Well, October has arrived with winter nipping at it’s heels. What a shock this week was, to see the temperature plummet so quickly to such unseasonable lows. The change in weather means a change in gear, more layers, and the ever-present challenge of mittens and gloves. This week also marks our fourth week in the program, which signals a shift in our area of interest and a rotation in our play spaces. The first shift from one familiar play space to a new, unfamiliar one is always interesting to observe. The children who are familiar with the program began asking last week when we would be moving on, the prospect creating an exciting element of anticipation. For the children who are new to the program, it was more of a mixed bag. Some of the children were very excited to explore a new site. Some of the children were less certain about the change. By the end of each day though, the merits of the sites having been explored, most of the children seemed invigorated by the new sites.
Changing play sites serves several purposes. Sometimes, certain play sites very clearly invite a specific type of play, so by changing our play sites we create an organic opportunity for the children to shift, change and develop their play in other ways. Changing our play sites also support the changes in our topic of interest. This week we shifted on to discussing animals. Both of our play sites are situated to allow den building. At one play site, we have moved away from the mud and wet of the creek bed, which allows us to bring out some small stuffed animals to enrich the children’s play. There are also more interesting opportunities for climbing at the new sites.
There are also philosophical and practical reasons for changing sites. From a philosophical perspective, we want the children to connect with as much of our outdoor space as possible, from creek to hill, from mowed meadow to overgrown brush, from willow tree to ponderosa pine, and from flicker to red-tailed hawk. Moving through the park creates a more holistic experience of nature in general and of Peterson Creek park in particular. From a practical perspective, ten children can do a lot of damage to a site in three short weeks! By rotating through a series of play sites, we are acting as stewards for the park and allowing each site to recover and rebound, thus ensuring many more years of enjoyment by future preschoolers and Kamloops residents.
The new sites saw several significant changes in the children. The interest in ropes and pulleys that had been dominant in the first few weeks almost entirely evaporated. With access to the creek being more restricted, the interest in boats and floating also disappeared. There was a strong interest in building structures in all of the groups. For one group it was a house, for another it was a lion’s den. There was also a lot of interest in climbing for all of the groups. The sites both offer wonderful opportunities for tree climbing that I haven’t yet seen a group of children resist. Tree climbing is a wonderful way for children to learn how to assess risk and their own abilities, says Angela Hanscom, author of Barefoot and Balanced. Tree climbing encourages children to engage so many senses at once as they determine the risk, and evaluate their capability. They use their sense of touch to feel for handholds, and assess the weight bearing capacity of each branch. They use their sense of sight to look forward to the next step, the next place to reach. They are developing their sense of proprioception, the sense that tells them where their body is, even when they can’t see it. This is an especially important sense when children decide they have reached their limit and are ready to climb back down. This is often where children begin to feel frightened, as their sense of sight is impeded. Tree climbing also engages and encourages children to develop their vestibular sense. A strong vestibular sense will provide a child with good balance, accurate body awareness, and coordination. And no less important, it’s a lot of fun!
Perhaps the most significant change in the children this week was a distinct shift, for each day, towards much more gross motor, full body play. We introduced the children to some songs and games at morning circle this week that focused on how they move their bodies. We walked like bears, stalked like cougars and lynx, and we bounded like deer. On the heels of those morning group activities, games of chase were prominent this week and often included an element of rough and tumble play. Perhaps it was the more open space, or our switch to discussing animals that prompted it. Or perhaps it was a response to the children’s increased connection to each other. As the children become more comfortable with each other, as they learn each other’s names and form friendships, their willingness and capability to discuss rules, negotiate conflict, empathize, and take/give up control of a narrative makes this kind of full body, active play so much easier to engage in.