Relaxing into Play

The weeks have been flying by at Sprouting Knowledge and just like that, it’s the last week at our second play site. There is a distinct and notable change in how the children play as we move through the weeks of the program. By this time, the children have found their footing at outdoor preschool. They are integrating the routine and forming friendships. It is when we reach this point that we can start to see the children begin to relax into their play. Suddenly, play becomes more purposeful. Narrative threads are stronger and games started one day are picked up on the next.

This week is the perfect example of how this level of comfort has changed the children’s play. The play site has been well explored and it’s up at this point that the children can really sink into their games, really let their imaginations loose. At one play site, the earnest excavation of a very large rock last week, left a large round cavity in the hill. Several children were excited to continue their work and immediately dropped their backpacks and ran to the hill with shovels and scoops. Before long, one child is inspired to bring a bucket of water to the hill, and the excavation site becomes a building site. Another, than another child run to find buckets. Others are using scoops and shovels to dig channels down the hill. It’s going to be a fountain!

Buckets and buckets of water are poured, pushing dirt and leaves before it as it courses down the hill. Before long, the children are noticing there are small pebbles and rocks being uncovered by the stream. Their excitement mounts. And look, new channels are being created by the water. More and more buckets are filled and carefully carried across uneven ground to be poured out down the “fountain.” More and more children are gathering to watch. Curious eyes are bright with interest and discussion is plentiful and varied and the children’s cooperative skills are in full operation. Where does the water go? What is we try this instead? Can you wait for me to get my bucket filled and we can pour them together?

One of the children takes his bucket and holds it open lower down the hill in the path of the water, to try and reclaim the water being poured. He is only somewhat successful, but his experiment has been noticed by other. Some of the children wonder and watch with interest. But others seem less excited by this innovation. To one child, it is the process of watching the water wend it’s way down the hill that is most important to him. The bucket interrupts the flow and disturbs the end result. At first there is loud words and even a physical interaction and he tries to move the bucket away. With some small words of guidance though, the children settle down to negotiate. The child who is so intent on leaving the water flow is adamant that the bucket should be moved. He asks and explains and repeats and repeats himself. The other child can clearly hear him but isn’t responding or moving out of the way. As I watch them engage, there is a very big part of me that wants to get down there with them and do the work of negotiating this conflict for them. But their intent faces and quiet voices and calm bodies convince me to let them work just a little longer on the their own. After a few moments, a decision seems to have been made by the child with the bucket. He says “Look, my leg can be a bridge!” And the other child agrees happily, laughs, and announces it to the other children nearby. The games continues, undisturbed…

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