Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"I Did It!"

Someone placed a plank to bridge the newly formed gap between the final cedar round lining the lower level of the sand pit and the upper level of the playground. Two weeks ago that gap wasn't there, or rather, it was covered by sand that had, as sand does when played with on a slope, eroded downhill, filling in the low spots. An adult work team recently bent their backs to shovels and wheelbarrows on a sunny Saturday morning to move the sand back uphill, something we do thrice a year.

The older kids had immediately noticed the enormous pile of sand that now occupies the top of the hill, and it also hadn't taken long to realize that the sand level at the bottom of the hill hand fallen by a good two feet in places. The older kids have been working the cast iron pump that now sits atop the new sand pile to, as one logically would, make a pond in the new, large basin we've uncovered down below. As we adults have stood back, joking about how the kids are now systematically undoing all our backbreaking work, they've been stomping in a large puddle they're calling "the pond."

The two-year-olds, however, have been playing with the gap that the older kids haven't noticed. It may have been one of the older kids who placed the plank in that spot, but it's these younger children who have found a "just right challenge." It's not particularly high off the ground, perhaps 12-inches at its highest, but they've been cautiously inching their way across it, concentrating, not usually on their feet, but rather at a point a few steps ahead the way tightrope walkers do.

On Friday last week, I was standing nearby making a few comments like, "O is crossing the bridge," and "E is balancing," and "K is concentrating," just tossing out some words and concepts, in context. As I did this, more children, of course, were attracted to the play and soon there were a half dozen attempting to cross, from both directions. I didn't offer them coaching or suggest taking turns or urge them to all walk in the same direction, but rather continued making informational statements like, "O is trying to go down and K is trying to go up." They didn't say anything themselves, they were concentrating too hard, especially as the plank was bouncing unpredictably with the weight of other children moving on it, but rather tended to stop and simply stare at one another, silently asking the question, "What shall we do?" In every case, one child would choose to step aside or turn back.

One boy attracted by my words, P, found himself repeatedly in those impasses. He was trying to go up the hill, while the other children were coming down one after another. Each time, P shuffled a few feet along the plank, then when faced with a classmate, turned back and stepped off to make way, wordlessly. After a half dozen attempts, he gave up attempting to go against the flow and went off to find other things to do.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I found that the plank had been pushed aside, probably an unintended consequence of the pond play. Seeing it and recalling Friday's two-year-old game, I replaced the plank, then went about my business near the swings. P happened to be tummy swinging so I stopped to watch him as he studied the ground while slowly moving himself back and forth. After a bit, he broke from his reverie, noticed me and gave me a smile. Then the newly installed bouncy bridge caught his eye.

He approached the bridge from the uphill side, surveying it for a moment. No one was using it. He had it to himself. I expected he would give it a go, but he instead walked away, so I went back to goofing around with some other kids. A couple minutes later, however, I spied P again. He had circled around to the downhill side of the plank-bridge from whence he had made his attempts last week. Carefully, he stepped onto the bridge and slowly, slowly shuffled his way along the plank, his whole being concentrating on the effort. One inch at a time he made his way, unblocked and unmolested, until finally he stepped onto solid ground.

He looked into the sky and beamed, saying it aloud, but to himself, "I did it!"

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