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Giovonne Calenda
Early Childhood Studio Teacher
October 14, 2010

Inviting Nature to be Our Teacher
on the Lower School Playground

 

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
ever a child can do.

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all,
over the countryside---

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down.

     Robert Louis Stevenson
A Child's Garden of Verses
1885

 

The playground has long been a very special and essential place in the daily lives of Lower School children and their teachers. On any given day, one may observe friendships being forged during the mid-morning respite of recess and snack. Opportunities to engage in dramatic play abound as children encounter their friends and dream up adventures of their own choosing. “ Ice cream” is for sale even when we are bundled up from head to toe and perhaps with thoughts of hot cocoa in mind. The challenge to reach the next rung on the monkey bars is a much sought-after accomplishment. While the climbing structures help to build muscles and gross motor control, they at the same time offer a chance to see the world from a bird’s eye view. The swing of the hammock takes us “up in the air so blue” perhaps to catch a closer glimpse of the world of the woods on the other side of the wrought-iron fence.  On a lucky day, maybe a red-tailed hawk will be sighted heading down to the ravine or chipmunks will be brave enough to scamper under the fence and make a visit.  Last spring, a mother snapping turtle made her annual pilgrimage to the playground in search of a safe place to lay her eggs, a passel of baby opossums ventured out from the woods onto our property and a snake was spotted slithering along nearby Scholar’s Walk. What lessons can be learned from encounters such as these with creatures and the habitats in which they live?

Gregory Bateson ponders this very thought in his book Mind and Nature. He calls on us to consider the interconnectedness of the natural world through his provocation---

 “What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me.  And me to you?”  

Children are innately very connected to the natural world, and it is opportunities that nurture and strengthen this relationship that lead to a deepened sense of place, respect and stewardship for the earth. 

If one visits the Lower School playground this fall, you will find a new area, an outdoor classroom, designed to encourage and support encounters with the natural world by offering a place for exploration and discovery.  This exciting outdoor space is marked by its beautiful river stone ground surface. The myriad of colors, sizes and textures have been a source of delight and a new complement to the wood mulch surface of surrounding areas.  One will most likely also notice children walking around the playground with baskets in hand.  Like the squirrels scampering up and down the tall oak trees that grace the playground, the children are undoubtedly collecting acorns and other treasures to examine, investigate and enjoy.  The Nature playground area offers a variety of gathering places for friends or simple places to be by oneself.   There are two wooden Nature Collection tables set up to invite sorting, classifying and the creation of temporal compositions atop tiled surfaces.  Nearby are glazed terracotta urns waiting to be filled and emptied with “loose parts.” Two large wooden cubbies have also been positioned to serve as a storage place for found objects.  The collections will be ever-changing as each season offers new gifts to behold.  Pinecones, bark, sticks, seedpods, beechnuts, acorns, seashells, and beach stones are just some of the treasures that present their own stories to be discovered.  Through time and handling, these natural elements will assuredly be transformed, and will eventually degrade and rightfully return to the earth. New gifts will take their place and for a time will share with us their own lessons.  It will be up to each of us to use those lessons well.

© 2008 Lincoln School | 301 Butler Avenue | Providence, RI 02906 | Ph: (401) 331 9696 | Fax: (401) 751 6670 
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