Are children the ultimate nesters? Several years ago, we had a bumper crop of ornamental grasses. Each year I harvest the dried golden leaves in the Spring from my yard, but that year one of our families brought in theirs as well and so the amount was especially bountiful. The children used these grasses to build nests, flying around, mouths (aka beaks) filled with grass moving their nests from one end of the play yard to the other.
We notice that when we bring something new and especially lovely and tactile, the children suddenly seem to see the space differently. The year Andrea found the boat sitting, just waiting for us curbside for trash pick-up, was a year all about sailing, traveling, and moving the boat from destination to destination.
We know that when we finished our first playground renovation over the few weeks during and around Spring Break, the children discovered a completely different way to play. When we added the Children's Teahouse, the children cleared the footprint for it and once it was constructed it belonged to them and just them. The same thing happened when the children constructed our dry creek bed. These installations became focal points for their play.
We add, in bits and pieces, loose parts to our collection over time. Each year, some new project presents itself. With the felling and repurposing of a dead tree from our front lot, we added a log wall along our berm before the 2013-2014 school year started. During that same work session, the parents arranged and rearranged the various loose parts (boards, climbing triangles, and assorted wood and branches) so that the children would find enough challenges and intriguing destinations to make their first days of school especially interesting.
Then something happened...we had another work session the weekend before our enrollment session began in December. I asked the parent crew to play with the boards, branches, and triangles to create a new set of challenges. It was then that I realized that the materials had not really changed position between late August and that weekend in December. This thought was like a lightning bolt out of the blue! The children were not moving the moveable pieces! Only a handful of the Leaves class (ages 3-4) would even climb on the structures and the Bugs (ages 2-3) had not yet really discovered the whole of the playground. They usually center their play around the sandpit, the Teahouse and berm. The Tracks (ages 4-5) were content simply using the parts just as they were left by the parent work crews and staff. Most telling was that the children had not named our campsite structure -- each class, each year will name this structure, but none of these children had yet.
My first question was to ask if this was a true observation, but I barely had time to ask it because about that time I read Juliet Robertson's blog post, 5 Ways to Reuse Your Xmas Tree and I realized that the timing was perfect to collect a wonderfully tactile, scented, and plentiful resource for our little nesters.
And it worked! There were a few hiccups. The older children, the Tracks, were quite concerned about cutting up the tree while the younger Leaves wanted an inventory of our saws because they would need A LOT of saws to get the work they had in mind done. Because the younger ones were all about the work, we started the project of making the dens during the mornings they were in. Once the Tracks arrived and saw what they had accomplished, they were able to get past their need to keep the trees intact as long as we left one small one for the Teahouse.
The only thing left to do is to make sure the structures are waterproof!
I have seen that just these short days have changed the way the children interact with the space. Now THEY have made something that is distinctly theirs. They need to feather their own nests.