As a new teacher, I'd once given the children free access to balls of yarn. Henry got hopelessly tangled in it and through his anguish taught me two lessons. The first was about this important tenant of the Tao: Let your feelings flourish and get on with your life of doing. The second lesson I thought I'd learned was to never again give preschoolers free access to balls of yarn.
I'd been starting to think I'd over-learned Henry's second lesson back in January when Jenny's television star children added yarn to their impressive entry in the International Tape Off (read from the bottom up for the full story chronologically). Jenny then pointed me to what Kristin's kids had got up to, among others. And finally Donna and Sherry shared their children's magnificent creations. In between all this I visited Artopia where I found an intriguing interactive yarn artwork. I knew I had to at least try once more giving children free access to balls of yarn.
I thought I'd start with some sort of "target" for the yarn, building this from PVC pipe:
I positioned this in the center of the outdoor classroom, under the canopy. As I had it figured, the kids would start with the PVC frame, expand out to wrap the entire canopy, then finally branch out to encompass the rest of the outdoor space.
The framework came apart under the tension almost instantly, but it held together well enough for the children to keep going.
The frame only remained the focus of their efforts for a few minutes. Skipping the canopy-wrapping altogether Thomas carried a ball into the sand pit, looped it around a tree and that became the story of the morning.
The unicycle merry-go-round became a giant spool for
winding up the yarn until it got so tangled it wouldn't
Naomi had brought her grandfather and teenaged cousin, who were visiting from England, to school with her. I stood with them watching the children work their balls of yarn, weaving, wrapping, tangling and tripping as they went.
Naomi's cousin said, laughing, "In England, this school would be illegal," referring perhaps to more than just the yarn play.
Naomi's grandfather said, "This is how we played when I was a boy." I took him to be referring to the industrious joy that characterized their play, more than the specific activity.
When I called the children in for circle time at the end of the day, I could see 2-year-old Vivian standing outdoors, apparently absorbed with something at her feet. I called out to my parent-teachers at large, "Will someone bring Vivian in for circle time?" My daughter Josephine was the one to respond, discovering that Vivian was, as Henry had been 9 years ago, hopelessly tangled in the yarn, but instead of weeping, she repeated over and over, "Stuck. Stuck. Stuck."
I wanted everyone to see the results so I didn't let anyone take it down at the end of the day. Since it was the last day of this summer session, however, I felt it did need to come down before the first day of our next session, so I went in over the weekend to dismantle it. I was tempted to just cut my way through, but instead took the time to salvage as much as I could. It was difficult untangling it -- they had really worked hard and it was delightful to come across patches where one or more children had clearly had a pattern or plan in mind. I loved tracking back and forth across the space, following in the footsteps of first this child, then that, overcoming the obstacles and facing the challenges, in reverse, that they must have encountered. I got lost in the minutiae of unravelling it and ran out of time so I'm going in again this morning to finish the job.