The Play Mob

Just as I walked around the corner one of the older girls, with her baseball hat turned backwards signalling that important work was at hand, was in a huddle asking a younger child how old she was and what her name was. Here is what she actually asked, "How old are you and what is your name in the game?"

In the game.

This older girl was setting up the game (or what we call the play arc) just as we do during our scaffolded play sessions during the school year. She was establishing the who, the what, the where -- she was getting to the agree-to-agree. That she, herself, went to the school when she was little speaks volumes. Later, because they recorded it in their #tink journals, I learned that they were playing family. Not just any family, but the best family, with the best house, the best set of siblings, and all of them were up for adventure.

The point of our Tinkering at the Cooperative School (it's official name) is to play, but it is a specific kind of play. It is like the play that many adults enjoyed in their childhoods. Play by their own design, with hammers, forests, creek water, knives, fire, etc. The "etc." is the most important part because we don't know what that "etc." will be until the children get together. We didn't necessarily start the summer program that way, but that has always been at its core and now that we have been up and running for many years, our feet are firmly planted on creating a space for this kind of adventure play. The "etc." of summer.

A whittling injury. She is especially happy that the bandage looks like a marshmallow.

What has stayed the same since we started the summer program is this idea of creating a play mob. The summer program is separate from the school year program in its age groupings. We want to offer the time and place for older children to enjoy the kind of play the younger ones participate in during the school year. What I am calling a play mob is a group of children that more closely resembles the neighborhood mobs of siblings and mixed ages (5 through 10 or 12) of the "go out and play and don't come home until it's dark" era. This is something that no longer exists in our area except in small and treasured pockets -- I am happy to say that many of the Cooperative School families create and sustain this kind of play in their neighborhoods.

So while the #tink program has evolved, this year we cut to the chase specifically designating this year's #tink, "Take Summer Back." We trained our camp counselors to step into the play only when necessary. We trained them to listen to the play cues in such a way that we could plan and plant materials and effectively remove these or themselves as needed.

The results were that the children's play did exactly what it will -- it ebbed and flowed, building to the plan to construct a zombie defense fort on Friday for a full out war against the zombie invasion. Because the children were left to their own devices, their play was rich and complex. It was inclusive -- they established the rules of their zombies (slow moving) and built their fort together.

The fort was a ramshackle affair of leaning and tilted bits and pieces. They deemed it impenetrable though sadly it was not. Obviously. The younger children who were afraid of the zombie idea were asked by the older children running the game whether or not they wanted to be "healers" which to a one, they all thought was a fabulous idea. Inside the perimeter, they founded a hospital stocked with fake flower potions made with sand, rainwater, and magic. And then a system of what it meant to be bitten and then be healed was worked out. The healers were off limits to the zombies. Traps were laid, warrior's duties were outlined, weapons were distributed. The battle was intense.

At the end of the week, I asked the children to fill out feedback forms, because after all, we are in the business of meeting our clients' demands (smile). Several shared that we need bows and arrows, because of course we do. One told us that it would be better for her "if people would wash their hands extra good" and who wouldn't want that what with all the talk of medical practices during the Civil War and ticks, etc.??? But most of the others said they wanted the "Zombie Apocalypse" game to be "even bigger" or to take place in the "forest" or "at Sligo Creek with swat zombies." 

Sounds like a really, really good "etc." plan for the summer. So, how old are you and what is your name in the game?

I'm going to be the zombie queen, so get ready.