One of the greatest experiences of working with schools is having a front row seat in seeing how children create when given open ended possibilities. I've been following Wesley Prep in Dallas for over six years now, and we've been working together over the last year in transforming their 40 year old buildings into 21st century learning environments for a hands-on, child centered, project-based academic program. One play area for the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders is across campus over a footbridge in a clearing next to a natural creek. Students have dubbed this clearing "The Bamboo Forest"
The Bamboo Forest is an open ended play space. Here students gather bamboo, create villages, societies, barter systems, spaces, and ornament. Traditions are passed year-by-year from one group to the next, organically shifting as new students come and older students graduate.
A couple of weeks ago, after a project meeting, I went to the Bamboo Forest to see this year's creations. And was in awe of the complexity and sophistication of the creations.
The clearing by the creek was a village, populated with a half-dozen bamboo structures, each with its own structural concept, each the creation of a team of builders (space builders, town builders, idea builders). One in particular stood out--a large structure that began as a defined space under the canopy of four mature trees. The tree trunks were linked together by bamboo walls, and bamboo ceilings further defined the spaces inside the structure. Stepping inside, the space was subdivided into four rooms: I imagined a foyer, ante room, and two private areas. The spaces were organic, like a transparent Richard Serra sculpture.
Then another layer of information had been added. Some walls had rails with pine cones dotting the structure, and others were woven with found materials: shimmering tape from a cassette reel, colorful plastic bags, ribbons and twine.
It's really informative to see HOW children create when given the opportunity to think outside of traditional boundaries. So often creative work in schools is defined by a 18" x 24" sheet of paper, a 4' x 6' bulletin board, or a letter sized ruled pad. Here students have a clearing, a forest with bamboo, and with the purity of a bird building a nest and the elegance of a spider spinning a web, the thinkers at Wesley Prep navigate NEW and BIG frontiers. With three years of the Bamboo Forest experience, I'll be interested in seeing what frontiers will challenge and excite the graduates of Wesley Prep.