Friday, September 27, 2019

"Watch Out! Watch Out! Watch Out!"

A couple of four-year-old boys were working together at the cast iron pump to fill a large tub with water. Our pump is situated at the top of the hill in our two-level sand pit and this game, lately called "major overflow," has been a staple of our playground culture since we moved here nearly a decade ago. When the tub was full, they dumped it, causing water to rush downhill, then cascade over a small waterfall into the lower level. Several children waited in the sand below, shovels and other tools in hand, bent upon guiding, blocking, or simply observing the course the water would take.

The water flowed, then paused, in a cycle as the boys needed several minutes to fill the tub between "overflows," which gave the other children an opportunity to anticipate and plan for when the water was again running. One such dump caught a girl unawares, drenching the backs of her legs when her back was turned. She shouted up at the boys angrily, "Hey, you have to say 'watch out' before you do an overflow!"

So, the next time the tub was full, the boys began to chant together, "Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!" which was then picked up by the diggers as they went about their work. As the flow of water died down, so did the chant, until the next rush of water when it started up again in earnest.

Not long ago, these same children delighted in games like peek-a-boo or fill-in-up-and-dump-it-out, simple repetitive, cyclical games that could be played alone or with an adult. It was not difficult to draw a connection between those games and this more complex one, involving nearly a dozen children, all of whom were participating in their own way, contributing to a whole that went round and round with the predictability of the seasons, one thing following the other over and over like a kind of hard logic that the children, together, were working to master.

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