Monday, June 29, 2015

They've Created It For Themselves

We don't have a water spigot near our playground garden, so we've semi-permanently installed a garden hose that we use to fill a pair of 5 gallon buckets that we use for watering the plants. The idea is to fill smaller watering can from the buckets. I call it "garden water," a term a repeat whenever I'm in the area, by way of emphasizing my intent for the whole set up. I talk about how the plants need water, along with sun, soil and time, to grow. I role model watering the plants: all the adults do. Most of the kids take our cues and make sure to splash water on most of the beds most of the days.

Across the playground and up the hill, we have a cast iron water pump set in the sandpit. This is the place officially designated for water play, where children can fill and pour and splash and flow to their hearts' content. We say to the kids, especially the ones who tend to be particular about getting wet or dirty, "If you play near the pump, you'll probably get wet."

Yet every day, at least one two-year-old, and often several, methodically use their watering cans to empty our 5 gallon garden buckets anywhere but on the plants, often just dumping it onto the ground beside the buckets. I say to those kids, "Hey, if you want to play with water, you can go over to the pump. This water is for the garden."

Older kids generally take me up on my suggestion, but the younger kids usually look across the way to where I'm pointing, then return to methodically emptying those 5 gallon buckets onto the ground, or, when they get tired of that, into any other empty container they find to fill -- a wagon, the inside of a tire, another watering can -- but rarely the garden.

One day, I tried to manipulate things by moving all the "empty" things away from the garden in the belief that they would then, in their search for something to fill, have no choice but to water the plants. Within minutes several of them had removed their boots and were filling them with water before then emptying their boots onto the ground beside where the plants grow. Another time, I tried pre-filling all the empty containers in the area with water in the same mistaken belief. Instead, they spent their time putting fistfuls of wood chips into the containers until they overflowed onto the ground beside where the plants grow.

Maybe the big kids are too rowdy up by the pump or their water play too sophisticated or it's too crowded or whatever, but I've finally come to understand what the younger children are telling me; that they need their own water play area in this particular spot with these particular materials. Indeed, they've created it for themselves, collectively. 

I'll keep attempting to engineer things toward my own ends, and the garden is hardly dying from neglect, so it's not of great importance, but it's become one of those things with which I feel an urge to keep on tinkering.

One of the ways the older kids play with water is to create dams or holes or canals in the lower level of the sandpit. They then fill our large muck bucket with water and dump it down the hill, running alongside the water flow, making a study of how their theories hold up to the real world. I guess that's kind of what I'm doing over by the garden except with two-year-olds instead of water.

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Pixie said...

One of my favourites is a 20L (uh, 5 gallons?) water barrel. Vet clinics tend to go through a lot of distilled water for surgeries and they get it in 20L barrels, which they'll often then throw, so they start out completely clean and are happy recycling. Ask around for them.

The first time I brought one of these barrels into my centre I put it in the sandpit and had the tiniest trickle coming from it. There was a cluster of easily 8 or more toddlers and preschoolers gathered around this tiny tap, completely peacefully, no arguments as they filled containers and held their hands within the trickle. I ended up bringing in a second barrel just for the sandpit so children could explore more ideas without so much waiting, and the conflicts over the water were always minimal. Milk crates are perfect for sitting the barrels on to get that little bit of height. And you can easily mark measurements on the side with a permanent marker so the children can track how much water is left.

If you're gearing for toddlers, putting a round basin in the middle of a tyre is a good one for stability. It is sounding like they need their own space for water and mess to explore their ideas at their own steady pace. I love how in tune you are with what the children are saying through their actions.

j. wilson said...

oh my gosh, how resourceful to fill their boots! my kiddos tend to fill the watering cans and then water the cement right next to the tub of water. keep me posted. we do the same thing by modeling and talking about the drought here in California and making sure there are plants for the kiddos to water in our tiny play yard.