By Alexis Masingill
Creating spaces where children play without restrictions is often tricky for teachers. The children requested fabric to cover the lookout. A few teachers suggested that we use the fabric to create a few hammocks around the lookout. These created spaces that gave privacy, allowed new connections to form, and conversations to flow freely. There were moments of negotiations where the children set limits or made agreements of who can access these spaces.
The play that erupted from this experience showed different levels of communication. The children were able to express their genuine feelings of how they enjoyed the hammocks.
- Willa- “I just like them. Because they are so soft. We can hide and not see people.”
- Calder- “I like being in a hammock because it’s cozy.”
- Isla- “I see over there.”
- Wesley- “I see that tree, (points to the Olive tree). I can see the sunshine from here. And you can’t see me!”
Every day that the children used these materials, we also experienced a struggle. One hammock was positioned at one of the entrances to the lookout. The children managed to create a swing type of hammock that would often result in conflict for accessibility for the adults to manage that space.
That hammock was removed to allow access through all the entrances to the lookout. But the teachers discovered that this hammock was being used to swing on. There is a wooden swing in our yard that has availability for up to 3 bodies but can be somewhat cumbersome for smaller children to maneuver on their own. A handful of children expressed their need for space, and a child suggested attaching the fabric to the tree to create a single swing. So, we tested the swing out…and it was a success! The children felt the wind in their hair and the feeling of weightlessness. They were compelled to yell and entertain each other while waiting to try on their own.
The interest to use the swings was so intense that it generated opportunities for problem solving, conflict resolution, and negotiation. The teachers allowed the children to dictate who was on the swings and how long they intended on using them. Many times, a child would come to a teacher to request their turn on the swings and we would redirect them to check in with the children using the swings. This invited them to become self-advocating for their wants and needs. On a few occasions, the negotiations would involve a teacher to assist in the agreements. A child decided to use a timer and then proceeded to debate with the other to see how long was ideal. They came up with 10 minutes. They then asked me to set a timer on my phone to let them know when it would be their turn. 10 minutes passed and the timer went off. The children switched seamlessly, and they went on with their turn.
As the children mastered the general physical demands that the swings brought with it, they started to dive into a new realm of experimenting with techniques that were unlike the typical methods. They managed to understand how to balance and manipulate their bodies to invert themselves on the swing.
Liam was focused on manipulating his body to wrap his legs in the fabric and balance without using his hands to grasp the swing. Willa discovered how to gain momentum and raise her legs up above her head to invert herself, swinging freely without having to hold on from the knot on the fabric.
Isabel was watching both Liam and Willa as an onlooker and when she was offered the swing, she tested her abilities and managed to come up with her own unique way of inverted swinging. We would see children coaching each other throughout the day.
I had the opportunity to ask the children how they felt when they were on the swings. Many simply said, “happy.”
Liam explained to me, “I like that I can go really high and I don’t bump into things.”
Isabel said, “Happy and good, I like to go round.” Grace simply said, “I just like to swing in here.”
Azelie shared, “My feet go up in the air and I can fly.”
They all seemed to gain a sense of achievement and success after their time spent on the swings. The process of physical and emotional development happened organically.
When I had the opportunity to talk with Finn about his feelings about the swings, he had some real insight. “I feel like I’m flying. And I feel free. I don’t have to give up my spot if I don’t want to, but if I see someone who really wants a turn, I can let them have one.”
Over the past 2 months our beloved Olive Tree has flourished into a multi-dimensional resource for the children. The addition of fabric has given new meaning and purpose to how this tree provides a space for children to explore their abilities and invite new connections.
As my colleague Eric had referenced in his blog post last year about “Our Beloved Olive Tree,” he describes our connection to this important part of our outdoor classroom.
“The Olive Tree is a spot that provides shade while children sit and listen to their favorite stories or flip through the pages of their family books. It is a space for the children to gain a different perspective and wonder about the world beyond the walls of Little Owl. Lastly, I thought about how the Olive Tree is a space for the children to take risks, problem-solve, and build resilience.”https://littleowlcommunity.com/2018/12/03/our-beloved-olive-tree/
As I write this reflection, I can’t help but recall the Shel Silverstein book, “The Giving Tree,” and its message behind selflessness. As teachers we inadvertently become the tree for these children. We wish for each child to feel a sense of freedom throughout their experience at our school. When we, as educators, witness a moment of interest and of struggle, we must become the tree and provide those branches for them to grow, gaining understanding of the world around them. The children become our fabric and we are the trees that they grasp on to until they are ready to become their own individual being and create their own branches as they can swing confidently into their futures.