Several Playroom children are bundled up and busy managing rainwater as it flows along the cement curb between the sand area and the walkway. Some children are seated out of the rain under the roof working on puzzles; another rocks in the pod swing watching the coming and going of the children managing the water. The water-managers have thought of a new and different way to use the little plastic brushes and dust pans generally used to brush the sand off their shoes or clean up the sidewalk. The children are very engaged and focused on sweeping the rain water as it trickles down the little path and along the curb. They catch it, dump it, sweep it, and direct it. The broad dustpan can stop, start, and direct the flow of the water; it also functions as a scoop which the children can use to lift and dump the water back into the sand or around a corner. Using the brushes, they sweep the water into the dust pan or occasionally just on down the sidewalk with the flow. Scooping and sweeping it into the flat dustpan as the drizzle of rain increases they catch more, blocking and redirecting the flow and moving up and down the long walk. They are deeply engaged in their own experimentation and glad to play in the harmony of parallel play.
The play has already been going for more than an half hour and the children show no sign of being done. Children squat and move carefully to keep the knees of their pants, their shoes, and their jacket sleeves dry. There is no need to talk; all is done in silence with deep concentration. It feels like watching a dance; the work is carried out with a little dump here, a rivulet there, push that water up hill and see it flow down, step over the water, squat over the water, and stop it between your legs. The teacher is nearby speaking to the puzzle makers: “This piece goes to this puzzle and that to the other one; I see the pieces are mixed up. Let me scoot you over so you’ll know which pieces go into your puzzle.” This mundane conversation lets the child know I’m here if you need me, I’m watching you, and will help if challenges arise. This benign watching and protecting is often as important as the stream-of-consciousness communication we often talk about; in this case the teacher’s quiet presence says You’ve got this, You don’t need my help, I see you can manage this activity very well on your own. The child feels I’m big; I can manage; I’m important and supported. Then all of a sudden, like birds taking flight from a wire, the children are done. Back into the basket go the brushes and dust pans, and off the children go to warm up inside and find something else to work on.
This wonderful opportunity to watch the learning process and to see the intentionality of the play took place because the teacher trusted the children. She let them work at their own pace and according to their own interest, and to think creatively about how a small broom and dustpan could be used. While she remained quiet and kept her distance, the children could feel her attention and engagement, which allowed them to feel held and supported and to become lost in their play. The child’s play always lasts longer and the attention span is deepened when the activity comes from the child rather than from the teacher, and finding a new way to engage with and study nature is particularly fulfilling.