The Spaces In Between

The birthday dinner partiers have to take the long way ’round to the party location. Today, it is the planning, shaping, and going that means more than the being there or the celebration.

The birthday dinner partiers have to take the long way ’round to the party location. Today, it is the planning, shaping, and going that means more than the being there or the celebration.

In my last post, Feathers  I shared a glimpse of the visionary women who started our parent cooperative nursery school. We still follow the path they mapped for us as a play-based school. In that post, I talked about how these mothers could have simply set up a babysitting share or sent their children outside to play. The school, after all, was founded at the beginning of what Sutterby calls the “Golden Age of Childhood” in his article, What Kids Don’t Get to do Anymore and Why. Baby boomers came on the scene along with medical advancements and with these, a waning of the perceived fragility of children (go outside and play and don’t come home until dark). Plus by this time, educators had firmly established that play and the freedom to play were vitally important to human development.

Rather than just sending them outside, which would indeed be enough, the founders established a school with parent involvement as part of the requirement for admissions. Parent involvement is outlined in our membership rules and regulations which still guide us — parents are trained to work in the classroom and they must work in the classroom, they must attend monthly membership meetings which include additional training, and they must serve in an administrative capacity to help run the school. There is only one full time employee and four part-time employees, the rest of the administration and governance of the school is tasked to parent co-opers. This is how the school has operated since 1942.

The founders’ plan was to secure a space where play would be protected. Yes, there were activities then and there are now, but the more important part of the story always lies in the spaces in between.

Today, as parents we get distracted by art sessions, opportunities for swim lessons, a session at a nature center, story time at the library, or a child yoga class and think “Ah, this is what early childhood education is about — productive use of children’s time with an instructor of our choice” but it isn’t. These are simply opportunities to explore the many ways a child can express ideas and interact in a down-sized adult world. This is the entree into a world they will join soon enough.

It looks like learning. It looks like it is for children. It looks fun and after all, children should always be happy and having fun, their lives a continuous and easy rolic. And most of all, now with the reversal of our view of the child as something that must be protected and something which must be filled, prepared, packaged, and made ready for the Next-Big-Thing, this activity looks like something we should be doing.

It isn’t.

We have to protect the spaces in between. The spaces in between are times when groups of children can come together and create a world of their own making. It cannot be an overly-scheduled world. It has to be messy and unwieldy, sometimes too much for them to figure out and other times exactly the right size. There should be as many things that don’t work as things that do. There should be moments of anger, of sadness, of screaming joy. The spaces in between should give children a time to connect both with each other and with materials, unencumbered by adult world view, of the “get ready for…” and for packaged fun.

This is what our founders envisioned. This is what we hold to as we drag in yet another batch of branches and move around yet another crate or wood pallet. This is what we shape when we will fill another bottle baby and more importantly, leave stuff where it landed to be found the next day by the child who left it.

The spaces in between are for play.

This is a completely different dinner party. The decorations for this party are the most important thing. Plus, it is a pop-up kind of party. The party is moved to different parts of the yard. You can tell where it will pop up next because the restaurateurs clean the space first. Dusting and sweeping sets the stage.

This is a completely different dinner party. The decorations for this party are the most important thing. Plus, it is a pop-up kind of party. The party is moved to different parts of the yard. You can tell where it will pop up next because the restaurateurs clean the space first. Dusting and sweeping sets the stage.

Setting up house in a completely imaginary way with walls indicated by a branch and a rope. The cushion serves as both stove and bed. The time and space to shape this play needs to be roomy and deep.

Setting up house in a completely imaginary way with walls indicated by a branch and a rope. The cushion serves as both stove and bed. The time and space to shape this play needs to be roomy and deep.

Children will find new contexts for familiar settings. This is not a sandpit. It is a canvas for imaginary play. They are building a Deathstar. It requires channels in the sand, cement, and pipes. As adults we do not have the words to speak the language these children are using. What we do have is an understanding of how to shape and fill the environment for these words, this communication, this sharing to flow freely.

Children will find new contexts for familiar settings. This is not a sandpit. It is a canvas for imaginary play. They are building a Deathstar. It requires channels in the sand, cement, and pipes. As adults we do not have the words to speak the language these children are using. What we do have is an understanding of how to shape and fill the environment for these words, this communication, this sharing to flow freely.