Friday, March 11, 2011

not allowed

On Tuesday it was nice and bright, not too windy--the perfect day for 1st grade geographers to go out on the playground, well away from the portable classrooms, in search of natural features and human-made features. After they completed their labelled sketches, I allowed them to play for a while, and encouraged them to play among the natural features--trees, stumps, raspberry canes, bushes, vines, tall dead grass--at the edge of the woodchipped playground and sports field, which was dotted with large muddy puddles. It took them some minutes to realize that there was fun to be had away from the "mungke bars," but soon they figured out quite a few things to do. One of my more reticent English learners provided the rhythmic backdrop to the group effort.

wood work

hup! hup! hup! hup!
one twig two twigs
three twigs four
throw them down and pick up sticks
hup! hup! hup! hup!
big stick bigger stick
bigger stick branch
help me carry this big long branch
hup! hup! hup! hup!
I got it I got it
we got it we’re strong
hup two three four carry this log

chuck ‘em down stack ‘em up
sticks and twigs
chuck ‘em down stack ‘em up
branches logs
hup! hup! hup! hup!
build a bridge across this bog
build a bonfire pile of wood
we did this work we did it good

~Heidi Mordhorst 2011
all rights reserved

Later I discovered that a) despite the calculated distance, this important work disturbed all the 3rd and 4th graders in the portables who were taking their high-stakes state assessments and b) practically everything I let them do is not allowed at recess. Posting the photos I took of the kids working cooperatively to carry 15-foot limbs and lay them across the boggy spot on the field is also not here's a stock photo instead, which does not nearly capture the joy of this half-hour.

From Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods:
"Countless communities have virtually outlawed unstructured outdoor nature play, often because of the threat of lawsuits, but also because of a growing obsession with order."

From Playing for Keeps by Deborah Meier, Brenda S. Engel, Beth Taylor:
"Leaving no time or space in education for children’s [creative] “playful” efforts to make sense of the world risks the future not only of poetry and science but also of our political liberties. The habits of playfulness in early life are the essential foundations upon which we can build a K–12 education that would foster, nourish, and sustain the apparent “absurdity” of democracy."

I wish you a playful day, and I'll see you over at Liz in Ink for the Poetry Friday Roundup.


  1. Wonderful poem, Heidi, had fun marching right through every line.

    The "obsession with order" is quite disheartening. Nice to hear you sanctioned some important outdoor nature play time with your students. :)

  2. I much sympathy for the 3rd graders taking high-stakes assessments. I have one of my own. He is taking the whole thing very seriously and has requested eggs for breakfast all week because they are brain food. That said, what craziness we are engaged in play in nature is not allowed at recess? I think the twig brigade had a very good experience. THey learned much about cooperation and physics and biology. I consider that valuable information.

  3. It sounds like a fabulous recess!! Long live the the free stick brigade! I love reading your poem out loud and channeling that joy.

  4. It's your birthday? Happy Birthday, Heidi! Our birthdays are only five days apart. Hope you have a playful year.

  5. I'm just giggling to myself at the a) and b) endings to your story. We are sisters in accidental subversion and disruption. It's a long story, but I, too, disrupted a neighboring class during testing one year, and I, too, have utilized (against all/ignoring all "rules") the woods and wildness at the edge of the playground for play and learning. HUZZAH for play and learning!!!

  6. First, Happy Birthday! (I think the comment I attempted to leave yesterday got swallowed in cyberspace.) Love your poem. LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS is part of the reason I posted a series of interviews with nonfiction nature writer friends on my blog last month. This month I'm doing a nature walk/poetry workshop with fourth graders - wish us luck! :0)

  7. I just listened to two women in my handbell choir discuss education -- one works in a preschool after-care program, the other is a grandmother who was complaining that her granddaughter isn't "doing" anything in preschool: they just play. She's not even learning her letters or addition tables. She is 3. The aftercare woman agreed they should look for a "better" program. I could not contain myself and chimed in about the importance of play. They humored me.


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