Cory and I visited Niall's class Tuesday morning before school, and found these photos up on the wall in that classroom show the progression of an outdoor project building a pit that became too deep to be safe for the kids any more.
Alice, Niall's teacher, described the situation in a note home last week: "Due to some heavy labor during outside time, the pit got considerably deeper and steeper. In addition to that they were severing the roots of some surrounding trees. When I looked at it yesterday afterschool there was no doubt in my mind that it was no longer safe to play in and around. I made the executive decision after school yesterday to close it and make it off limits until we could look closely at safety issues, and talk to the kids about next steps....Scientific investigation? Soil study? Sand box? Pond?
Apparently many of the kids were pretty indignant about the pit closure, and staged a protest march up and down the blacktop behind the Woods building, and wrote letters to Laurel, etc."
Niall and I had several chats about this on the day Alice felt she needed to close off the pit for safety, including on the drive home. Niall started off with huge excitement over the whole “save the pit” movement (“It’s amazingly easy to get people to join a group in protesting” was one choice comment – time to learn something about mob mentality pros and cons, perhaps? :P) and all the steps they had taken and their “rights” being trampled and “Maybe now they’ll listen to us” and more. Fascinating, and high level of excitement and need-to-share.
Then it came up again at bedtime, and although I didn’t want to get into it then (it was really late after the State of the School meeting), Niall really couldn’t let it go. Then it was anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration – “They never even *explained* why they closed the pit” and “They aren’t telling us anything even though they had a meeting about it.” We talked about safety and the need for grownups to sometimes make decisions that kids don’t like because grownups are responsible for the kids’ safety (based on their judgment, not always the same as the kids’ judgment) and the school has to be responsible about choices for legal and safety reasons.
But it really came down to that he thought there were ways the pit could be safe that weren’t being talked about and that in any case, kids just “need to be more careful.” Mostly a lot of disappointment because he and the other kids had worked so hard on it, I think.
Fortunately, Alice had a great discussion with the kids the next day and after airing their feelings and sharing frustrations, they brainstormed ideas about what to do with the pit now. Lots of creative ideas came up and they worked as a group to sort through them and strategize how to move forward.
A remarkable example of Little School thoughtfulness, a teacher's skill and caring, and emergent curriculum in action.