Editor’s note – this is a guest post by Tom Bedard taken from his blog Sand and Water Tables. PlayGroundology has had a few guest bloggers over the years and with one exception, that would be this one, I had some connection with the writer. This time around Tom doesn’t even know I’m sharing this piece. I’m doing so because Juliet Robertson suggested to a group in her network to share this piece as a tribute and honour to an individual who has contributed much to children and the world of play. Read on to find out about the best retirement party ever, a brilliant take on bringing people together through play.
Serendipitously, I was at a similar party earlier today in Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia to celebrate the opening of a natural playground that was built with love through broad community engagement. I will be posting about the Natural Resources Education Centre’s Natural Learning and Play Space later this week.
I have been thinking about retiring for over a year. One of my big concerns was: What kind of party do I want because I knew the families in our program would want to throw a party. That was especially true because my colleague and mentor, Lani Shapiro, whom I have worked with for the past eight years, was retiring with me. Lani was the parent educator in the program and had worked very hard with the families to build a community, a community that looks inward at its values and outward to use those values to build a bigger, more inclusive community. To be true to our values, we wanted a celebration that included past and present families. We wanted a celebration that would bring them all together, not to talk about us, but to talk with us and with each other. We also had an obligation—yes, an obligation—to have the children be an integral part of the celebration.
In early winter, I had a meeting with an group of educators I meet with on a monthly basis to talk about large muscle play in the classroom. As we were leaving the meeting, one of the members off-evenhandedly asked another member about their adventure play event at his school. That question was all that was needed for the light to go on. I had read blogs over the past couple of years that talked about adventure play events. The one I have seen the most is Pop-up Adventure Play. It just so happens that the member asking the question is involved in Twin City Adventure Play. In January, I asked to meet with the group to talk about the possibility of doing our retirement party. I liked what I heard and asked them to give me a proposal I could send along to our advisory council. When the advisory council saw the proposal, they were on board immediately.
Fast forward to last Saturday. Parents had been gathering cardboard boxes of all sizes, cardboard tubes, fabric, sticks, rods, tape and you-name-it for two weeks. It was time to party. All the materials were laid out on the lawn.
It might look like a recycling nightmare, but this was the invitation for the children to play.
The coordinator gathered the volunteers for a brief training, a training that encompassed their role in the event.
Essentially they were to act as play workers to step back and monitor the play from the background and to only intervene when play looked dangerous. They were also encouraged to help other adults step back to let the children play.
Of course, as the children arrived, they knew immediately what to do. No instructions were necessary; no dividing up into groups; no dividing into age groups. This was their play space to create their own narratives.
As the afternoon progressed, more and more people came and everyone kept busy. The adults got to visit and the children played. Old acquaintances were renewed and new friends were made.
There were short bursts of rain throughout the afternoon, but that did not dampen play. In fact, when it would rain, the adults retreated under the eaves of the school and the children kept right on creating, usually fabricating little shelters from the rain.
At the end, there was a little talking to the group about us and we got to thank the families for all they had given us over the years.
As I drove home from the event, I could not stop smiling. I was ecstatic; I was floating on air. Ostensibly the families had come to celebrate our retirement. In actuality they came to celebrate a community; a community of families they had helped build over the years that respects children and their rights, that respects others and are not so quick to judge; a community that knows how to build community and will carry on.
We had well over 400 people who came and went throughout the afternoon. Sadly, I did not even get to talk to everyone who came. So let me now say to all of you: thank you for a splendid party. It was a superb sendoff.
P. S. I need to send a special thank you to Seniz and Damian from Twin City Adventure Play for creating the framework for our community to pull off this event. I hope others come to see the value in your work and guidance.
I also need to give a special thank you to the planning committee who spent many hours planning the event not really knowing what would happen but having the faith and conviction to make it happen. Thank you Nora, Vanessa, Anne, Brianna, Becca, Ella, and Dawn. You throw a great party!