“I’ve suggested here that good play is taught by children to one another and it is probably the necessary precursor for every other kind of learning in a classroom…it is the child’s ability to play in a sustained manner that makes sense to other children, which opens the gates to all other pathways” (Paley; “A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play”, pp. 71-73)
Our summer program is entering its final week and Ms. Jen and I have witnessed a slower summer rhythm enter naturally into our days outdoors. Not only did the first week’s heat slow us down, but the availability of so many new plants, bugs, water-holes, and shady spots moved us into many self-sustaining groups of children who role-played “baby-birds”, “families”, “royal-family” and “bakery”. Children built a stream running through the yard which needed help from all the children so it would flow. All-group games of tag integrated some new faces. And, narrative story-play has ensued.
The play yard is transformed! And, I suspect your back yards are too. All of these children know what to do in their gardens; mud soup, small puppet plays with stones, acorns and sticks, house and tent-building, and self-storytelling. Send them outside in the cooler mornings, they will find a space to enter into the flow of “childhood’s time”- slower, more fluid, dreamier, more meaningful.
We have had some magical days each week and the children have made new friends as the groups change. This has been a good opportunity for social flexibility, possible because the structure of our days has remained essentially the same. We have spent more time outdoors, but essentially everything is predictable. This allowed us to invite some new friends into “how we do things” and connect to one another in our play but also in the purposeful work that teachers do; gardening, mending, knitting, crocheting, sewing, and cooking. New children found their ways into our predictable days by way of running games and tag, but more often than that, entered into the creative play of narrative.
Our slower pace has allowed teachers to raise awareness of “crafting”. We wet-felted, finger-knitted, and did some blanket stitching on “pocket-pouches” for “collecting things”. Handwork is generally in the realm of the teacher, but we had enough five-year-olds who were interested in the project and a fifteen-year-old (thank-you Amalia!) with dexterous hands, that we were able to complete some lovely work together.
Inside, our circle has been filled with lovely nature songs and hand clapping-feet stomping songs, nursery rhymes, and circle games about bees “buzzing at the flowers”. We told the stories filled with imagery of woods, flowers, and animals: “Mashenka and the Bear”, a Russian folk-tale, “Little Red Cap”, “Akimba and Bumba”, an African story with a moral undertone about trustworthiness.
We have been keeping it light at the snack table for the hot summer days -delicious green salads and different breads throughout the week. We have made sourdough, focaccia, pretzels and kindergarten bread which was devoured. The wood-fired bread oven baked some school bread and will be mastered so that all of you can bring in bread dough in the fall. The watermelon sorbet was a treat and Ms. Jen wanted to share the recipe with you ( http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/watermelon-sorbet-64721) the children can be big helpers deseeding the watermelon for you.
Our parent-teacher committee have continued to meet to read Vivian Paley’s ever-insightful book “A Child’s Work: the importance of fantasy play”. She remains a vivid influence on our work here at Garden Gate with her reminder that “The children (are) in fact, natural-born storytellers who created literature as easily as I turned the pages of a book.” (16, Paley). When story-telling is valued, children bring their natural abilities to tell stories into everything they do; this is the basis of literacy and social awareness. Storytelling , not book-reading, in early childhood is part of active play, it is all intertwined. And, as Ken Robinson says, “a return to a more active, problem-solving, play-based schooling that allows every child to gain the full benefits of early childhood and to develop a sense of who they are and what they are good at”(“Why Low-Tech Education and Outdoor Play is Trending in Education”, FT, June 2018; https://www.ft.com/content/7ad7d6ec-5393-11e8-84f4-43d65af59d43) will create the basis for a more fair and just society.
We hope you all continue to have a slow and steady summer and look forward to seeing your relaxed faces in the fall. Keep the children playing, that is, actively creating and re-creating their worlds within the boundaries of predictable days and rhythms.