After summer camp ended, we had two weeks to turn our school from summer camp and last year’s mess into a functional space that would support the needs of all the people in our Brightworks community, starting with the kids, of course. What followed was a whirlwind of moving, building, dumping, changing, and cleaning, that resulted – to everyone’s shock, amazement, and delight – in a gorgeous school that greeted returning and new students this morning, the first day of our second year.

The transformation has been a little mind-blowing and I wanted to share a brief photo timeline of the work we have done to make this place anew.

We started with a drawing from Gever’s notebook for new band spaces:


With four collaborators this year and thirty-two students starting, we needed several things from these spaces: focus, good workspace, cozy spots for curling up, storage, and the ability to display student work and collaborate on big paper. The answer, of course, was very Brightworks-obvious: treehouses! With tall rafters and 9,000 square feet to work with in our warehouse-school, each band’s treehouse would be two stories tall with walls that enclosed three sides on top and two on the bottom to provide that focus that is so hard to come by in an echoing warehouse and would be small enough to let each band of eight kids cozy up and use smaller spaces to come together, have conversations, and keep everyone in the same spot.

We began intense construction in the third week of August. Our friend and previous artist-in-residence Brian was the most fantastic foreman we could have ever asked for in the building process, and we met three other incredible builders – Schuyler, Todd and Brett – who put in long hours to get things done. The first steps included dump runs and purging unneeded materials from the space, piling up furniture, and trying to be strategic about what was put back first.




Things always get messier before they get clean. By the end of our staff orientation week, we had to plow through the materials and furniture that had oozed out of the space and onto the main floor.


Two band spaces up by Friday, and the third and fourth on their way.



Saturday night’s progress.


More things in the “Done” column of the To-Do board than in the “To-Do” columns, which was a good sign all week.



Moving the Artist-in-Residence box to its proper place on Sunday.




The cork floor was free of furniture by Sunday afternoon.


As was the center of the school.


Unfortunately we were a little further from being done…







But by the time ten o’clock rolled around and our cleaners had come, mopped twice, and gone, and we had cleared up as much of the clutter and unpresentable mess of garbage and unused materials behind a couple temporary walls (shh!), the school looked like this:


Ready and waiting to be occupied this morning – for the first day of school of our second year at Brightworks.

Construction Camp Week 9

We built a roller-coaster-train-cart and tracks with the 5-7 year olds and a arbor-fort-textile-sanctuary with the 7-14 year olds this week. We had a blast, we worked hard, we played hard and we focused. The highlight of the week for me was the peered teamwork. There was tons of it across all ages. The work ahead of starting up the school year keeps me from saying to much but there are a few good photos over at our flickr.



Check them out here.

Construction Camp – Swing and Tunnels

In just one short week we created take-home anywhere swings that can be thrown over any tree, a group swing that held 8 people, and an enclosed tunnel/maze with two tiers. Make make make.

Some of the multi-age play moments at the park and on our cork floor where among the most lovely and self-sustaining of any group games of the summer.

Catch more photos over on our flickr.









Construction Camp, Day 5

The 5th and final day of camp. We didn’t touch the ceiling and that’s ok. We built the tallest thing Brightworks has ever built, faced big fears, made new friends, and supported each other through some fantastic moments.

One of my favorite moments was when one of the older groups where showing off their hideout over in Kid City. A line formed to climb the ladder and head in when one of the older kids who was hosting the tour said, “Hold on, I’ll come over to make sure kids don’t fall.” A tiny gesture with so much meaning wrapped up in it. Conscious of others, conscious of the limits of their creation, conscious of the abilities of others.

Anna, our most amazing volunteer, helped build a cardboard house.



Our first attempt to raise the new tall tower failed. It was too heavy, we didn’t have a pulley system in place and we couldn’t figure out how to get the base to slide backwards once the top was limited by our rafters.


All hands!


The older kids showed off their hideout.


And their sweet digs.


Off too the park, where some kids flew!


Attempt two was much more interesting and well thought out. We had 4 teams. Lifting team, Foot team, Rope team 1 and Rope team 2. Lifting team would lift the beam with their brute force, Foot team would keep the whole thing from sliding away and Rope team 1 would pull on our rafter-based pulley system (a rope over our rafters) to help the Lifters. Once the the tower was high enough, Rope team 2 went in, grabbed a rope that was tied to the base and pulled the base under the top. It took almost every member of camp to accomplish.



As usual, we ended the day and the week with a circle, highlights and thanks.



Construction Camp, Day 3

Today was another beautiful day at Brightworks Summer Camp. Day 3 and we are finding the edge of our bravery, the depths of our kindness, and the improvement of our skills.

The day started with a lovely surprise from Isaac and his father: plums from the tree at their house. They were so red that they looked more like big cherry tomatoes, but one bite was all the convincing you needed to know that these were sweet delicious plums with just the right hint of tart.



We built more and learned about how to drill holes.


We chopped more.


I got more photos from 3 feet lower.




Our base took shape!



It got very strong.


Drawing and math are a strangely spontaneous occurrence here.


The kids took our new game “Fire in the forest” very seriously.


I took park time today to re-experiment with the powerful and empowering tool of narration. The kids clamored “Josh! Push us!” as they spun them selves on the local merry-go-round. Instead of responding, I hopped on for a ride and said,

“I see Tessa pushing. I see Cayden hanging of the edge. I see Milo dangling…”

And so on, name after name of every person in the group and exactly what they were doing over and over again. The kids (and any group of kids I have ever known) respond to this incredibly well. It seems to do two very important things. It lets them know they are known and seen, and it makes their life a story. They exaggerate, they play, and the group always grows. Slowly but surely half the camp gathered to have their story told. It was never fancy, I didn’t use funny words or a big voice, I just narrated what I saw and was excited about it. I got this idea from Teacher Tom. He is one of my favorite teachers in the world. He does narrative play very well.


Today was also a day of fear, bravery and kindness. Kids who where unafraid to admit they where afraid. Kids who faced their fears head on. Kids who faced their fears with a little support from a friend. Kids who were wonderfully gracious when something they found easy was nearly impossible for another. There was one moment where Cayden just simply could not bring himself to jump from a high height at the park. Jaewon jumped off and said to Cayden, “I know it looks easy for me, but it really is scary. Don’t worry if you can’t do it”.

Milo wanted to jump off a wall.


He did, with a little help.


The older kids are building a giant cube, and a new house in kid city. Projects they picked and created. I am excited to see how far they get.