool use. And even as they jostled one another around the table, often having to share one glue gun between them, handing it back and forth while being careful to not burn one another, discussing their work, coaching their friends, explaining to the adults how to do things like replenish the glue sticks . . . Even as they did all that it was clear we were really just at the beginning of what we could do with them, while the climber stood in pieces at the other end of the space, already having outlived its useful life at Woodland Park.

At least that's what I was thinking, while also wondering into which category our new greenhouse would ultimately fall, when I realized what the kids were doing with their glue gun creations. 

They weren't just running inside to stick them into their cubbies in order to take them home at the end of the day, but rather carrying them up to the jumble of stuff where the climber no longer was, using them as a kind of house warming gift as they moved into the new climbing space they'd discovered, chattering away, creating, arguing, and settling arguments.

So the climber, in a way, is resurrected up there as part of a jumble of oddball stuff because we, by accident, found a way to make it new, something that simply can't be done with a traditional climber in a traditional space, like a public park or a backyard. For the time being, at least, I think we've figured out what to do with this collection of large loose parts. Everything must evolve or it dies.

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1 comment:

Maureen said...

Oh, I have outdoor play space envy! This is the perfect post to find as we debate how to use an extraordinarily small play space in the heart of Washington, DC in a better way. Thank you