When the weather is fine they choose to spend our gym period outside. We race to the back corner of the school yard where the trees grow wild and there are so many hiding places.
I've learned to relax about rules, and to deal with making them with the children when the need arises. When a child asks me to boost them up into the tree higher than they can climb on their own, I kindly decline.
Upon reflection, the children agree that getting up and down safely, confidently, and independently is more important than getting higher up with help (and possibly being afraid or getting hurt).
They express their personal experiences of the outdoors by pretending to camp or hunt. Stories are told around these camp fires, and hearts pound in a game of chase-and-find.
They experiment with the spring of a low branch, and only go as far as they can reach without falling or breaking the branch. This they do without instruction or warning. By taking risks, they learn to assess the ways they might damage themselves or their environment. Their confidence and coordination grows, and they file away this experience for future use.
Sometimes they want to just gather and chat in small groups.
Sometimes they find a place to hang out all alone.
One little hand explores the marks left behind by tiny creatures and wonder at the paths she finds there.
A huge boulder just outside the boundaries of the school yard, combined with a part of the fence where they can squeeze through invites them (with permission) to scale its side and pose for some artsy photos. I wish all children could experience the sheer freedom of a play space without boundaries!
Suddenly, a hand-full of leaves tossed into the air is plastered to the fence by the wind. "The fence is magnetic!" The cry goes up and several run to join in covering as much of the fence with leaves as possible before the wind dies down. They marvel at how they can defy gravity with the help of the wind!
Another rule arises when the girls decide to create a shelter. Long limbs pivot and fall heavily, and one ill-timed swivel results in one of the boys being "clotheslined" at full speed. We discuss the use of long branches and decide that it might be safer to limit ourselves to only using branches that are the same height as the children.
They work hard and play hard, and I'm always reluctant to tell them that it's time to return to the four walls of our classroom. They are growing right before my eyes, in their strength, coordination, endurance, confidence, and ability to set safe boundaries for themselves.