We have a new licensing specialist. Since our last inspection with the State Department of Education the year before a lot had changed, not philosophically, we simply had more. Our parents are now quite tuned into things we need. We have had regular deliveries of beautiful stuff for both our indoor and outdoor spaces. We had three trees cut down and just before the school year began one of our parents, an arborist, found a locust grove cut on public land. A parent crew was dispatched and they brought back all that time and energy would allow. We built a wall on the backside of our berm. More wood harvested from our own trees sits in waiting, just loose, waiting, waiting, waiting for just the right project and in the meantime the smaller logs and branches are dragged here and there by the children. Their finds added to our own means that we are fully stocked with anything the children can imagine using and more.
So while our environment and practice meets approval at each inspection, I worried about this one because there was MORE and we had never met this new specialist. What would she think of the branches, sticks, planks, and the loose logs that were heaped in piles? What would she think about the various dens and forts that had sprung up over the Winter and early Spring months? All those structures leaning and held in place with only the magical intention and conviction of young builders?
I was sitting on the front porch finishing up the last of the prekindergarten assessments (loving this last one because he said "What would I want to know those for?" after catching one glimpse of the upper case letters collected on a sheet and naming a handful or two of them). Someone popped up the steps with a friendly hello. I didn't see her badge right away and really, I may have come off a little flustered, because it was Friday towards the end of the day towards the end of the year. She smiled and introduced herself and my heart sank a little. I did a mental check. Where is everything. Is it clean? Is it tidy? Did I file all our continued ed. certificates? And what about the OUTSIDE?
"Show me around," she said cheerfully. Sure, step this way. We went through the school and I showed her the rooms. Half the class was busy with fine motor manipulatives and writing while the other half of the class was outside with PJ just finishing up an obstacle course. Obstacle course. That means there is even more stuff spread out for children to climb out, over, and through. I spread my arms wide, "Here it is! Our philosophy of education embraces risk!" was all I could think to say.
She took a good look around and turned to me, I held my breath. She said, "This is a beautiful play yard. Let's see your paperwork."
In that moment, I thought that the thing that stops people from offering loose parts, large scale construction projects, and assorted bits and pieces will not be the people checking on us. It will be us, ourselves stopping it. And look, that is okay too. You take it as far as you can go, but own it. I can do this and I can't do that, but I won't blame someone else. I will self-assess my own personal fear set and step just outside my own comfort zone. The licensing agencies will see your intent and then the magic happens.
And in the meantime, how happy was I that had indeed filed our continued education forms!
The logs had to be turned just so, the children heaved them into place connecting them in a great and steady loop, wedging in bricks and smaller logs to stop the logs from rolling. Surely you could see this from outer space too they declared. Then they set about guarding their fortress keep. If they fell from the wall, no worries. They know how to swim, the river that runs on all sides of the wall would catch them and toss them back up. The sticks they hold in their hands are kept in their cubby boxes and are picked up on their way out to play and returned again at the end of the day. Each one hands their stick to me as they walk out the front gate. "Watch this for me," they say to me. No other stick will do. Each one is unique.