Is the wind down of every school year hard? This year's transition to summer feels especially rushed and with its holding onto every minute and making the most of each one, there seemed to be a draining away of inspiration. The "fun" or passion that moves us past the paperwork-y, end-of-year feeling of getting all the right boxes checked.
Just when I felt thoroughly bogged down, we had visitors! And with these visits, we were gifted those lightning strikes of inspiration and revitalization. Each person brought their own gifts and perspectives and it is with this post that I would like to thank them and, in turn, share a bit of what I learned since we are always open to improving our practice.
Our first visitor during this "wind down time" was Niki Buchan from Australia! She brought with her warmer weather and lots of inspiration.
Niki was in town for a keynote at the Play PEP Rally in Maryland and she stopped by on her way to observe mining bees, climb a few trees and a great hill, and study and bury a poor little short-tailed shrew with us. A handful of "typical" moments at our nursery school, but through her eyes everything gained a bit of "sparkliness." I realized that we were not at the ending of the story, which always feels a bit sad as the school year draws to a close. Rather there was plenty of room to keep that book going!
I was inspired to begin a project book with the children and this brought back a big dose of that "fun." Working with my oldest group of children for this first trial run, they created their own book, "Outdoor at School."
The "Outdoor at School" book.
While this book was started late in the school year, it has been so rewarding that we will definitely pick it back up next school year. I have the blank books all ready to go!
Hardly a handful of days past before our next visitors and dear friends, Rachel and Martin Besford from Highway Farm Activity Centre arrived! And sure it rained, but no matter, they're their very own rays of sunshine. Rachel and Martin made a pit stop here before flying up to Vermont to present at one of David Sobel's In Bloom conferences. They brought with them inspiration for BUILDING programs. It is one of the things that I value about Martin, he is can-do person and sees no limits for possibility and creating. Rachel is someone you can count on to see an inspired practicality in connecting children with place and scaffolded learning. The minute she walked in, the children gravitated toward her.
It is so inspiring to see teachers at the top of their game interacting with children. It fills the heart and was exactly what I needed.
The third teacher is at the very foundation of their practice (here is a <link> to post on Juliet Robertson's Creative Star Learning for inspiration). Highway Farm started as an empty field and it has been transformed bit by bit into a magical place for children. Rachel and Martin KNOW about flow patterns, building interest, and inspired outdoor spaces.
Just before Martin and Rachel arrived we had a mud kitchen installed, built by one of the parents (the very same one leading our latest building adventure of a new play structure). How lucky are we?!?!
The thing is about environment that every teacher knows is that there must be time spent looking for and channeling flow patterns. Brainstorming around this with Martin and Rachel proved to be just the right thing at the right moment.
We placed the mud kitchen near the sandpit so that there would be access to sand and mud. We purchased a rain barrel so that water would be available. We have a feral cat colony in the yard. The minute the children leave, the mama and all her descendants come out to lounge around the abandoned sand pails, pots, and pans. We had ordered tons of gravel and river rock to create a pathway to both connect the mud kitchen to the sandpit and to create a baffle for the cat colony's less desirable "activity."
All that magic and preparation was met with a shrug and a sigh from a cohort of the older children. Many still preferred the crumbling picnic table, the fire pit, and stacked boards for their potions and stews. But, look children! The shiny, shiny mud kitchen.
We got some increase in traffic as the path took shape, the gravel and rocks moved by the children themselves, but it felt like something was missing. I talked with Martin about it.
He told me that the it was a "pass through" and not a destination. This is about flow and about marking things as significant. It is something that was so obvious, really. We needed a visual or actual barrier at the far end of the mud kitchen and something that hinted at cafe. As they traveled to Vermont, the children and I got to work at creating a screen.
With this screen and with the rain that has yet to quit around here(!) the mud kitchen is now up and running. You should come get some rock and leaf pie. It's delicious. Mud always helps!