Sunday, October 18, 2015

Transforming Outdoor Spaces

Over a recent long weekend, the Infant House teachers came to the school and worked on reimagining our back yard.  We are lucky enough to have a large and diverse outdoor space- our front yard is bordered by many different plants, a rosebush, and a front porch that is great for climbing up and jumping off.  The space to the side of the house includes our vegetable and flower garden, our sand box, a large paved area perfect for biking and running, and our climbing dome.  The biggest feature in the backyard is our big, beautiful maple tree.

The children have found many different ways to play in the open space behind the house, and the teachers saw an opportunity to create more defined spaces that could inspire even more play.  For practical purposes, we also wanted to cover some of the ground with something that could absorb some of the Oregon rain when it inevitably begins to fall this autumn and winter!  When we heard that there used to be bark chip paths through the back yard and around the maple tree, the teachers got inspired and were eager to get to work.

We defined paths with river rock and spread bark chips.  We moved stumps into the paths to serve as benches, and did some new plantings on the corners. We ended up with a path that circles around the maple, and defined two smaller spaces on either side of the path.  We couldn't wait to come to school on Tuesday morning and see how the children interacted with these new additions to their yard.

The path was immediately used as a road, a track, a river, and more.  The running and biking that had largely been confined to the paved area of the side yard before expanded and took on new imaginative life on the path.  The stone borders of the path were seen as a challenge - can I climb those?  Can I jump off the rocks?  Can I balance and walk on them?

The children also got right to work coming up with new possibilities for the spaces on either side of the path.  We moved a platform to the furthest-back space in the yard and it has become a dining room table, the edge of a swimming pool, and a nap mat where the children pretend to be Mary and the babies of Cohort 10.  A table, which had not gotten much notice in its old home, has quickly become a center for building and knocking down, and especially for tiny animal toys to meet and interact when we moved it to the little "room" created in the center of our circular path.

The yellow birdbath has long been a feature in the yard, but when we made it part of the path's border, it sparked more interest.  This week it was used as a carwash and as a pretend bathtub where kids got "nice and clean."

These examples are just a tiny slice of the amazing, energized play that the children have brought to the backyard this week.  The only new materials in the yard are rocks and bark chips, and yet we were able to bring a feeling of transformation to the area. It's a great reminder that simplicity can be inspiring, that creating limits and borders can spark creativity, and that being outdoors is one of the greatest pleasures for kids (and adults).  I can't wait to see how the children continue to interact with the new spaces in the yard!

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