Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Not For The Last Time

I recently wrote about our inventive new playhouse, with it's two stories and rearrangeable walls. We adults were all thrilled with it, although, of course, the real judges of anything that lands at our school are the children. We've now had a couple of weeks of actual kids playing with it and I thought I'd share some of what's happened so far.

I should mention that most of the kids during our final two summer session weeks were new to Woodland Park, so they were experiencing the playhouse in the context of everything being new, which is why at any given moment there were more children playing at the water pump than in the house. 

It wasn't as excitedly "slammed" as I expect it to be in September when our veteran students see it for the first time. That said, several children got immediately to work figuring out the construction techniques involved in creating new doors and windows. It's a bit of a fiddley process in that the horizontal boards must be slid straight into their grooves or they stick at an angle (see the photo two above), and the vertical board installations tend to be a bit wobbly, but the children who persevered were rewarded. I'm happy that it isn't too easy to do or too slick.

From what I observed, I think we're going to find that it's the sort of "just right" building process our school thrives on: a bit too challenging for the younger children, leaving them something to grow into, while flexible enough to keep the older children engaged for a couple years as they become experts.

This girl worked for quite some time trying to figure it out, ultimately failing in her attempt to get those boards to stand where she put them, a "failure" that lays the groundwork for her future experiments.

As wonderful as this play house is, I knew that it wouldn't really belong to us until the children started making it their own, getting it to do things it wasn't intentionally designed to do. Appropriately, one of the first children on the scene discovered the "Yes, We're Open" sign left over from the old playhouse and sought to find a place to hang it. After several attempts, he asked me to "make a nail right here." After some discussion, including noticing how the rest of the structure was assembled, we settled on a nice brass wood screw instead.

As with any significant new addition to our space, I thought it wise to assign one of our parent-teachers to keep an eye on the children as they explored the new structure, paying particular attention to any unforeseen hazards or unsavory temptations that may reveal themselves. 

Not surprisingly, the ladder and "hole" that leads to the upper level was a source of interest and exploration. Not all the children who played here attempted the climb and those who did tended to be rather cautious. Our community ethic is that adults don't physically assist children in attempting climbing challenges, so any requests of, "Help me," were met with some version of, "I won't help you, but I won't let you get hurt," which means we'll be ready to catch you if you fall. I did verbally coach 2-3 children who lost their nerve when it came time to climbing down.

This boy spent a good fifteen minutes going up and down. At first, he announced each of his successes to me, but after awhile he accepted his achievements as their own rewards, cycling back through the process several more times during the morning, re-proving himself.

As I mentioned in the first post, we made the first step of the ladder somewhat higher than the subsequent ones. I've been referring to it as "the doozy," as in "The first step is a doozy," the idea being that if a child can manage that one, they'll be fine climbing the rest of the way.

It did seem to prevent some of the youngest children from making the effort, but, of course, the first two-year-old on the scene, after not being able to get his foot up that high, just dragged a bench over to give himself a boost up.

I imagine this hole will always serve both as a passageway as well as the primary channel for communicating between up and down. This girl explored dangling her rope through the hole as if fishing, and there was a lot of items passed back and forth as the children played. So far, no one has attempted to hang over the outside railings of the "kid cage," but I'm sure that experiment is coming, especially since I've discovered that the only way for an adult to get quickly to the top is to more or less climb up from the outside as the hole is kid-sized making it a squeeze for adult shoulders and hips. That's the sort of role modeling that's bound to be imitated at some point, but we'll deal with that when the time arises.

We have just sort of piled the parts of the old playhouse back behind the work bench and the "open" sign wasn't the only thing that was reclaimed. The grill was revived on a bench where, apparently, it was used to cook up a batch of jewels. The basketball hoop was also brought out of its short retirement, which we affixed in place using a pair of clamps, making it a quick, semi-permanent installation.

I'm enjoying these echoes of the recent past rebounding here in against the present. More than one child has suggested we rebuild the old play house, which, I'm sure will become an actual project for a future group of children. Nothing is ever wasted at Woodland Park: we keep it until it sinks into the sand.

We also made the new house our own with chalk, marking up walls that are destined to be rearranged.

When seen in this context, we see perhaps that graffiti is sometimes more related to art and literacy than mere vandalism.

So far, I've not really seen much dramatic play happening here, at least of the "Let's . . ." type. I imagine that's something that will wait for the fall when we return to form the more permanent communities that occupy our school during the regular school year.

But we did see quite a bit of care-taker play as many of our younger children worked both upstairs and down with their brooms.

We've had a warm and sunny summer, but one day the skies opened up, setting a single day record for rainfall in the month of July, and in Seattle that means a lot of rain. We play outdoors no matter what and so we were undaunted.

The children crowded into the lower floor as the deluge reached it's peak, pulling furniture in behind them. For the first time we gathered in there together, a damp, gaggle of friends, sharing the roof over our heads and the walls we had built ourselves -- not for the last time. This is just the beginning of this chapter in our story.

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