Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lost In The Mat Maze

We once brought bales of hay into the classroom for a week. It was fun, but it turns out they're something better left for the outdoors, especially since I'm prone to allergic reactions, including asthma. Concentrating all that hay indoors for a week turned out to be a little much for me.

The good news is that opportunities abound for outdoor hay bale play around here this time of year. Our last field trip featured a hay maze, and the children always report that their favorite part of any field trip even peripherally involving a hay maze, is, well, the hay maze. We could fly to the moon, and I'm pretty sure that if there was a hay maze prior to lift-off, that's what we would be talking about the next day.

There are secrets inside mazes, even ones made from gym mats. They make mysterious spaces out of old familiar places.

Many of us stand outside of them at first, summoning up a bit of courage. We don't have the benefit of the preview the grown-ups get from up there where their heads live. We're down here, lower to the ground where there is so much more that is unknown.

Others of us just plunge right in, making the rounds quickly, wildly, shrieking when we're surprised by a friend coming around a blind corner. Bumping into the friends who are following us, like a scene from The Three Stooges, when we unexpectedly come to a dead end. We chase around and through and between and over, finding our way, losing ourselves, finding our way again. Converting those unknowns into things we now know.

Saying to our friends, "Come on, this is the way out!"

Or, "This is a good place to hide."

Or, "This can be where we live."

As we figure things out, we start giving things names, like mapmakers do, to orient ourselves and others. "Come on, everybody, into my house where it's safe!" 

The light in our familiar classroom is different in here, an exciting and slightly disorienting mix of shadow and reflection off those primary colored vinyl surfaces.

It doesn't take long, however, before we've named everything, and we're all just pretending to be lost, pretending to be startled by our friends. 

And that's when it really gets fun -- knowing and pretending to not know. Try taking that attitude toward Christmas or the Fourth of July. Grown-ups rush in to correct us lest someone think we're heretics or insufficiently patriotic. All the other holidays want you to just know.

Pretending to not know: that's what makes Halloween the best holiday.

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Unknown said...

I love this idea! I have allergies also, so this will be a super useful idea for me. I pinned. :) Thanks!

Anonymous said...

how did you keep the mats from falling over? or fid you let them fall over to see what would happen?

Teacher Tom said...

Anon . . . We prop up the mats up with those large, wooden open ended boxes you can see in the pictures. Sometimes they fall down, but one of the rules of the mat maze is to not knock them down on purpose. Otherwise, the first rowdy kids comes in, knocks them down, frightens and hurts their friends, then kind of ruins the maze play. We have other opportunities for knocking down mats, believe me . . . =)

Teenie said...

I love this! I've got to ask ---how many mats do you have?? I think I am mat deprived! We have one that could stand with help and one that has melted in place! As I speak - I'm thinking lots of big cardboard and duct tape, followed by lots of recycling...I like it!

Teacher Tom said...

We have 8 of these gym mats. Cardboard and large boxes can be used to create similar temporary spaces. As can bamboo garden cane, zip ties, clothes pins and old sheets.