-6-foot lengths of plastic house gutter
-Tubes large enough to accommodate a tennis ball (the cardboard kind around which carpeting is rolled or our classroom butcher paper work well)
The idea is to prop the tubes and gutters up on stacks of blocks and roll the balls down them. For some kids this activity holds a seemingly endless fascination. It’s a construction project, a large motor activity, a science experiment, and an opportunity to develop social skills.
When the children arrive, they find the gutters and tubes arranged with various angles of slope, but it never takes long for at least one child to realize he can knock them down. Yesterday, Lachlan played the role of gutter knocker. He does most things with his emotions right on the surface and it was with evident joy that he tipped a gutter off its block tower. Jack, his basket of balls on the verge of being poured all at once into the trough, let out a decisive, “Hey, I was using that!” Lachlan was genuinely dismayed by the response, his brow furrowed in confusion. He helped Jack return the gutter to its perch, then watched Jack release one, two, three balls. It was then that his wrinkled brow smoothed as the Ah Hah! moment swept over him. When Lachlan released his first ball down the gutter, he bounced up and down excitedly until it reached the end of its run.
As the initial excitement of the set-up fades and children move on to other activities, room is opened up for our classroom builders to take over. Marcus worked very hard on extending the run of a single gutter by adding a series of cardboard tubes at the end. It was a construction project involving many micro-adjustments and multiple failed attempts to get a ball all the way to the end. When it finally worked, he said to me, “I built a machine,” then moved on the art table.
At one point, Finn V. and Dennis had the entire area to themselves. They set up a single length of gutter in the center of the floor and developed a circular game of releasing a ball, chasing it to the bottom, retrieving it, the circling back to the top to release it again. They were having a grand old time of it, running inside (which is still a permissible indoor activity this early in the school year) while beaming into one another’s faces.
Later, Jack, Anjali and Ella developed their own more elaborate circle game in which the gutters were arranged so that they were sending and resending balls to one another. They had fun going faster and faster, enjoying the thrill of speed without running.
Maneuvering those long gutters and tubes without knocking into a friend’s head is one of our biggest challenges, which is why it’s good there is always at least one watchful adult in the area to remind the children of the existence of others (it’s an easy thing to forget at any age when your in the middle of having fun).
The project ends with Clean-Up Time, which as I’ve mentioned before, is the most important part of our curriculum. This is particularly challenging because we expect the children to carry those long gutters and tubes across the classroom, past the sensory table, through a doorway and into a narrow hallway where I’m waiting to put them away. Anjali brought one length of gutter all by herself. Marcus brought me one on top of his head. Sarah, Annabelle and Lachlan carried one together. Annabelle then returned carrying 5 smaller tubes in one load. Ariya followed her with a single tube.
It was a good day of gutters, tubes and balls.