A long time ago in a nursery, not too far away...It’s okay, that’s where the Star Wars analogy goes with this post I promise! This week heralded a new era at Free Rangers with the development of the allotments into our new assault course. A lot of planning and good fortune has gone into this so far and I for one am glad that we’ve begun to get the logs rolling. It has and continues to be an interesting process, one in which the children and staff have played a significant roll. Our original timber trail, which we considered at the time to be quite challenging for the majority of the children, has been conquered so many times the older children especially don't see the challenge in it anymore. Despite this, they continue to play on it; it's good to see them adopt different ways of playing and moving across it to keep it interesting. Now they have overcome any possible fear traversing the different parts by themselves, they feel a power over it. There is a great sense of completion, satisfaction and confidence noticeable in the children when they get to the end, sometimes relief they made it without the “troll” rearing his ugly head from under the bridge as they 'trip-trap' over.
As I mentioned earlier, the planning stage required lots of ongoing research, and discussions with the staff and children for ideas. The children were actually very helpful in deciding on what things they like. Evaluations and observations from watching them play in the garden, paddock and woodland also helped in this and I hope this will go someway to giving them a sense of ownership over the project. We have also had to keep in mind some of the needs of our children who have issues with their sight and perception; this will play a major role in how we build the adjoining sections to each “station” of the course. Most ideas required either a lot of money, or a lot of time so we've done well to keep to design and keep costs down. We also required a lot of wood! Which by a stroke of luck, happened to turn up from the Duchy of Cornwall to be stored on site. You may have seen the huge pile of Oak tree trunks in the car park! We asked VERY nicely and were allowed to help ourselves or at least that's what I heard...
So this week was stage 1: The Heavy Work. So heavy we hired a “man who can” to come in with his tractor to help in our endeavours. In an hour we had already cleared the space ready to work on and by the end of the day had placed several log piles, 3 uprights (known as the eponymous 'Sisters') and paved the way for the next stage. The children very much enjoyed seeing the tractor in action as you can well imagine.
On Friday, we let the children visit the site, purely out curiosity to see how they played in the space as it was, and to gather their first impressions and responses. This highlighted several things:
- The first thing the children did? Run around! Because of the space we had created, they instinctively ran through it. Before the alterations in the existing paddock, much of it was overgrown as were the paths and although mown every week, most would amble or jog through. Some more courageous would plough across and through the grasses and tussocks but there was no space for them to just run where they wanted as opposed being confined to the paths. It's great to have the jungle of overgrowth for them to explore in but we lacked the space to really move.
- Children are like Robins. Any upturned or turned over soil and they're like bees to the honey pot. Give a child some soil and they'll be content for a while. Add a spade into the mix and they're sorted for hours!
- Children love to climb higher! I was very pleased to see the children utilise the wood piles. Being the size they are, they love to gain a little height and see the world from lofty footings. This is exactly why we put the piles of wood into place. One of the sisters (let's call her Venus) is a rather wonderful innately climbable piece of natural art. Some tried with assistance to climb her but we came to conclusion that climbing grips are in order!
- The creative aspect: dinosaurs are a pretty big deal in the nursery at the moment, as are knights, so this we hope will feed into the design aspect of the rest of the assault course. Dinosaur Knights! No, perhaps not...
My 'New Hope' for this development is that our children push themselves to conquer this larger challenge, (which in turn prompts us to build another fully operational battle station for the Empire! Sorry, I know I promised). I've noted before the benefits of such play in previous posts, as it boosts stamina, confidence and self worth, not to mention all the creative story making and role play that it could generate. I'd love to tell you what the next stage of the development is going to look like but that's between me and the kids. You'll just have to wait!
Here's wishing a super Father's day today to all our hard working Dad's at Free Rangers, and look forward to seeing you all next week.