"I saw the Blue House from the road!" exclaimed one of the older children as he walked in to school.
The news spread like wildfire. The children knew they were going to the forest later, but knowing that the Blue House was up and waiting for them brought the excitement level through the roof.
The house, constructed of rope and a blue tarp, has become an essential element in the children's play. I know this because for the last several visits, I didn't put it up. Its instillation seemed so dependent on weather. Shelter is what it signaled for me, but for the children it is that and so much more.
There is a silver key that unlocks the door to the blue house. This key is used at the head of the path that leads up to the area we use during our forest visits. The children call the whole area "The Blue House," but within that range are other little pockets and destinations that also have names. Each class, of course, calls these by different names, but both classes hold true to the whole area holding the name of the blue house. It is not just a tarp. It is a message.
The blue tarp is an anchor for their play. Sure, it keeps the rain off (sort of) and it is a place the children go to to eat snack and read books. But it also provides context. It is a connection to a special place, a place that they get to own.
If we see it simply as a shelter or a place to go to, we are missing an important part of the story. The comfort extends beyond just keeping dry and feeds into ideas for play.
Tarps are a really good investment regardless of how you use them and there are so many ways to put them to good use. One of my favorite uses was a semi-permanent structure Martin, Unnur, Kierna, and I built in Kaunas, Lithuania <link here>.
Juliet Robertson of Creative Star Learning Company has loads more ideas, <link here>.