Our picnic tables at school probably don’t look as beautiful (or clean) as they once did, but sometimes we want to be prepared to apologize for the mess in order to embrace the learning. As all of my blog readers know, outdoor play is a really important part of our program, and we always start the day outside. We’re usually out for about 1 1/2 hours. Children lead this play. They collect the materials that they want to bring outside, and they plan what they want to do. We’re fortunate to have a huge outdoor space at the side of our school, but with some drainage issues and lots of rain, it’s not uncommon to have the field space closed. As the weather gets warmer and Track and Field Day looms, there are certainly more classes outside with us, but our students have found creative ways to work around “big kids,” and sometimes even connect with them when the situation presents itself.
Having taught in many schools across our Board, I know that I’m fortunate to work in a school now with green space. Downtown Hamilton schools are often largely blacktop playgrounds, which can present some challenges. That said, field closures at our school often have us primarily on the blacktop space with a little time in the world’s smallest “forest.” 🙂
Looking back at our outdoor learning in the past number of weeks, I’m reminded about how planned provocations and just a couple of materials can produce something wonderful! As the title of this post implies, all you need is “some chalk and a little water.” Our most consistent provocation is around cooking and baking. Students love to use mortars and pestles, muffin tins, bowls, and ice cube trays to create outside. For months now, we’ve been looking at a few recipes together before heading outdoors. A focus on colour mixing has also led to listening to stories about mixing colours. It’s amazing to see children reading and thinking about the text in the recipes, using some of the vocabulary in their play, and connecting reading, writing, and math with their baking outside. On days when it rains, there are always puddles on the playground, so the Fairies of Dundas just need to supply us with some chalk — a little can go a long way. On drier days, the Fairies of Dundas tend to refill old water bottles and soap bottles with water to bring outside. Kids love when there’s a little extra soap left at the bottom! As long as they keep the lids, these plastic bottles can be reused. One day, the Fairies surprised us with an old Yeti, which the kids loved too! 🙂
This truly becomes the greatest sensory play ever, and even extended to some dramatic play this week. I love how you can see the older students practising for Track and Field in the background, but a picnic table, water bottles, chalk, and old kitchen equipment, still engages and inspires our learners.
Paula and I loved our mud kitchen at our last school, but with help from some students, a portable mud kitchen is possible anywhere.
And while the picnic table makes for a lovely kitchen preparatory area, we’ve seen our students set-up along the wall when the picnic table is in use.
Maybe the biggest consideration of all is, can everyone let go of the mess — coloured chalk, flower petals, water, mud, and all? Paula and I think it’s worth it, for never have we liked dramatic and sensory play as much as we do outside. This outdoor experience makes me wish that I reconsidered play possibilities outdoors when I taught at different schools, and saw what might be possible with just a few materials and the time to settle into play. What about you? As another week begins, all I can think about is what recipe could inspire kids first. Now imagine if this pretend baking and cooking happened past kindergarten. Consider the measurement, counting, reading, and writing possibilities with the play itself, as well as the media, language, and math connections with the advertising, pricing and paying, and running of the store. Maybe a mud kitchen has school wide potential! Where might you go with this? As the weather gets warmer and more classes spend time outside, there could be different learning possibilities with just a couple of old items from home and some Dollar Store finds.