Yes. We observe the play.
Sure we do. We observe, first and foremost, just for the joy of it. It is about rediscovering the wonder of play. Then we also observe to follow the relationships. Relationships mean something to us all. We look for the connections between people, between bits of information and knowledge, and between the children and the natural world. And because of this, we know the children.
When we want to learn more about an adult, we may talk with them and ask them questions, but with children, we observe the play.
I know part of this story that I am observing now. I told the stories to them myself so I know that they remember and are now making the stories their own. They arrived at the beginning of the school year with this idea of "mermaids." Then I shared stories of selkies. The baby dolls wear selkie skins now instead of clothes. The two come together here, months later, in a story of their own which is the way it should be and, as children will, they use what they find in the play yard as the plot twists and turns for their tale.
We have had intense storms this Spring and the rain, hail, and wind brought the oak catkins down all at the same time instead of in dribs and drabs. The children have incorporated these into their play. It was a fresh round of morning rain that made them really attractive though. The catkins became really visible in dark green soppy mounds on the ground and even better, on the roof of the shed. The play yard also looked different. The grounds had been cleared to allow for the Garden Party crowd and the sand table and other loose parts had been stacked and pushed against and around the shed.
The sand table, ignored where it had sat all year, held a sheet of rainwater on its upturned base. Now moved, it was in the perfect place to help with this latest "big idea." The pine tree cut offs, also ignored all winter, stood out against the carpet of catkins with their fluorescent spray paint. All these added up to something big, something important. The mermaids need clothes and their clothes are naturally -- anyone will tell you -- made of seaweed leather. The best seaweed was on top of the shed roof, of course! Mermaids clamored up immediately, collected the seaweed-oak catkins, bringing great glops of it to the sand table where they began lining up the catkins in crosswise sections, pushing the water out, stacking more catkins and then pushing again using the pine tree cut-offs.
"This is exactly how they made leather in the olden days," one of the mermaids reported. The others nodded in agreement. The "olden days" were when mermaids had to make their own clothes, but also it referred to some ancient human sense memory of gathering around a table in a communal work effort. They connected the flattened dark green with the leathery bits of mummy skin one had seen at the Natural History Museum. They were surely onto something now! They had cracked the code!
They knew instinctively that they would need sun and heat to dry out the catkins and certainly by Monday, the sections of seaweed would be ready for sewing. Oh, jeweled (because there will be glitter) seaweed leather dresses are certainly in their future.
They stacked up their seaweed leather sections under bricks and inside a milk crate to protect their project from the younger classes. And so they should. No one who was not present would know all the things they know and they know so much.
They know, they trust and on Monday, new clothes!
And we rediscover the joy of why we are here. To observe the play.