Two year old Frog is full of questions, and one reins supreme these days - "What is that?" Nothing new or different seems to escape her view. Often, what is new or different is purposefully planned by me - I will set out something playful for her, maybe hiding it in a special box or container first, and leave this near the spot(s) of my house that she most enjoys playing. These provocations always excite her; "what did you find for me?" she asks, "what is new?"
In recent weeks, I have been madly culling and cleaning and rearranging my home, and this means that there have been many "new to her" things for Frog to notice. When her Nana is a newly-retired preschool teacher, the rewards are many for this youngster! I have created a writing studio for myself in my basement, setting out many of my school journals and photos as inspiration. My days with children are definitely my writing muse; my grandchildren are, as well. The basement is now also a more welcoming space for Frog to play and explore, with all my picture books on bookshelves, and a variety of toys included. We have been spending more and more time in the basement in recent weeks.
The other day, Frog pointed to something at the top of a bookshelf - "What is that?" Hmm. What had I moved there? Oh! It's a catapult! Immediately, she was intrigued and wanted to see it; immediately, I was transported back to my time at a conference at Bev Bos' school, which I had the delight of visiting in the summer of 2011. TEN YEARS AGO. Wow. Has it really been ten years, already?
This little wooden catapult was made especially for preschoolers, and it uses ping-pong balls - there's no one getting hurt by this play! I was excited when I saw it, and bought one on the spot, thinking it would be a fun thing to explore in my classroom. Bev Bos believed passionately in joyful, exploratory play, letting children be curious and figure out things through doing. She (and I) liked to sit back and observe what children did with things - How might they use them? What are the children wondering about? What do they think to do, as they play?
I never ended up bringing that catapult into my classroom. I began teaching at a DC public charter in the fall of 2011, teaching a minimum of 22 preschoolers every year. Although I believe firmly in the whimsical play of the catapult, I couldn't figure out how to bring in this one gadget and share it successfully with so many students, without many of the children feeling left out a good deal of the time. That was NOT an experience I wanted my students to have. Yes, truth is, these early learning years require materially-rich school environments, where children play freely and effortlessly, without fear of there not being enough, without threat of not being included.
That little catapult sat in a closet at my house; I suppose, waiting for grandchildren? I moved it to the top of a bookshelf in the midst of my decluttering and cleaning, and there my dear Frog noticed it.
I got it down from the shelf and placed it in front of Frog, along with the small bin of ping-pong balls, and I said "It's a catapult. What do you think it can do?" There ensued such a happy, laughing time. Frog roared with laughter when the ping-pong ball went sailing into the air over her Poppa's head. Over and over again, she repeated the performance. She had a little trouble keeping the base of the catapult steady, and soon realized that these shifting positions seemed to send the ball into different directions - this cause and effect fascinated her. Frog began to hold the catapult in one place, and then to aim it in certain directions. This is what I love about such discovery - it is ripe with natural, organic learning. Balls flew far and wide, with Poppa and me racing to collect them for her. So many laughs! This fabulous play did not last just a few minutes; in fact, Frog played with the catapult for more than an hour of play, ending only at her nap time. I am awed by how long a young child's attention span really is, when they are engaged in play.
What was her first question upon waking up from nap? "Catapult, Nana?"
A few days later, Frog - who is a very verbal 27 month old - reflected on the experience, hoping to play with the catapult again:
"We're going to get the balls and I'm going to push the button and then the ball goes everywhere and we were laughing. That's a catapult. Balls go on when you push a button, it will go. Wanna collect that one ball."
I am reminded about how important it is for children to DO - to discover, tinker, stretch, wonder, figure things out on their own.
I am grateful for Bev Bos and her wisdom about children's play.
I am grateful for Frog and catapults and laughter.