Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tree Blocks



A couple weekends ago, I found myself alone at home with my miter saw, several hemlock branches, and a few hours of free time, so I thought I'd clean-up the yard while doing something useful for the school.

I've seen a lot of posts about playing with tree parts of various sizes around the internet, but was most immediately inspired by this post over at Childhood Magic. And believe me, I've had my jig saw at school for the last couple weeks, fully intending to break it out for the kids to experience, but in this case I wanted to make enough of these "tree blocks" for an entire classroom fast and there is nothing like a miter saw for mass production.


The problem with the miter saw is that you're limited in terms of the diameter of what you can cut without disabling safety features, so I wound up with a variety of lengths, but not so much variety in girth. I cut some into 45 degree wedges, but I felt they needed something more.

In order to make these a little more interesting, I decided to try out the Dremel I received from my family for my birthday, but have yet to use.

Inspired by what Juliet is doing with stones over at I'm A Teacher, Get Me OUTSIDE Here!, I started with my A-B-C's.







Then I tried out some basic pictograph sort of things.



Then later at school, I asked the kids to draw me pictures and I tried quickly carving them out on the spot.





Now I think we have a pretty cool set of blocks, but the proof is in the playing. I've mentioned before that in a busy, action-packed classroom, sometimes it takes some fiddling around with how new things are presented to attract attention -- or as my friends at Irresistible Ideas For Play Based Learning would say, "make it irresistible." 

When I set them out in a large plastic box, I literally had no takers, so I switched them to this nice basket:



When I put them indoors, under our loft, they were fun to dump, but apparently little else.


They got a little more productive action when placed outdoors on our hard ground (after all, that's just asphalt under those wood chips). Here I combined them with long strips of tree bark, some small bits of scrap wood, and a few rocks from our cool collection.


But it wasn't until I moved them inside (just inside the open door) on a rug (although the floor is just as hard as the wood chip bestrewn asphalt), that they've really taken off. Here I combined them with our plastic bug collection.





My next step is to borrow a chain saw from someone in order to create some slices of greater diameter.


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17 comments:

Scott said...

Those look like a lot of fun. I could see lots of creative possibilities.

Lise said...

Lovely! I tried to make some tree blocks with my miter saw, but wasn't able to make them level, so I gave up and bought some. I find mine are used best when I set them beside a table. I love them combined with other natural "toys" like shells or pinecones, and the kids do, too--leads to lots of environments for toy animals.

Kelly said...

Love this so much! Wish you were my teacher!

Juliet Robertson said...

The wood cookies are amazing! Oh wow! You've just given me a summer project. Thanks!

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

Those are AWESOME Tom!!

Sherry and Donna said...

Oh my goodness Tom I LOVE that tool (yes i checked out the link ... and of course I now want one!) I also want one of those miter saws, I made our tree blocks using a hand saw and it was really hard, slow going. I think your blocks are totally irresistible and I'm so proud of you for presenting them in that basket ... totally irresistible Mr. Hobson!
Donna :) :)

Tash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CHILDHOOD MAGIC said...

This is awesome! I love the etched letters and pictures. I was thinking of doing this soon and making a memory game. How sweet that you presented them in a basket! Pretty soon you'll be draping your classroom in Playsilks!
Once again, I think you must be the best teacher, ever!

Kat said...

I love the idea of putting letters on these. I have a set in my classroom that are usually used to build houses for the fairies but I want a set of letter blocks for myself to spell out clever things!

Sue said...

Thanks Tom another great idea , thanks for taking the time to share

jenny said...

You really love that saw don't you Tom? These look amazing and I love the added twist of the letters and detailing. Can also relate with the trial and error of making things "irresistible" as our Melbourne friends would say.

Teacher Tom said...

@Jenny . . . When I first bought it for the purposes of converting a small bedroom into a walk-in closet for my wife, one of her friends said, "You are not longer married to a man. You are married to a man with a miter saw." =)

Michaele said...

Tactile magic at its best! Wonderful idea!

Centers and Circle Time said...

I want some!

Christie - Childhood 101 said...

We love our tree blocks. I love the way you have etched the letters and images, it certainly adds an extra dimension.

Wocket said...

these are beautiful. you could also do some great prints from them and learn about mirror images and then use mirrors to see the letters the right way around, talk about codes and Leonardo and his backwards writing.then move on to things that move backwards and, oh, I'm just getting carried away now.

Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings said...

Hey, inspired by this post and your other tree part experiments, my husband and I decided to make our own tree blocks for our girls this Christmas. Here's my post about them! Thanks for the idea!

http://www.chinacat.org/roller/sunfrog/entry/handmade_tree_blocks

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