"We're Tracks now, it is our turn to build dens!" he shouted.
Well, sure it is and no time like the present. "Tracks" are what we call our class of 4- and 5-year olds, next year they will be off to kindergarten at various schools. This is their time.
The problem? They had only just discovered that the cache of branches that we keep on hand provide access to the shed roof. Some of the children had been using this branch ladder to get up to the roof all week. After a quick negotiation between the shed climbers and the den builders, they arrived at a compromise to only use branches that were not stored in the cache. By leaning the branches this way and that against the hickory tree and employing one of the bedsheets, a perfectly good den was built. They installed a phone constructed from a bamboo fence post and black flex-tube. Because every den needs a phone. Obviously.
After it was built, it was left abandoned and uninhabited. I don't know why, but it was. Until Friday, that is. I suppose the sunlight and wind made it attractive. Or maybe it was because the new cardboard box shifted some of the house-players' attention and the addition of glitter to the mud sand at the bakery shifted the attentions of others. Also, once the shed roof was found to be puddle-free after a good rain, ho hum, that no longer held anyone's attention. And finally, the new metal shovels drew the attention of the hearty digging team to laying new pipe in the sandpit.
That is how things go on a playground as the play is given room to shift, flow, and take hold naturally. And I didn't immediately notice that people had moved into this new den until one of the new resident's called out to me, "Lesley, I don't want to be a guard of the house."
I stopped and looked and there she was, I could see now, all moved in with dishes and flowers (the house-players always plant gardens, that's how you know where they live). She was settled back in the den house. Definitely moved IN. And you could see one of the spy-players, just at the door. He was trying to convince her to sublet. Well, not really sublet. He wanted her to change her context so that it could be a spy-ish den.
This is a small story, but a big moment, because when she drew me in about not wanting to be a guard, it was not a signal for me to help her with the conflict. That work had already been done. It is time for the Tracks class to hold their own. They build, they find, they discover, they take control. It is their time to shine.
"Alright, alright, you don't have to be a guard, but can this be a spy den?" was delivered by the spy-player.
"Just fine! I'll move then," And she did. She packed up and moved out and up to the rocketship den.
This was not a pushing out, it was a negotiation, it was feeling empowered enough to know herself and move on. The negotiation included a play overture to join forces, but it was also about something we call "alone playing" and knowing when and how to take control of self and space. The end of the tale is like this though -- the new den did not become a spy den because the magic of the flowers, furniture, and household went out with the alone-player. The den was emptied out again, but no worries. The play story comes and goes.