“Turtle,” yelled Esme as she stood with her toes nearly touching the water of Shoal Creek. Avi was standing next to her and held a long stick he was using to point to a rock near him. He yelled, “Right here -- a turtle! Come see!” Greta scampered down the limestone rocks she was sitting on, and William quickly put his sandwich to rest on his bento box as he hopped into the creek bed. The four children stood eagerly watching from a respectful distance as the turtle plopped into the water from his sunning rock. As I watched this scene unfold and the sun shone on us, I realized what a gift these children, and I, have.
At Long-View, we don’t have a lunch room. We don’t have a playground. We don’t have a jungle gym to climb on. We don’t have fences keeping us in. Instead of what you might typically see at a school during “lunch and recess,” we have something different. And it’s glorious!
Each day we bunch together and walk a short 8 minutes to Pease Park until we reach Custer’s Meadow. During this mid-day, hour-long break we sit outside, in the fresh air, and enjoy our lunches. Some of us group together at a long green, metal table under Custer’s Oak and others of us spread out and sit on the rocks under our favorite climbing tree by the Shoal Creek. Even others are dotted at the tables in the shaded grove nearby. Some children eat quickly and run off to play a game. Others linger behind, enjoying some extra time to eat and visit.
Behind me I hear Rory shout, “Government officials: Meet over here!” I turn to see a group of children gathering around Rory as he stood on the bench of a concrete table. “Interviews have begun and we are doing background checks to see what your security clearance will be.”
This was the first “meeting” in a play scenario that would become quite elaborate over the next days. I didn’t know it at the time, but in the coming weeks “rebel” forces would be formed and even “peacekeepers” would later appear. Taxes would be levied (in the form of “crystals,” which look to the untrained eye like small rocks), and new territories would be discovered.
Watching over all of these children, I am reminded of the work by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. His book reminds us that “Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health (and also, by the way, in our own).” Furthermore, Louv argues that “Playtime—especially unstructured, imaginative, exploratory play—is increasingly recognized as an essential component of wholesome child development.” I witness this daily and believe it wholeheartedly.
Pretty soon, I hear Avi yell down the creek, “Five minute warning.” This signals for the children to begin to collect their belongings and head to the meeting tree; once given, the signal is then echoed across the meadow and then Esme and William pass word down the the kids down at the creek. I pack up my lunch box and chat with Greta as she climbs back up the limestone rocks. I watch the children run ahead of me and I think of Tony Wagner's book Creating Innovators. In that particular book, Wagner describes the idea that childhood creative play ultimately leads to the development of deep interests. He makes the claim that in adolescence and adulthood these strong interests, in turn, lead to deeper purpose for career and life goals. In Tony Wagner's words, “Play, passion, and purpose: these are the forces that drive young innovators.” And young innovators are just what we are hoping to create at Long-View Micro School, not just through this unfettered time to explore, play, and create, but also strategically through our academic time between which lunch/park is sandwiched.
The wind blows and I smile. I see the other teachers walking from the tables where they spend this beautiful hour. Grayson runs up from behind me and takes my hand. Looking up at me with his wide hazel eyes he excitedly asks, “Mrs. Morgan, did you see that turtle?” I smile back and say, “I sure did.”
-Elizabeth Bayer Morgan