Unpacking the Stump Project


Teacher Isaac recently wrote to his families:
Some of you might have noticed the digging project that the kindergarteners began, several weeks ago, around the roots of the old Douglas Fir stump on the play yard. The project grew from a simple question, "I wonder if we could tunnel under that root?" "Hmm... I wonder..." was the reply. The curiosity was contagious and the picks and shovels have been busy ever since.

Now, I'll be the first to acknowledge my own enthusiasm for the project. I too wonder what might lie buried below. (In fact, I forget who posed the original question, and suspect that it could have come from me.) Fortunately for big projects such as this, enthusiasm is contagious and the children will come and go throughout the course of any morning. Some will jump into the holes and move the earth right alongside me. Others will help push and pull a wagonload of dirt from here to there. Still others come to step and leap from root to root, observing the progress and creating their own imaginations.

However, once the work is underway, I like to take a step back and spend a moment observing (with wonder) the many layers of work going on around me.

The children moving the earth with shovels and hands are meeting a variety of resistances as they tunnel through dirt, sand, rock and clay. Their developing proprioceptive system is being stimulated and strengthened with every scoop. Others crawl beneath roots and squeeze through narrow openings. The nerve endings concentrated in the joints receive input from these gross motor activities (like shoveling, pushing, pulling, carrying heavy objects, etc...) that gradually builds an internal map of one's body in space. They are discovering themselves by coming up against the earth.

I see that some of the children try to avoid touching the mud or dirt or sand with their bare hands. I make note that they may be more touch sensitive than their peers, and I try to find opportunities to introduce new sensory input to these children and encourage them to play in a way to help them integrate this developing sense.

The children who are balancing on the latticework of exposed roots are strengthening their core muscles as they work to stay upright, as well as working the vestibular system of the inner ear. Others are hanging upside down or reclining in a hollow. As the fluid of the inner ear sloshes back and forth with the movement of the head (especially upside down!), there is again the gradual inner mapping of the spatial planes and the body's relationship with them (front, back, side to side, up and down). Having these activities available for the young child is important for their developing sense of balance and sense of movement.

Of course, the children care nothing for such adult talk. They instead are pirates, ninjas, otters, cats, birds, princesses and knights. They are making homes and forming relationships and discovering more mystery in the ordinary than we could ever imagine.

Together, the children and I, vigilantly watch each shovelful of dirt and rock for unearthed treasure. We wonder how deep we can dig, how much earth we can move, and if anyone will fit between the roots we have exposed. The fun is in the wondering of the question and in the application of the will to try to answer that question.

With enthusiasm,

What began as a Salmonberry kindergarten project, has captured the imaginations and will of children of all ages!