Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's Not A Failure, It's A Prototype

When Donna over at Irresistible Ideas For Play Based Learning posted about how much fun their kids have with their Wheelies, a toy I'd never before seen, you'll understand that I felt certain amount of professional envy the way I often do when someone has a toy I don't. Never mind that we don't really have a great spot for wheeled vehicle play, I still wanted one, but one check of the price tag left me feeling a little less enthusiastic.

My next thought, naturally, was to wonder if I could make one, followed quickly by wondering if the kids could make one. 

I have 4 pieces of wood that look like this:

They are the remnants of a square piece of plywood that I cut into a round table top a few years ago. Just a few days before Donna's post, a few of the children had discovered these oddly shaped pieces and had been running around with them pretending to be either riding motorcycles or piloting "Tie Fighters" (I think that's a Star Wars reference). Could we add wheels to these?

But before we did that, we had to do something about those pointy bits. There had been quite a few close calls between them and the eyes of younger children, so we started by using the jigsaw to round all the corners.

I drew the lines and helped the kids make the cuts. I'm just learning how to use the jigsaw with children and I'm not yet confident enough to turn the "helping" role over to another adult just yet, so there will be no photos of the kids using the jigsaw until I can free up my own hands. For anyone contemplating this, I've found that the children are capable of holding the saw's handle and pulling the trigger, while I control the tool by keeping a firm grasp of the motor housing. Naturally, we clamped the wood securely and all wore safety glasses.

The next order of business was then to sand away the splintery parts.

It brings me so much joy to see how competent he looks
using this tool. In fact, by now most of the older kids have
really become quite proficient in using my "mouse" sander. I'm
now inclined to start saving up for a couple that the school 
can call its own.

Next we needed to add a "stick" of some sort. I found several lengths of leftover curtain rod doweling in my garage, which seemed like it might work. We used the jigsaw to cut it down to what we thought would be about the right length.

When it came to wheels, we had a pair of old training wheels amongst our loose parts and gave them a try. This is the point at which I had to take over. Not only did the next couple steps seem like things I didn't think the kids could handle on their own, but we were now more than 2 weeks into the project and most of the original workers had lost interest. I followed the advice that I've been giving to the parent-teachers working at both our construction/tinkering and gardening stations: if the kids aren't engaged, don't just sit there, get to work on the project yourself and it will attract interest.

I worked alone for some time, but finally, sure enough, Elana came over to ask, "Whatca doin'?" So I put her to work:

She worked very hard at this, trying out both ends of the
wrench, testing body angles, grips, and technique. Several
children stopped by to watch, but she wound up driving
that bolt all by herself.

It took the better part of a month, working in bits and pieces, but we finally got it put together.

It still needs paint, but the kids have been testing it out anyway. So far haven't been terribly impressed. Made of wood as it is, it's a little too heavy for the kind of wild play possible with the manufactured versions, and we wound up making the rod too long, especially for the 2-year-olds . . .

. . . and there could definitely be improvements made in how the whole thing goes together, but we still have 3 more motorcycle "handle bars" with which to work and some experience under our belts, which is the most important thing. And we learned the word "prototype," which is a fancy term we're using to mean, "We have to try again."

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Barbara Zaborowski said...

"I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 things that don't work." Thomas Edison.

If the kids walked away from this project with nothing but this attitude, they'd be so far ahead of the game. But they also picked up some new skills, some belief in themselves and some new toys (which will have their own lessons.) Perfection!

Scott said...

Prototype = we have to try again.

A great definition and a great lesson. I might just need to "borrow" that for myself.

MOM #1 said...

Prototypes are the spice of life . . . at least that's what I've been telling myself, LOL.

Lindsey said...

Maaan, our house is loaded with prototypes! It's a great word! Both my two have always been of the "get off! I can do it!" attitude, so they feel a lot of frustration when they find something that they thought they could do, but either can't or can't do as well as they would like. The frustration is rarely quelled by anything other than referring to something as a prototype or immediately addressing how we could make it work or make it easier. They are feisty little souls and without the word "prototype" I'd be a basket case!

Sherry and Donna said...

Irresistible Tom. Another wonderful learning experience for your children, after all "if at first you don't succeed try, try, try again" and all that jazz!! You know some of the greatest thing in life have developed from failures .. oops I mean prototypes. Take Aussie 'Vegemite' for example I believe it was a complete failure which has turned into the most wonderfully delicious sandwich spread in the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD! Your wheelie prototype may not actually be acting quite like a 'wheelie' yet but you never know, you may have just invented the next 'Vegemite'!
Hang in there Buddy, I do love your never give up attitude!
Donna :) :)

jenny said...

I knew it! I knew the minute I saw the wheelies on Sherry and Donna's post that you wouldn't be able to resist knocking a few up of your own.

Barbra Stephens said...

I love that!
No such thing as a failure! :)

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