The natural materials of our outdoor location offer an abundance of “loose parts” that friends can use, move, put together, and change to become whatever their play or imagination requires. Some of these loose parts are BIG. Friends have built big with logs and planks.
The logs are not uniform. They are large, heavy, and challenging to move. Placing these materials in the way friends envision requires strength and determination.
“Look, I made a big ‘I.'”
This is meaningful, physical work that tests muscles and builds persistence.
One friend loved making obstacle courses. She set, practiced, and demonstrated the course for her friends. Elements of balancing, jumping, counting, and sequencing were always included. Not only did she encourage her friends as they tried the course, she took into consideration the abilities of her friends, adjusting the challenges as needed so all friends could succeed!
ROLLING! This is pure fun! Many friends have enjoyed this sensation. In addition to being fun, the process of repeatedly rolling back and forth aids in the development of a child’s vestibular sense. This sense is necessary for balancing when moving and attending to learning.
Friends worked together to create a bridge, and soon there was an impromptu retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Placing the plank on one log created a pivot point. Friends walked up the plank and then found that sweet point of balance! For me, as a teacher, this has been the most challenging activity. We support children taking developmentally and situationally appropriate risks. It was obvious that our older friends were quite capable of deciding if and how to navigate this activity. I wasn’t quite as sure of the younger friends, but of course, nearly all wanted to try it! We certainly didn’t want to discourage them. As each young friend had a turn, I offered, “I am here if you would like assistance.” Those that needed it, took my hand. One friend began walking up the ramp saying, “I don’t think I need your help.” He got closer to the pivot point and said, “Hey, Denise, can I have some assistance? I’m a little bit scared.” I continued offering assistance as needed. Soon friends began saying, “I think I can do it myself.”
This friend tried again and again, until he mastered the challenge- such quiet persistence!
Thinking on this one activity in particular causes me to consider how and when I choose to step into their play. Reflection is always a good process!
Running down the ramp or running up it and jumping was another engaging activity. Because of the previous learning, friends were mindful about how much of the plank extended beyond the log. “Look how far I can jump.”
Seesaws were incredibly addictive for friends. While creating their own play equipment, they were unknowingly exploring mass, levers, cause and effect, and also social skills of taking turns, being kind to one another and keeping each other safe- all within meaningful play.
Imaginative play with these big loose parts has been the most recent development. Friends love to play family. They worked together to create a place that was the nature school for the children of the family. “Come on, kids. It’s time to go to school!”
“I think the one thing which truly makes children safe is their own competence, their own capability, their authentic skills in meeting the asymmetry, irregularity, and unpredictability of life. How do they come by their own competence? Only by the practice of it.” Jay GriffithsKith, The Riddle of the Childscape by Jay Griffiths