Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter Discoveries in the New Playscape

The garden in winter is a whole new experience for children.  They at first act shocked and slightly worried that the plants are dying and there are no more tomatoes for the picking or green beans to munch on.  Soon they accept this and crunch through the transformed snow and leaf-covered landscape that once housed so much life and food.

Being in this space with children is such a delight.  Sometimes children's playgrounds are spaces where they play "IN" nature, but interact with very few actual natural items.  When I stand and watch children play at Elm Tree I see them shoveling, digging, hauling, running on and over, through and in between many, different natural elements such as: willow, grass, rocks, trees, logs, dirt, sand, herbs, vegetables, hills and paths.  Leaves, sticks and stones are often hauled from one location to another.  Or piled about the yard in various configurations that slowly transform and move from place to place over time.

Here children have freedom to play in almost anyway they wish in a gorgeous, interesting, varied terrain.  Music, flowers, art, herbs, bridges and stones, gardens and dirt for the digging.

I sat one day just watching children leap from a boulder to the nearby top of a little hill.  then run a short obstacle course through the willow hut/tunnel, into the teepee tent and back up the boulder and then do it all over again.  Some young ones slightly challenged by the older children's physical skills joined too, modifying the activity slightly to accommodate their less-refined gross motor skills.

The hill, what a great thing to have around!  Sometimes children like to stand on top of the hill and shout across the yard.  For new walkers, the hill is a monumental feat that requires days of practice to conquer.

The tree stumps are walked on, crawed over, ridden on, and sometimes just stood upon in silent repose.  There is this one tree stump that is exactly the right size and height for one child to sit or stand on .  They stand and gaze across the yard, sometimes binoculars in hand.  I like to think of it as a perspective-gathering spot.

The bridge also seems to be a beloved feature of the yard.

Children think of as many ways to cross it as possible, pushing cars, then a stroller, dump truck, wagon and so on.  They might use shovels to pile the bridge high with pea gravel or load up a wheelbarrow.

Flowers and edible plants grow throughout yard including what will soon become a sensory herb garden near the water play area.  Spring is on the horizon, though it is hard to believe, we can start even now to anticipate it and plant some bulbs here and there so when we have just started to forget about them, out pop some beautiful tulips, crocuses and daffodils!  Anyone interested in donating bulbs for this playground planting project please contact us!