I don’t get out plastic toys during the winter – because they shatter in the cold — but this week I got out the pails and shovels for our outdoor play time. It has been a long time since the children have had the opportunity to use them and I was eager to see what the preschoolers would do.
Filling and dumping is always popular with the younger children – so is jumping on small piles of gravel. In the past one of their favourite activities has been to cover the slide with gravel or make a pile at the bottom of the slide and then smash through it when they slide down.
There are sometimes disputes since preschoolers are often impatient and impulsive – characteristics that result in issues when one of them smashes something while another is still building. It takes cooperation and self control for them to work together and take turns. These are important skills to learn — I observe but don’t interfere unless it is apparent that they cannot work it out themselves.
So, how much did they remember from last year? How much had they matured? Four children, four pails, a variety of scooping tools and a yard full of gravel. They started with four small piles and then someone said “If you dump your pail on my pile we can make a giant pile.” Soon all four of them were working on one gravel pile.
I braced myself for the inevitable smash down but it never came. The pile continued to grow and even when it was time to go in they decided to leave the pile and work on it again the next day. I was impressed.
Construction continued the following day – but the ‘castle’ wasn’t really getting bigger. They had reached the point at which any gravel poured on the top simply rolled down the slope to the bottom – physics – but they didn’t care. They continued back and forth, fill and dump, over and over again.
Then, someone noticed that their hands were dirty. The gravel seems dry but once you dig past the top layer it is wet…and muddy. They were used to having mitts on their hands but we didn’t need them today and what should we do about this;
There was a moment of silence when I shrugged and said we’ll wash our hands when we go inside. Construction stopped, the children looked at one another. Each of them checked their hands and compared them to the others’. No sound or movement but they were all thinking.
Suddenly shovels and pails were dropped and the children buried their hands in the gravel. A new game had begun. Gravel is fun but nothing is better than dirt. How dirty can you get?