Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Play-based preschool teachers often use the word "flow" when describing those times when it's all clicking, when the kids are fully engaged in the hard work of exploring, testing, and discovering their world, challenging themselves with the questions that arise in their minds, or those of others, not needing the adults at all.

One afternoon, we dragged a plank over beside the sand pit boat and after some negotiation, made one of Woodland Park's patented seesaws by using a log as a pivot. We've been making these for three years now, a piece of institutional knowledge that continues to be passed down among the children.

As part of the process of acquiring the plank, we unearthed an old-style snow tire chain.  

After taking his turn on the seesaw, one child started monkeying around with the heavy, unwieldy chain.

He discovered there were a pair of hooks and began attempting to fit them into the small cylinder mounted on the inside edge of the boat for the purposes of holding the oar in its oar lock, which someone else had removed moments earlier, for purposes known only to him.

His project attracted a couple friends who started by watching, then became partners in this thing that had never been done before on the face of the planet.

Finally, after several minutes of intensive scientific research into the results of hooking a snow chain to an oar lock, one of the guys dragged the chain into the sand and dropped it there.

The chain project had been so engaging that it had outlasted the seesaw game.

Finding an abandoned plank, another kid commandeered it and, as the chain project had been ongoing on the port side, created a gangplank that bridged the distance between the boat and the small, steep slope on which our lilacs grow.

At first he was going to try to walk across it, but after a little testing, decided he felt safer crawling.

As other children dug the sand, creating a canal that flowed from the cast iron water pump and under this newly erected bridge, he inched his way across.

When he was up in the trees, he turned around and came back.

By that time, the river was flowing under him as the water play team had managed to direct the flow of water into a path it never took when left to its own devices.

It had taken them a long time and a lot of cooperation to achieve this engineering accomplishment.

It involved not only digging, but also gutters, a length of black pipe, and a lot of conversation to get the water to go on the side of the boat opposite of where it normally flows.

Meanwhile, a couple of kids had pulled the tire chains from the path of the water and wrangled it to the top of our concrete slide.

These children had not been part of the former tire chain play, but had spent some time observing, apparently taking mental note of those hooks.

They used the hooks to attach it to the safety rope we've installed across the top, then used it to pull themselves up.

As this happened, both the water play team and gangplank crawler had moved on to other projects, leaving the field to another kid who had the idea of lifting and carrying a heavy wooden apparatus that had once been the base of a rocking horse.

The gangplank was in his way, so he knocked it down with the help of a friend.

The friend also tried, unsolicited, to help him carry his load, but they wound up dropping it, to which the first boy said, "When you help me it makes it too hard," so he finished the challenge on his own.

When he had finally accomplished his mission, he started loading more heavy pieces onto the boat.

Meanwhile, the friend he'd rebuffed, was reinstalling the plank, although this time across the boat itself, more bench than gangway.

He liked that idea so much he got another plank, as yet another project involving ropes began to take shape up in the prow.

For this project, the oar needed to be found, then refit into its lock.

The ropes were being used to tie the boat to a tree.

All told, it took three ropes and three kids.

By now, the pile of heavy stuff in the boat had grown and was being referred to as "cargo."

When they reached their destination, it, of course, had to be unloaded, a project that included everything being tossed over board, including the planks . . .

. . . which made a terrific place to practice balancing and bouncing . . .

. . . and the day flowed on, one thing to the next, a current of curiosity and the freedom to satisfy it.

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