Friday, May 7, 2010

Play Spaces at the Waldorf Steiner School
We had a school clean up day two weeks ago, and all the families came and tidied up the school grounds for the spring. I thought I would share some photos of the outdoor play spaces at the school since there was a recent discussion on a egroup I am in about sandboxes and I shared some photos of the ones at our school. I love the way our school builds sandboxes, and so many of the other play spaces are so simple and easy to recreate. Waldorf education is sometimes misconstrued as being something complicated or expensive to do, but it is really about stripping away the extras to create room for being and growth. The play spaces illustrate the simplicity and use of the natural assests at hand. The spaces are designed to allow exploration of the basics in nature like sand, water, and gravity.

Our school goes from 12 months to high school. Here are a few of the play spaces for the younger children.

This is the view of the play ground for the elementary school aged children. Their swing set is large. They have a huge sand/ mud pit that is deep like a trench. There are large logs and stones. Something new to me in Sweden is just trimming the branches off a downed tree and making it into a climbing toy. You can see a weathered tree like that in the foreground.
The swing set for the 7 and up elementary kids
A downed tree for climbing in the back yard of the middle school
I took these pictures of the middle school yard during the fall clean up day
The big tree swing, big enough SwedeGirl and her daddy
The tee pee in the background here is where the children go on their Wednesday lunch outing, called Utflick, during the winter. They take a hike to the woods near the middle school, build a fire in the tee pee, and eat inside it. Swedes hold firmly to the idea there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices, so every Swedish child has rain gear, rubber boots, a snow suit, hats, mittens, and back up clothes at school and goes out to play everyday rain, shine, sleet, snow, or in April, perhaps all of the above.
I picked SwedeGirl up a bit early in the late Fall on one of the first really cold days, and the teachers had set up foot baths of warm water for the children to use when they came in from the cold. They were left to soak their feet in one area, then they were called one by one to a tent of cotton cloth with sheep skin mats on the floor, where their teacher was massaging their feet with lavender oil.
This the school yard for the youngest group of children, age one to four years. A grouping of trimmed and weathered branches makes a small climbing gym. The kids have moved some bricks in there, and left some buckets.
This tree fort would be an american nightmare, a lawsuit waiting to happen! I heard that a Waldorf school near my old town required parents to sign permission slips to allow the kids to climb trees at school! One of the things I love about Sweden is people can still rely on common sense instead of fear of litigation to make decisons. Somehow, this rickety climbing thing, full of splinters and half sticking out nails, and held up with rope, is considered a good play space for the 1 t 4 set. Gotta love it.
Throw some old tires and some rope in there, and you got yourself a party!!
Next to the sand box for the small kids is a old wooden boat. My job during clean up day was to help re-tar it. It is a lovely little fort and climbing area. The kids are also often seen with these tubes. My girl and her freinds, the 5 and 6 year olds, like to climb inside these tubes and roll each other down a hillside.
The swing in the area for the small kids can only be reached by climbing a table, spool, or something. The teachers will help if the kid is stuck, but they will not boost a child onto it....if you are going to swing, you have to be big enough to get up there yourself. And again, somehow the littlest people do not get thwacked by the big kids on the swing somehow....My littlest has a bruise right now from walking into the path of her sister's swing at home, so I wish I knew their secret.
Almost every day I pick up Swedegirl the kids are running past with someone in one of the wagons, they play horse and cart. You can also see the boat, a log that makes a nice seat or balance beam, and the low stumps that surround the sandbox for the youngest kids. The little red building is a hen house and they have a few chickens that lay eggs that wander around the yard with the kids.
One secret to a nice looking sandbox is to use metal buckets, shovels, and various old pans and utensils for digging. Then the toys blend in the sand a bit, and there are no tacky, bright, colorful plastic things littering the yard. They store the sand toys in the old play kitchen (just a double shelf set) that was moved outside when they replaced it. The buckets and wheel barrows are stcked up there too. There are always lots of wheel barrows, kids sized rakes and brooms out as well. The garden beds are lovely. I always look to see what they are growing because they have one of those beds that rarely looks bad and seems to have something in bloom all the time.
