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Fairy Houses, Sandboxes, and Freedom
  • Community
  • Play
Sophie Seehausen

When people learn that students of The Saint Constantine School are allowed a generous measure of free play, with newborns through Upper School Seniors out together in field and garden, I wonder whether they imagine a Lord of the Flies scenario emerging. But from my vantage point, standing by the TSCS sandbox four days a week for the past year, most days are Swallows and Amazons, with not even a hint of Lord of the Flies. Arthur Ransome’s story perfectly encapsulates the nature of children left to form their own hierarchies, away from the tyrannies (though not the supervision) of adults.

In Swallows and Amazons, the four Walker children have received permission to camp on an island of the Lake District under the direction of Captain John (the eldest) and First Mate Susan. They organize themselves beautifully. The children aren’t without squabbles or mishaps, but they work them out on their own. Of course, “there’s got to be a war”—but a war with rules, regulations, and stipulations that no one’s boat will be scuttled for real.

This is the type of scenario I see play out on the daily. Children rush from one side of the playground to the other, capturing first the gazebo, then the hill. Three year-olds debate about who has rights over the table before concluding, usually on their own, that probably they can share and all build together. Fairy house villages are built with care by Kindergarteners, while older students respectfully run around instead of through. Sixth grade girls claim the treehouse and tauntingly sing songs in Greek at anyone who dares encroach upon their “territory.” (This was my proudest moment as a Classics teacher.) On our recent Grandparents’ Day, a group of Upper School Juniors and Seniors sat in the sandbox amongst the school’s tiniest children, offering them tips and tricks for digging the best and biggest hole. Inspired, third graders came to help, and claimed the joys of digging the finest hole we had seen all year.  

Like the mother from Swallows and Amazons, I almost never say a word. Quietly, I keep watch from my own Holly Howe (my tree), ready to intervene should anyone think that perhaps, just for a moment, they should break the rules of engagement to act like a real pirate. Usually, I just delight in watching the fifth grade girls play house with Pre-K3 students as their babies; mulberry-stained Kindergartners carefully arrange bridges from fairy island to fairy island; and students of various ages roll down hills, screaming gleefully with a freedom that seems increasingly rare.

When it starts to hit 90 degrees outside next week and I start to wonder why I left Colorado, I’ll head to the sandbox and remind myself: there is no place quite like The Saint Constantine School, and there’s especially no place quite like our sandbox.