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.