Child Play

August 15, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Sand Castles

Observing the behaviors of children when as many as a dozen may be working with me on sand castles, I see that their ages, gender and disposition all influence how they participate in the project.  For example, some are inclined to concentrate on infrastructure, spending their time digging holes.  Others focus on the building of towers.  There are the artists and there are the engineers.

There are boys fascinated by the havoc caused when the ocean is allowed to enter the project through a channel.  They watch closely as walls erode and towers fall.  Often they have a narrative, spoken out loud, that involves a civilization, with all pitching in to prevent imminent catastrophe.

Some children surround themselves by the century they’re in.  Their hands are bulldozers, moving earth to make room for the hand-like cranes.  Other kids observe towers erected in the Middle Ages, and their hands and fingers are carriages moving up and down the slopes.  To some, usually girls, the sand castles are the homes for fairies.  The scale is normal; the inhabitants are small.

A dedication to dark places seems to be characteristic of certain kids.  They dig deep into foundations beneath the towers to create places for imaginary people to live.  Fascinated by tunnels, they look for opportunities to create connections beneath the earth, places where more than one doorway will lead to the center.

A few are spellbound by craft.  They want to know how the towers are made and practice hand positions to achieve the various fashions so that sand will reproduce a fairy gothic spire.  Often their hands are so small that they can’t haul as much dripping sand as they would like to haul so that they can reproduce what is in their imagination.  I’ve watched children concentrating for hours on perfecting their technique.

There are the natural leaders, usually girls, exercising a variety of techniques to berate and cajole peers into cooperating with a larger agenda.  Girls tend to exhibit more variety and patience in the ways that they guide the behavior of their contemporaries.  Bossy boys, tired of being ignored, resign from positions of authority and become independent contractors.

Some children are enchanted by the juxtaposition of found objects on the beach and their integration into the structure taking shape.  Leaves become awnings, sticks doorways and smooth glass shards become windows.

The visionaries are looking at the project and seeing what it will be like hours (centuries in sand castle time) in the future.  These kids usually engage in digging channels and heaping up the sand to create mountains that future castles will sit upon.  These kids often don’t talk for long periods of time as they concentrate on getting the present to line up with the picture in their head.

For some kids, it’s about the commotion, the conversations and the society of children growing up around the project.  These kids learn everybody’s name, and their sister and brother’s names, and where they come from, how long they’re there.  They want to know what everybody had for lunch.

Often the little ones don’t know what to do as they observe the other children playing.  Some are not talking yet.  They run back and forth between the ocean and the channels with buckets filled with water, raising water tables and causing walls to cave in.  Boy toddlers, the bane of castle builders everywhere, look for opportunities to destroy.  If they don’t have an older sister involved in the enterprise, they leave a trail of children wailing in frustration and dismay.

I enjoy the attention we receive from people walking along the shoreline.  We do good work, and I can accept their commendations.  As satisfying as it is to play, to build and to feel appreciated by the vacationers examining our inventions, I experience joy by being surrounded by children making something truly unique, a spontaneous, creative community of peers.


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