Thursday, November 21, 2013

Becoming Something Else

As I contemplated our newly straw bestrewn outdoor classroom, trying to decide whether or not it should all be tidied up, my notice fell upon our old boat.

We've had this boat for 5-6 years now, almost as long as it took for us to acquire it. I'd been pining after a boat just like it for years, using the preschool middle class bag lady technique of letting everyone know we could use one in the hopes that someone would come through. There were many near misses, as people would locate one through a friend of a friend, but the offers were always withdrawn when they learned of its destiny. "Boat people," it seems, are not too keen on the idea of their seaworthy vessels, even ones they are willing to give away, having holes drilled through their hulls for drainage in order to live out their lives on the sand and not the sea.

It's looking a little sad these days:

It has been slowly sinking into the sand for the past 2.5 years. The seats have rotted away, a part of the bow has broken off, the paint job has worn through, and we must regularly check it for exposed, rusty nails. This was the kind of destiny those "boat people" worried about. I suppose it lacks the dignity of a burial at sea, but it's really no different. Either way it was going to rot; this way it serves as a playground for children instead of the fishes. 

A year or so ago, there was talk of trying to give it a few more years of life. We were going to mend it, then repaint it, although there were some who saw beauty in the chipped, worn paint and wanted to actually preserve the "look" with a nice thick coat of clear marine varnish. We dropped it with the advent of our new boat last fall. 

I wrote back then about the necessity for an outdoor space to evolve, indeed, about the need for everything about a play-based curriculum to evolve. And this, this process of the old boat sinking into the sand is part of that. Every now and then a parent will offer to haul it away for us, take it to the dump. I ask them if it looks dangerous to them, and when they say "no," I tell them that I like the idea of it slowly disappearing into the sand; of us completely using it up.

When I look around, in fact, I see this slow decay happening all around us, especially this time of year when our jack-o-lanterns are just still out there turning to worm food.

There are, of course, also wet leaves on the ground, currently under all that straw, and the compost bin itself is all about rotting.

We've built much of our outdoor classroom from rounds of cut up tree trunks and logs, all of which are on the same part of the journey of life.

Our manufacturing patterns, once bright, cheery indoor toys . . .

. . . are now succumbing to their fate . . .

The metal and plastic toys, of course, are designed for a much slower demise, but even they start to fade, limbs weaken and break, to rust and bend.

Hardly a day goes by when a child doesn't bring me something, some evidence of this: a piece of the old boat, a chunk of pumpkin, a skeletal leaf, a log that has split in two, a splinter from a manufacturing pattern, a broken toy. I don't usually say much beyond, "I see it," trying hard to maintain the pose of matter-of-factness, even when it is part of something with a history, like the old boat. I wonder sometimes why they are showing these things to me, but when I ask, I've learned that the answer is a shrug. I suspect the real answer is that this is what we do with old and broken things: we show them to a grown up, who has a sad or a mad or an "eww!" then throws it in the trash. 

That's what we do at home, of course, but at school, we don't see trash. Some have labeled our outdoor classroom with the term "junkyard chic." But it's really not that: I prefer to think that we are simply playing among things that are on their way to becoming something else.

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