Posts Tagged risky play

Kids Climbing Fences: Charting New Land

For the past years, the outside play yard at our school (known as the Big Yard) which is surrounded by a fence and concrete retaining wall supporting a grassy hillside, has suddenly expanded to include a whole new frontier for the k-2 class to explore. We have opened the floodgates to a Lewis and Clark expedition along a newly chartered hillside that provides a vista view of the Olympic Mountain range, on any clear day.

There was a gradual process leading to our backyard expeditions.
First it began with electing one of our better-coordinated agile ones to scale the fence to retrieve any balls that have gone over. And for about a week the teachers tossed around the idea of opening up this area to the oldest group in the school.

Now, just about every one in the K-2 class excels at hopping the fence. The fence they straddle to climb over runs parallel with the retaining wall, and the wall has spots that are more accessible than others, but this is still no easy hurdle for 5 or 6 years old legs and arms. Here’s a quick disclaimer about our seemingly dangerous mission: First off, after much practice, these kids are trained experts at leaping over fences and balancing themselves, and support each other cooperatively on steep inclines. I have also noticed that those who are fearful of climbing over the fence do not. In fact they want you to help them over, which I won’t for the sake of building independence, and after several attempts – sometimes days later – they do make it over. Now that that’s out in the open, lets continue onward to the other side.

On the other side of the fence, lies another fence, just at the crest of the hill, preventing anyone from stepping foot into a residential road. No, this is a wiry tall fence and their smart enough not to even think about climbing this one. The hillside is full of thick tall grass and bushy Scottsbroom, which flower yellow come spring (quite invasive in the newest). But in this case, this is the perfect plant because they are pliable, smooth, and resilient enough for them to pull themselves up as they topple over, or use the roots to get more leverage on those steeper areas. As soon as these kids set foot on the hillside, the warrior and wild games begin, as they turn to dragons, hunters, and wolves. Also all the other side you can find the remnants of bamboo posts from our garden that can quickly become spears. (No one has lost an eye…knock on bamboo) This is the point were we bark a teachery request like: “Please don’t use them as weapons or your welcome to use those sticks as walking staffs…only…” Or occasionally, we say, “PLEASE STOP SWINGING THE STICK…PLEASE PUT IT DOWN,” if it gets a little surly up there. And an eye is saved. In all honesty the sticks are quite useful, as I tested their purpose as a walking staff when I walked the hillside perimeter myself. (Suddenly instead of teacher I became a dragon they wanted to slay. But I held my ground.) In fact, I’m glad I used the stick (as a staff of course), as I almost lost my own footing. So yes, we established a few ground rules: no sticks as weapons, no going past what we call the doors (an area out of our sight), and leave the sticks where you found them – on the hillside and away from smaller hands in the yard.

There is something magical that takes place when these kids leap over a fence to an area that is has a bit of urban wild to it. Automatically they are placed in a unique perspective in relation to their environment. They will slide down the hill on their bottom, hide behind the shrubs, get caught is a few brambles, break sticks over rocks, roll around, fall laugh, make up new games, help each other out if their stuck, and other wise care for each other.

Our play yard space at the school is not small by any means, but an extras strip of land on a hillside has made their world. Our only hope is that the thrill of this new adventure, never wears off. And as they grow older they continue to over come obstacles or any barrier in front of them.

Today, two people who in the past could not make it over finally did. Their smiles and statuesque exuberating confidence, with a return thumbs up comment from the teacher… “YOU GOT IT!” is a defining moment in anyone’s education. And I am glad the hillside is there to teach us the way.

Here’s some rad pics of kids scaling fences: 

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Give Kids a Steel Rake and a Shovel

Introduce a few kids about 5 and 6 of age to actual metal (adult) tools and their whole demeanor changes. Most want to engage with using these tools and are set on using them properly. Even with little prompting or explaining they tend to be focused on the task at hand. Sure you may have to interject here and there saying, “Ok, make sure the shovel stays on the ground. Or be careful with the end of the rake it may hit so and so. Or you can only use that technique when no one around.” And these are general, just heads up comments that naturally be come dialogue when kids are experimenting with new tools that can be almost twice their height, when propped up.

In our schoolyard we have a mound of extra gravel for filling in shallow spots around our track. For the past few weeks we’ve been keeping active loosing up gravel with the steel rake on the mound, scooping up shovel loads, filling up buckets, and spreading the wealth of gravel around the track. I just introduced the idea one afternoon and they’re stoked about working with adult tools. Of course I’m right there beside them participating, but I have found that they are complacently safe, without any lecture on safety, and quite intrigued on the task at hand. While the group plucked away at the heap of gravel in the yard, the topic of “playing,” came up. It was a short lived dialogue, but when I asked the two helping to shovel and rake the gravel, if we were “playing or working?” – one sided with playing and the other with working. In fact the one who said were working, would periodically comment, “we’re working hard and I want to keep working all afternoon and skip open classroom and studio time.” Both seemed thoroughly involved in what they were doing, and seemed to take great joy in it, but is this work or play. Or are there any delineations between the two?

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