I spend a lot of time on the playground. Part of our school philosophy is that children learn through play and interaction with nature. While I know this and believe it whole-heartedly from a child development perspective, I don’t always take the time to live that out myself. I take it for granted that I have the privilege of spending time outside with children, observing their play and rejoicing with them in their discoveries. I don’t play enough myself.
Most days I roam the playground, supervising children, helping with bike helmet clasps, mediating a disagreement, or bandaging a scraped knee. Yesterday, it was fairly quiet, so I sat down with a group of children and started digging in the sand. It was wonderful! Not only did I feel a childlike sense of pride at the progress I was able to see in the depth of my hole, I also loved the sounds of my shovel scraping against the moist sand as I dug deeper and deeper, and I savored the feel of the sand – some wet and some dry and billowy. We (the children and I) decided to make a pattern using sand molds of different animals. One little girl (barely 5) decided on an ABBB pattern, so we set to work with a goal in mind. For several minutes it was very quiet as the children dug and filled the molds: cat, fish, fish, fish, cat, fish, fish, fish. I watched the children working together, problem solving and deciding on the best method for turning over the molds to ensure the sand would stay in the molded form. They also stopped occasionally to state the pattern and determine what would come next. After about 10 minutes, they decided they had extended the pattern far enough and their shovels, utilitarian a moment before, became telephones. They started calling me and we had funny conversations through our shovel receivers. We laughed and talked and in that moment, it was impossible to think about the stress of the day.
So, while still a constant observer of the amazing learning that occurs on the playground, I don’t want to forget what it feels like to play myself and rediscover the simple beauty of our world. Today I reveled in the beautiful song of a bird in one of the pecan trees on our playground, and I rode around on a tricycle with my knees pushed out past the handlebars while the children laughed and called out, “Mrs. Burton, you have to have on your helmet!” And tonight when I came home and my husband asked how the afternoon went, I honestly and joyfully said, “I played and had fun!”