Across from my house we planted a play space in a public circle. Nestled beneath a blue atlas cedar is a table and chairs made from stumps and logs. I put out baskets and linen napkins along with teacups and saucers. We added a skillet and some log bowls with wooden spoons. I found some glass pebbles and picked up some free tiles. I put these out too. We were not sure how this was going to be received, so of course, I keep my eye on it, replacing bits of fabric or putting out things I find like stepping stones or seed pods. Most recently I put out a harvest of passion fruit from my yard, the top part of a batch of lemon grass leaves from a neighbor's, and a bunch of sticks I collected after a rainstorm. Last week, as I came home from work I saw a zig zag line of mushrooms leading from the road to the tea party setting. At first, I thought they had grown there but then I noticed that they had been picked from another yard, carried over and carefully placed. Just so.
There is a thing about "cleaning up" at school and even here in this public play space, adults will look at these straggly--to the adult--bits and see destruction rather than a carefully crafted symbol or message sent from one child to another...Play here it says.
Children communicate with each other through play with materials. Things move and shift and are collected and dropped. Each petal and twig leaves a message just as sure and true as any sign an adult would have painted and planted in the ground.
What do we find acceptable for messages left? When we become fussy about environments, storing things and insisting that materials must be put away each day, we lose sight of these symbols and messages left for others. We forget about our own messages now that we are adults with our childhood behind us and all the messages we left ourselves are long gone.
If you want a bit of joy in your life go outside and collect some sticks and tie them together with pieces of grass. Or take some perfect stones and place them in a circle. Leave these messages in a public space and know that you have left a message of play. Who will get the message? Who will pass it on?