Retired school principal brings the joys of outdoor play to three-year-olds

Ian Winter

Ian Winter 1947 –

A teacher and principal in Bruderhof schools for more than forty years, Ian is still active as a mentor to young teachers. But the best part of his job, he says, is “Threes afternoon.”

For fifteen years, the highlight of my week has been spending an afternoon with the three-year-olds at our community. Why? At this age the child, now beyond infancy, is full of curiosity, adventure, inquisitiveness for life – eager to put all this to use and find expression for it. If play is truly the noblest expression of what’s in a child, it should be encouraged!

My wife and I have developed a little area, “the Wood Island,” about half a mile from the classroom. We hike out there with Blaze, our miniature horse, pulling the sulky. They take turns to ride and love to help hold the reins. Once there, the kids love to play in the sandbox and on the climbing frame, slide, rope swing, and rope ladder, or draw water from a tiny well to make the water wheels turn. Sometimes we make popcorn over an open fire. There are rabbits to hold, and a tiny pool with goldfish. We always make time for a story, sometimes acted out.

In the fall, we do tracking. They can identify fox, deer, squirrel, and rabbit. Another thing we do is balancing: there’s this huge tree someone felled, which they learn to balance along and then jump off, by themselves, learning to be brave – overcoming fear. Or we drive down to the Hudson River and throw pebbles into the water and watch the barges going by – something big to expand their little horizons.

Best of all, we have a seesaw. Federal guidelines now outlaw seesaws in public playgrounds, but I think that’s wrong. What is a seesaw, except the beginning of physics? Plus, you learn to be considerate of the other person!

A story and popcorn made over the fire in the Wood Island

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