(detail from Khalisa’s Dream House)
January began with two new spaces. The Winter Garden and the Hideaway Space.
The Winter Garden is a small square tactile table that is now filled with corse sand. Cat tails, shells, feathers, rocks, seed pods, small tree stumps and some plastic dinosaurs. My only rule was to “leave something interesting for the next group of children.”
One group of children had a long narrative play. The land was Dino world, and there were bombs (chestnuts dropping) and a thunderstorm (sand dropping) that led to destruction and the creation of a song by Jonas, which Milo and John joined in singing “Dino world its a big big big big world. We’re cleaning up Dino world Dino World it’s a big big big big world. ” Shelters were made, dinosaurs were rescued, and even a dino toilet existed. There was disaster, clean up, peace, disaster clean up peace, and song and discussion.
When Renzo and Henry chose to play in the Winter Garden, Henry made a discovery. By hitting the cattails, white fluffy snow emerged. I struggled with the awe and visual beauty of this new natural material and at the same time, the material management challenges that came with this, the flyaway seeds were copious and covering everything! I stayed with the awe, especially after teacher Margaret Ricks came to me and said, “Did you see that the winter garden really has turned into a winter garden?”
The winter garden idea emerged from conversations with teacher Sarah Burke, who was struck with the natural glass enclosed atriums that we saw in the Reggio schools where children created with natural materials. She was trying to find a way to adapt the quality of these beautiful spaces on our 3rd floor space. At the same time, I had just written a grant to create an outdoor creative nature play space in a corner of our public school playground. Currently the playground offerings of a cluster of play equipment and asphalt and bikes.offers gross motor play, but not open ended possibilities for engaging in dramatic creative play in conjunction with natural elements. I did get the grant, (Thank You Capitol Hill Community Foundation!) however the space will start up in March/April, and I too was eager to offer the children something now. The new Winter Garden in the common area, and Sarah’s larger version for her class offer opportunities for adults as well. The narrative stories of these small worlds change with each group of children. I am looking forward to learning more.
The other new space, the Hideaway Space came out of a conversation with lead teacher John Burst. I was talking to him about spaces and my observations of how the children use the narrow space of the studio. I told him that I noticed that most of the children use the large square table or the floor, and rarely the counter space, which was becoming space for materials or childrens work. What about creating something under the counter? he asked. I was thrilled with this idea, and thanks to Fredric Robb’s mom and her amazing sewing and creativity, there is an evolving space under the counter. I placed two clipboards and pens next to the new cushions. In this first week, it has been used non-stop. A side piece of fabric was added mid-week to make it even more fort-like, and we are experimenting with adding another piece of draped cloth that we’ll try next week. I am still reading the essays in the book Secret Spaces of Childhood. I am struck with the small worlds all around me. Even the dream houses, which are constructed small worlds, have even smaller worlds within them.Caroline’s Dream House detail
Within the project of using natural material to make temporary art, like artist Andy Goldsworthy multiple hidden small worlds and stories exist.
Childrens stories are both sacred and informative, and as teacher Alysia Scofield said in a conversation about these ideas, “It’s all about children and power. These stories are like the figures they made with you.” Amazing.
(Detail, below from Casey’s Dream House)
As I observe, document, gather and transcribe stories, I will share them on later posts.
I’ll end with a poem by Walt Whitman:
There was a child went forth everyday,And the first object he looked upon, that object he became…