Friday, February 13, 2015

Real Work

Anyone who has read here for any length of time knows that our cast iron water pump stands at the center of much of the outdoor play in our school. It sits at the top of our two level sand pit. The cistern is a 30 gallon Rubbermaid tub, which needs to be periodically refilled via a hose that we've more or less permanently installed along the fence. The water flows downhill, carrying with it sand from the upper to the lower level. 

This day-after-day erosion means we must occasionally, one way or another, replenish the sand at the top of the hill. Usually, we do this by adding new sand to the top, although every now and then we get a bee in our bonnet and transport some of the old sand back uphill.

So many children wanted to get involved that we ran out of shovels. Some of the kids resorted to scooping sand with planks of wood and buckets.

Earlier this week, one of us forgot to turn off the hose when we left the playground to go indoors and it ran for an hour. When we returned outdoors, a rushing river had carved out a path to the bottom of the lower level and beyond, leaving behind a sandy mudflats that piled sand several inches up the exterior walls of our playhouse.

Others just shifted their focus on sweeping out the playhouse, removing the thick layer of sand so the "little kids can play there."

You can't cry over spilled water any more than over spilled milk, so my main concern was that there are a few children, especially in our younger classes, who aren't particularly keen on sand, at least not everywhere, which is why we've tried to avoid getting too much sand in the playhouse. So as the children studied the results of our accidental experiment in the effects of erosion and flooding, I got out one of our adult-sized shovels and began to dig the playhouse out.

You'll recall that we're a cooperative school and one of the general community-wide characteristics of parents who chose to take part in this particular model of early childhood education is a willingness to pitch in. Within minutes someone had taken the shovel from my hands. We have a couple of other "real" shovels and a digging fork, all of which were soon being wielded by parents. And then the kids began to dig as well. Not just a few of them, but virtually all of them, inspired by the real work being done by the adults.

A team of kids followed me to the top of the sand pit after each load to watch me dump it. They were protective of the pile of sand we were creating. They told one another, "Don't wreck it!" and "We need to strengthen it," which they did by packing it down with the backs of their shovels, demonstrating an intimate understanding of how erosion works and how to slow it down. This is pure experiential learning -- no one had to tell them this.

We started by just piling the sand back into the lower level of the sandpit, but soon I had the idea of bringing the wheelbarrow onto the scene. If we were going to be doing all that digging, we might as well take the sand all the way back to the top of the hill.

As I wheeled the first load up to the top, I contemplated how I was going to get the load up into the upper level of the sandpit, which is bordered by rounds of cedar. But Gio, whose father is a professional landscaper, was one step ahead of me. He had already positioned a plank of wood as a ramp for me, saying, "This is how dad does it."

Much of our sand is mixed already mixed with the wood chips that pave the non-sandpit areas of our outdoor classroom. What's a little more as long as it remains dig-able?

By the time we were done, all of us working together, adults and children, not only had we dug out the playhouse inside and out, but we had transported a dozen or more loads of sand back to the top of the hill.

Young children are driven to connect to life through meaningful participation. Role modeling necessary or "real" work and making space for children to engage is a vital part of the role adults have in their educational lives.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I'm opening a large scale Mud Kitchen at a primary school next week, so gave me lots to think about