Down the hill from the Lower School classrooms in the Piney Village is the magical outdoor playspace called The Piney Woods. The Piney Woods one of the locations EC-5 children enjoy recess together. Beneath the towering pines and among the historical granite slabs, the children negotiate stumps, collect pine cones, arrange sticks, mix mud, grind rocks, jump and run and play. This is the kind of space where true imaginative play can happen and when play and learning is inextricably intertwined.
Last week I was invited for a meal or an overnight stay in the Piney Woods. A group of 2-3 students had arranged found-resources to create an avenue of options for restaurants and hotels along the bases of trees at the edge of the woods. They had created a shared vision for their city, engaged in collecting and sharing the resources for the building design, and created an inclusive activity of role playing that required negotiation and compromise.
The mud kitchen has been a favorite for the EC students as they use traditional bakeware and a picnic table to create baked goods and serve one another, negotiating the roles of chef, host, waiter, and customer. Children who are busy running and playing tag are sure to sit down for a refreshment at some point! A 4-5 student just stopped to tell me that he could not wait to get outside and check on his mud pies, then remarked, “It’s a great day make pies Anne. It rained last night!”
I was invited into the soldier statuary. A group of K-1 students found costume pieces (pine boughs and leaves) and tools of soldiers (sticks and rocks) and they struck poses and admired one another on the granite pedestals in the museum or took turns casting spells as they ran around the natural obstacle course made of stumps and slabs.
As we anticipate over the next few years of evolving our new outdoor play spaces, we certainly will redesign and install the more traditional playground structures at the eastern edge of the campus and we can look forward to, once again, children moving through that rite of passage of mastering the monkey bars after months of determined practice and devise tag rules that include climbing up and down the structures. We look forward to having our field space free of construction vehicles, though classes will still frequent the Fore River Fields, Fort William, Deering Oaks and other locations for the more wide open field spaces. We will replant our gardens and the orchard to enhance our thematic studies and create opportunities for children to engage with planting and harvesting. But in all of these shiny new spaces we most hope to capture more of what has been happening in the Piney Woods for decades.