Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Stories In Which I Live

Yesterday, a parent posted this photo of our school in action on Facebook. 

It's a nice snapshot of how we are together. At one level it shows a moment of our life playing with one another, but for me, the more I look at it, the more stories it tells me of the past that has become the present.

We are standing in a spot that was two feet underground only a couple weeks ago. Our playground is on a long slope and the wood chips with which we pave our surface had worked their way downhill to the point that those raised planting beds just behind us were nearly overtopped. But over the course of a week or so, we bent our backs to the task of digging the garden out, children and parents, filling one wheelbarrow at a time. And it continues to be an ongoing project, especially on these cold days when our fingers are numb, because there's no better way to warm up than to dig a hole.

That plastic shopping cart in the foreground has been at Woodland Park longer than I have. I found it in a back closet where it remained except for one week a year when I set up a pretend grocery store in the classroom. When we moved to our current location, it came with us and filled a similar role, until last summer when, in the interest of freeing up storage space, it was designated a full-time outdoor toy. It gets use almost every day, a much better destiny for any toy. That red plastic wagon you see off to the right: pretty much the same story.

That large saucepan lid in the foreground was originally part of our "sound garden," something to bang to make noise. As cool as the sound garden was, it was a one-trick pony and like all one-trick ponies it needed to learn new tricks in order to earn its keep in our compact, urban space. It still functions as a kind of cymbal at times, but it also earns its keep as a container for "jewels" (florist marbles) and mud pies, a mold for sand castles, or, as was the case in its current position, a landing spot for a jumping game.

The large metal windmill you see behind my head with the swimming pool noodle vanes arrived on the playground along with us some six years ago. It started life as a performer, a giant puppet actually, that had been used by a local circus called Cirque de Flambé. The misshapen hula hoop you see in the upper left-hand corner of the photo has been placed around the neck of the dragon whose head emerges from the back of the windmill. There's a dragon wing on there as well; the second wing and tail are stashed away in a corner right now along with the proper vanes. It had been a set piece for a bit the circus performed based upon what many call the very first proper western novel, Don Quixote, by Cervantes. The dragon, operated by a system of pulleys would emerge, fully ablaze, at the crucial moment, representing the protagonist's inflamed imagination. When the circus went defunct, the windmill went into storage under a bridge, but is now enjoying a fuller retirement among us.

The table behind my knees is literally on its last legs. It was designed for life in a backyard, not the rigors of a playground used by 40-60 children a day. It was part of an inexpensive set of furniture we purchased when we moved, but quickly realized it wouldn't survive for our purposes for long. In the upper right-hand part of the photo, you'll see the set of very sturdy tables and chairs we purchased a few years ago to replace the rickety wooden stuff. They are made from recycled milk jugs. It's been five years and they're still as solid as ever. That said, I admire that cheap wooden table. It's been through a lot, having lived at different times in every corner of the playground depending on where the children dragged it. Preschools can and should run on garbage and cast-offs, but there are two places where, rickety table aside, it doesn't pay to scrimp: outdoor furniture and vacuum cleaners.

In the distance, you might be able to make out our workbench. It's down there behind the large dog crate that was purchased to transport my own dogs on airplanes. If you squint, you'll see an orange table down there as well (our back-up workbench) and then slightly to the left, the black frame of a large stand-up abacus. I'm happy see those objects in those places. They create a natural and perfect caution zone around the workbench. That's where kids use hammers, saws, glue guns, and other real tools. I constantly remind the kids that it is a "work area," not a "play area." The crate, orange table, and abacus serves as obstacles to slow children down when they enter the area, helping to remind them that they are entering a place where care and concentration are necessary. 

I could go on telling you about those tires or the storage sheds or where I see our next digging project needs to take place, but you get the idea. There are so many ongoing stories here and I've not even mentioned the children. I'm blessed that I get to not just tell these stories, but to live in them.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this little history of the objects. I have a very fond memory of a play-based preschool myself and it amazes me when I refer to the things I would notice and adore as a child which I feel very differently as an adult. It is as if growing up has served to put gloves over my senses.