As I begin my long summer break I have once again turned to friends across the globe to contribute guest posts to keep the Outdoor Play Party going over the next 8 weeks.
This first guest post is from the incredible Lesley Romanoff, Director over at Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School. Over a few weeks in June & July her wonderful school opens its doors to accommodate summer Tink camps & I have loved following their adventures over the past few years - from the Fairy/Batman wall to the Insect Hotel, to the cardboard city & plastic bottle flowers - their creative flair never ceases to amaze me. But most importantly, the Tink camps allow children to just be, there is no pressure to perform certain tasks or produce end results, those lucky enough to take part are allowed to enjoy playing.
Embracing The Nothingness
On the third day of our camp, one of the 5-year olds asked me, with all the seriousness that one of the will bring to a question, “Lesley,” –and then in almost a whisper— “Do you know where the stink is?”
It made me smile, because for three days the had been enjoying three days of extended school/play. Our camp is for mixed ages 5 through 11, though I keep sneaking it up, next year it will probably have to include 12-year olds. We have 18 children. They roam and rove, though we do have a planning meeting each day. This gives us a chance to check in with each other and share ideas and projects. Many of the children have gone to our school, others join us each year just for the camps, and we have a handful of children altogether new to the experience each session.
For this session, all the younger set attending camp had gone to our school. They seemed to just be happy to develop story lines that felt familiar. If you asked them what they were doing, they would have told you they were playing “family” and they had inserted a danger set called “Jewel Battle.” They had different home locations and at intervals, they would suddenly have to give chase to catch a jewel thief or run to a new home.
By the third day, the hole we had mapped out for where the stink had been buried had gotten so big that their running feet had to navigate around it, over it, or through it. Maybe that is the way the stink caught their attention, or maybe it was at our meeting that day, when we talked about the stink and how we hadn’t found it.
Rewind a bit, two of the older children, sisters, arrived on Monday with a “yes-hello-let’s-dig-up-the-stink-pot.” Their mother had told me that they had talked of nothing else all school year. They had been part of the group that planted the pot. The stink pot is/was a stock pot that they had filled with leaves, mushrooms, clay, and mud. It really did smell awful.
The stink had become something big and unknown. The 5-year old described something that snuck around like a monster. Others thought it might be a dinosaur. Why else would you continue to dig such a giant hole? Surely this Stink Pot was something we should probably stop looking for in case we found it.
The story of the search had taken hold of all of us. A parent brought in a metal detector and then later an even fancier detector. Parents had a hard time leaving each morning. Would this be the day? The probably thought a beast would burst out at any minute and the older children simply became more determined. We scoured the photo library and printed out photos to try to triangulate the spot. Little did we know that we did not dig far enough into the photo library first. On Wednesday, after camp, I found a photograph of a map one of the children had drawn. This led me to a second set of photos and even a video of them burying the stink pot.
We relocated the dig and found it in minutes. Just like that.
There would be no den building, no fairy houses, no nails and hammers as our advertising for Tink Camp touted. We had to find the stink. The children voted to rename the camp Stink at the Cooperative School, but oh the branding, children, what about the branding? We did have an excellent idea and certainly around our next campfire, we would tell tales of searching for the giant Stink Pot monster.
We say that Tink is “all about the ideas” because mainly we want to embrace the pursuit of nothingness. In adult terms, it is like the Seinfeld of Summer Camps. It is a camp about nothing, but in that, it is about everything. And it is the perfect way to spend a bite-sized set of Summer Days.
Summer should be . . .
Nothing. And in the nothing is everything
For more information about why this is, please see Why Free Play Is the Best Summer School by Jessica in The Atlantic, June 20 2014.