Photo from fall of the kitchen garden behind the school, just out the kitchen door where such a garden should be! SwedeGirl greeted me one day with 'real soup I can really eat' out of lettuce, parsley, and water... no one gets mad if they pick things :)
This a secret forest of baby beech trees planted in a spiral. When the leaves are out, it is a nice little private space.
The sand box for the four to seven year olds. It has wooden posts surrounding it, and in the summer they put large canvases over it to make shade. The post have rope, and there is often laundry hung out there. The sand box is large enough for many children, and has old boards, tires, shovels, and whatever else the kids drag into there. The board shown was being used over a hole to walk on, it seems to have cracked. Again, magically, no one is getting splinters and injuries!
Another view of the same sandbox. Logs of different heights create an edge that is a good stepping path, working counter, and or seat. SwedeGirl's school building is so pretty, a anthrosophically designed environmentally friendly building, grass growing on the roof and all. It feels so good to be in and near this building, it is so clearly built with such love and intention.
One lucky dad impressed the kids on the work day by being the master of the chain saw and cutting notches onto these stumps and laying big logs in them to make seats near the fire pit/ balance beams.
To the far right you can see a old metal stove that is often lit in the winter, and there is a old tub with a spicket that is sometimes full of water. And another log/ plank balance beam. On Friday when I picked up SwedeGirl they had a long plank across this beam and were using it as a seesaw.
This cement area was made on our fall work day, it is water play zone. There is an old fashioned water pump at the bottom, and you cna make water flow from the top. There are flowers planted around it, but lots of mud, stones, and sticks go in it for bridges, dams, and what not.
The two holes at the top are water sources if you pump the pump. Behind is a play area, just a platform with no stairs or slide. They clamber up the sides and you can see one of the planks has been moved over to the center become a slide.
Someone sliding down the plank off the platform. In the foreground is a tree swing. The swing is just a plank with a rope, on the other side of the tree is a 'trapeze', a rope tied on a stick.
The 'trapeze', simple enough huh?
At the edge of school, they have a sign declaring it The End of the World. Not like the american religious right 2012 kinda of end of the world, more like Shel Silverstein's 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' kind of edge of the world.
The horsey looks out over the edge of the world....
Each day the school aged children, the seven and ups, get dropped off outside the world's end and walk this path together to school. A view of the school from the edge of the world. The school is to the right, a church on the left.
Another popular destination for Utflick/ Wednesday lunch picnic outing is the near by quarry, seen from the path on the edge of the world. The kids get to watch big trucks move rocks, and look at the water below. Trucks and moving big rocks- always a hit with the kids!
So this is what they learn at Swedish school until age 7. How to dig, play, manage 2 by 4s, push, pull, climb, and swing..... My girl usually goes to school three days a week, about 20 hours weekly, and stays home two. Most of the children her age are there all day. My girl will go to this school until she is 7. Each school day starts with an oatmeal breakfast, then play inside, tea time, play outside, lunch, a story, play outside, a snack, more outside play. No ABCs, no colors, no worksheets, no drills, no homework. It sometimes challenges me and my american brainy brain that they are 'taught' so little, but with so much to explore in such a beautiful place I remember to trust the child, trust the system, and let her grow some roots and send her energy down into her body and just explore the world before I expect her to bloom and start using her brains. She has the rest of her life for that, but this is her only childhood.


Kangaroo said...

DROOLING. This is so lovely. I really do like B's teacher, bless her, but when his class "won" a special prize from the cafeteria for good behavior, they selected lunch outside under the pavilion, and she squashed it, saying she wasn't down with that (didn't want to deal with kids running outside??). I love SwedeGirl's school and would disguise myself as a six year old if I lived in your neighborhood so I could go there.

Rose said...


My boy LOVES the trapeeze! He's all over them wherever he can find one....

Artistmama said...

Wow! Lovely school. I like what you said about lawsuits. It's so true, here in America everyone is so very paranoid about it. I remember running around the countryside as a kid and doing all sorts of things that would now seem dangerous for my kids. Funny.

Tan Family said...

Oh, I really, really love this post! What a beautiful school, planned with positive intentions. Everything about it looks like it's meant for children to enjoy. I also love the teepee lunches! I'm going to start following your blog.