If you build it….

In one of my favorite movies of all time, Farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice in his corn field, “If you build it, he will come.” Risking financial ruin he mows down his crop and builds a ballpark. Not only does the mythical “he” show up, but the people come too. As James Earl Jones (playing Terence Mann) intones, ” They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past.”

And so, too, every year, we build “it”. No, not a baseball park, but a giant fort, spread out over half my library, a topsy-turvy construction of old bedsheets, tablecloths, and fabric remnants. Held together with library tape (it’s quite strong!), clothespins and safety pins and piles of heavy books. (Thank goodness, I still have my World Book encyclopedias!) Supported by tables, chairs, dowels, bookshelves and a jumprope rack I borrow from our phys. ed. teacher each year. My fifth grade architects and engineers, in a whirlwind of activity, take the raw materials and concoct a Seussian edifice in less than a half hour. It’s sturdy enough to survive a week’s worth of class visits, 300 students strong.

This tent-fort is a gift to my students as the year winds to a close. It’s a reminder that summer looms ahead, ripe with opportunity to use their imaginations. During tent week, we don’t just occupy the space and read a story or two; we brainstorm possible uses for it. For some students it’s a castle, for others a spaceship, a few imagine the Titanic. Then again, maybe it is just a place to cozy up in and read, flashlight in hand. There will be no cries of “I’m bored” this summer from my students if I can help it.

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