Academic journal article Childhood Education

Fire Makers, Barnyards, and Prickly Forests: A Preschool Stroll around the Block

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Fire Makers, Barnyards, and Prickly Forests: A Preschool Stroll around the Block

Article excerpt

It's a cold January day and the remnants of last week's snowstorm are still clumped on the ground, piled into mini-mountains scraped up by the city's vigilant snowplows. I stand in the hallway, surrounded by a motley crew of over-bundled small figures. It has taken the better part of half an hour to get them ready to go outside, and we race around to gather up the final accessories of their winter ensembles. Small faces peek out from under stocking caps. The adults struggle to guide each child's fingers into the appropriate spot in the glove, wondering why the parents didn't send mittens for their 3-year-olds. The kids hop up and down in anticipation, beginning to sweat in their winter garb as they wait in the overheated school building. With one last twist of a scarf, I rise in triumph. "OK, preschoolies!" I call to them, "Let's go outside!"


The class troops out, a brigade of tiny snowmen waddling along in their puffy snowsuits, followed by their teachers, who are grabbing their own coats and jamming on hats. Cold weather or not, it is outdoor time, and we will not be deterred. The sliding-glass doors swish open and a blast of cold air fills the room. "Find a hand!" I call out.

After the necessary negotiations regarding who is holding whose hand, we finally slink out of the building, five chains of small people with a towering adult at the center. We take deep breaths of the cold air, and begin yet another journey.

I can imagine what you are thinking. Why on earth were we taking these kids out in the cold, anyway? Wouldn't it have been better to stay inside that day? Wouldn't it have been easier to avoid the extended process of getting the kids all bundled up for the cold? I can see your point, l-he daily trips outside can be challenging, and living in Manhattan makes them even more complex. It seems there is no such thing as a simple stroll, or a quick trip outside; and the winter weather makes such excursions that much more complex. Yet, it is always worth it. In my nine years of teaching, I have discovered that a "quick trip outside" is never just a breath of flesh air or a quick jaunt around the playground. If we take the time to do it well, each walk becomes a journey--an adventure. Even the most familiar paths are filled with potential for new stories and unique creations. It is worth the time--worth the getting ready, the organizing, and the cold.

I would like to take you on a walk with me and my students. It is not a special walk; it is just an ordinary stroll, heading to an outdoor play area. It may seem odd, but there was a time when I did not know how to take a walk with my students.

There was a time when I had no idea what pace to set, what to talk about, or where to look. After many years of these walks through jungles of pavement, cars, and buildings to the park oases that dot our city, I have learned a lot about taking a walk with my students. I have learned that I can never predict the adventures that may follow, that I will always discover things that I have never seen before, and that the journey is always worth making. My students make and remake the map of the world that we share. I have only to bundle them up, find them some hands to hold, and lead them out the door. The rest of the story is one of their making.

Stop One: The Fire Makers

We wander out the door and stroll down 120th Street; almost immediately, we are stopped by drama unfolding on the street. We have learned not to hurry, and know this is a good corner. A new building is going up, and there is always lots to see.

"Look!" cries Justin, his eyes wide with amazement. We all look to see where he is pointing. A fountain of sparks flies into the air behind the confines of the building site. A hush falls over the class as they stop to watch in wonder. The rest of the group crosses the street to join us.

"Scoot over, guys! They didn't get to see yet! …

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