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From imaginative play to scientific investigations

From imaginative play to scientific investigations

Several months ago we started to read Colin Meloy's novel Wildwood in Opal 3. This story, which uses the backdrop of Portland and its famed Forest Park to weave a story of adventure and fantasy, is the tale of a girl and her classmate on a quest into the Impassable Wilderness to find her baby brother who was taken by a murder of crows. The story fits perfectly into the larger investigations we have been doing this year around ideas and feelings of "Lost", "Wild" and "Quest". It's a story that ventures into all that real and metaphorical territory.

Building off previous experiences of dramatic play in the Arboretum we invited students to play the game of "Wildwood" in the meadow and trees just outside the doors of the classroom. We were curious if their play would awaken deeper curiosities about the book and free them up to think more about the wild that is so clearly represented in the story. As a class we had spoken of the feelings of wild but we wondered if their imagination might take them there even when they were in earshot of a major highway and in view of the large parking lot for the museum, zoo and forestry center.

With no guidelines other than a map from the book and some established boundaries within the play area itself, I invited them to play the game.

S: I'll hold the map. We need to figure out where the South Wood is.

M: It should be over there on the other side of the path in the bushes there and along the fence.

S: The North Wood should be up there, up on the hill.

A: I'm going to be a bandit.

D: Me too.

I: We need girl bandits too. We'll be a different group.

S: Who's going to be Prue? (The main character of the story).

As the six girls of the group began to plan out the details of who would be what character and what part of the Lower Meadow would correspond to places in the story, all six boys raced toward the tree line and began collecting sticks to build forts.

Looking at the map to determine where to build the bandit camp.


Within just ten minutes all 12 kids had claimed a role for themselves from the story. While most of the boys chose roles as non-primary characters (they were either bandits or coyotes), many of the girls began to take on the main characters of the story.

N: I'm the Governess. Not the Dowager Governess or the Governor Regent but the Governess because this is Pittock Mansion. Since I'm a girl I need to be the Governess.

V: And I'm a bunny. I'm her servant.

C: And I'm Prue. We're building Prue's room in the Pittock Mansion.

Just as the boys had rushed off to build forts, once the girls had determined their roles in the story they too began to build with the materials at hand, mostly sticks, branches, small logs, fir boughs and leaves.

Prue's Room located in the Pittock Mansion

While the weather was cold and damp, this small group worked with bare hands for close to an hour collecting and trading materials and constructing several small structures. When my hands could barely hold a pen and the cold had caused me to begin to shiver, I said it was time to go in. All twelve collectively pleaded for more time.

As we headed back into the classroom and we reflected on ways to bring the game to the rest of the class, I began to wonder how we might invite this passion and joy for building into the classroom. I also began to wonder how I might provide some experiences indoors that would enhance their abilities and understandings of structures so their "forts" could stand the tests of time in a public place. With the wintry weather not always making it easy to play this way outside, how could I tap their creative interest in this kind of work indoors? I knew that I also wanted to provide them with more opportunities to explore scientific and experimental work. The exploration of structure and building might just open up that door.

The video below is the reflection of the first steps into the questions I have. I tossed them the ball of the Marshmallow Challenge to see if we might be able to bring the exploration of building and structure inside without losing the joy, passion and excitement they had when playing the game of Wildwood. I'm excited to see how they throw the ball back and how we continue to weave this work into the larger exploration of Lost, Quest and Wild.