School Snippets: Snow Fort Currency

Friday was a fun day: the last day of school before Christmas holidays. Treats out the wazoo, everybody in a good mood, movies in the gym for the kids (N.B. though: Santa Paws is too scary for kindergartners – the the evil foster mom with the incinerator freaked them out), and no expectations for the kids to get work done. And presents!

I’ve noticed a trend over my years of teaching. There’s something about the “last day” mentality that gives kids the freedom to hug you. I mean, some kids are regular huggers – my Grade 1 girls used to hug me daily – but older kids, and especially boys, don’t have this facility with hugging. Sometimes, it’s like they’ve waited all year to give you a hug, and finally decide it’s okay when they can attach “Merry Christmas” to it. Of course, I love hugs, but teachers are not supposed to initiate hugs with students, so you just have to wait for ’em.

That day I was startled and tickled pink to be hugged by lots of boys – including some of the cool Grade 6 ones, and some of my most behaviourally undiscerning (and therefore most-scolded) Grade 2s. I can’t help wondering what happens in their minds, what inspires this affection from, for example, the kid I scold just about every period I see him because he’s usually doing the opposite of what he’s supposed to. Underneath it all, does he enjoy our teacher-student relationship? Because I don’t think he’s quite savvy enough to know that this would be an effective way to butter me up.

The most interesting thing I learned on the last day of school was the workings of snow fort currency. At my school, we have a tiny yard to play in, compared to most schools in Ontario. The school is a 90-year-old building in the middle of the city, and although we have a beautiful park across the road for track and field day and so on, the kids are bound to the schoolyard for recess. There are presently 5 portables in it as well, so very limited possibilities for play. In winter, snow forts rule the recess.

When I started working at this school, I found out as soon as it got snowy that hard chunks of snow (the kind made by snow-plow piles as they crumble) are major assets to any group of kids, as they are the bricks of snow forts. There was major drama if someone stole “blocks” from someone else’s fort.

I think it was two years ago that “crystals” first appeared. (I don’t know if this is standard at other schools, but it was the first I’d seen.) These were chunks of snow that kids dyed pretty shades using food colouring. It wasn’t long before kids were fabricating crystals using the technology of their own kitchens, in order to bring them to school. By now, they’re a very big deal; so big, in fact, that we have had school-wide announcements to remind students not to bring their baggies of crystals into the school after recess, because they become multicoloured puddles. (The urge to do this stems from the fact that anyone could steal your crystals if you leave them outside.)

On my Friday morning supervision duty, I came upon some Grade 4s and 5s with actual coolers brought from home, to keep their crystals from melting over the school day. One proudly showed me his latest (a lavender one, bigger than this two hands) and made me smell it – peppermint-flavoured. It was hard-core.

I decided to clarify the process by asking some Grade 6 girls who were busily extracting from their ice cube trays gorgeous heart- and star-shaped crystals in hues of red and purple and orange. Here’s what I found out:

  • The crystals are used as currency. You can buy blocks with them, to build your fort.
  • Big crystals are worth more than small ones, shape notwithstanding. (I didn’t ask, but I’m sure a heart-shaped one is worth more than a cube-shaped one.)
  • A big crystal will buy you “a bunch” of big blocks.
  • Some kids make vanilla-flavoured crystals too.
  • If you don’t have a cooler at your disposal, you bury your crystals within the walls of your fort as loss prevention. This can be problematic, since they often freeze right in and you then have to chip them out… but these kids don’t lack dedication.

Fascinating stuff, n’est-ce pas? I think it speaks volumes about our society.

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4 thoughts on “School Snippets: Snow Fort Currency

  1. Fascinating. I can recall the brisk marble-economy that sprang up in grade 7, but the tokens weren’t our own creations; they had to be abstracted from the adult economy, by means of adult currency.

  2. emerge says:

    *WOW.* That is the coolest thing ever (literally). So this trend is not new, eh? So you get initiated your first winter in school and can develop over successive winters? What I love is that there’s such intensity associated with a craft that is going to MELT on you given the chance, and that its very existence totally depends on the whims of the weather.

    Some questions though – once you’ve bartered some blocks for a really pretty crystal, what then do you do with the crystal? Do you display it in your fort? Do you take it home and put it in your freezer? What is its inherent value, outside of currency? Do blocks themselves get turned into crystals?

    And what is the protocol regarding the forts – does everyone know whose is whose and they just never touch one that isn’t their territory, or is it every kid for himself, or is it dependent on vigilance and defensive/agressive measures? Do the blocks become yours once you’ve added them to your fort, or do you keep them somewhere in order to trade?

    Is there any system of hierarchy when it comes to forts? Do people with the biggest forts have a higher social standing? Do they play in each other’s forts? Is it like Settlers of Victory? (which, btw, is a way awesome name.)

    This is so far advanced from anything I ever did in school. Though we had a pretty big field to play in at Dundana, so I guess it wouldn’t have been quite the same. We had cliques, but no pretty snow crafts.

  3. Krista says:

    We have snow fort block drama on our yard (which I must admit I usually try to solve with “no one owns the snow”…. btw that does not actually work) but I’ve never heard of the crystals. I’m intrigued! Our kids have a currency system for the non-snowy weather. They set up “stores” (usually one of the big rocks or logs in our woodland garden) and trade pebbles, stones, sticks and other pieces of nature. I’m not sure what they get for what, but they are very involved and seem to be having a good time.

  4. must second all the questions from emerge. Corollary to the hierarchy question: is anyone who wants to be a part of the snow-fort society ever left out? are there exclusions and cliques and losers?

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