Sunday, August 22, 2010

White Glue Vs. Hot Glue Guns: A Story Of Night And Day


I've always been a white school glue kind of teacher, my classes going through gallons of it each year, but I've had a come to Jesus kind of experience these past few months when it comes to its limitations, and through that an epiphany about the capabilities of the children.

On Tuesday morning, it dawned on me that we really hadn't done much with glue during the summer session, so I broke out a stack of corrugated cardboard and cut it into various shapes and sizes for collage making. We've done this kind of monochrome project many times over the years -- there tends to be a lot of talk about shapes, sizes, recycling, and the use of glue. The finished pieces are usually landscapes of texture and angular shadow. Not bad for a preschool art project.



There are always a few kids who get the idea of going 3-D, but because of the slow-drying nature of the glue and the jostling about typical of a classroom full of kids, the structures almost always wind up getting pancaked. As I sat watching Ava struggle with her efforts, I almost couldn't watch, knowing that no matter how hard she tried, no matter how long she persevered, her structure's 2-D destiny was assured.


I was right, of course, and as her house of cards tumbled down before her eyes, having added one bit too many, she finally walked away, philosophical it seemed, but with her artistic vision unrealized.

There was a steady trickle of kids engaged at the art table throughout the morning, but it didn't surprise me to pass by later in the morning to find our Northwest wildlife identification chart on the table, evidence that some level of boredom or frustration had come to call. (Not that I have anything against identifying native animals, but come on, we're an urban school with a tiny outdoor space filled with kids. The only thing we have to identify are crows.)

The 3-Dish piece in the background here was mine.

White glue has its place, but as I left to walk the dogs on Tuesday, I was thinking about Ava and the limitations imposed by this languid, non-toxic, washable, 24-hours-to-cure medium.

That's right, if you've been reading here for the past few months, you know that hot glue guns were on my mind.

So on Thursday, when Sadie and Venezia's mom Medora took her place at the work bench as the parent-teacher in charge of the station, she found a stack of cardboard and 3 hot glue guns. In fairness to the white glue collage efforts from earlier in the week, I also added various cutting tools and a box of theatrical lighting gel scraps, and moved it outdoors, but essentially it was the same project just using a different adhesive. Thinking about Ava's frustrated efforts, my only instruction was, "They can make whatever they want, but maybe they'll want to build a house."
















Are you kidding me? It's night and day.

Granted, moving the whole thing outdoors was also part of opening up possibilities for the kids. The expansive opportunity of incorporating wood chips, pine cones, and other "naturally occurring" objects from the environment are evident. (Are we the only preschool on earth for which beer caps and wine corks qualify as naturally occurring objects?) Still, look what the glue guns made possible! They got on a roll, their visions became immediately manifest, their conversations full of "What if . . ." and "Why don't we . . .?" and "Let's . . ."  It was an explosion of creativity and cooperation. And it was that tool, the hot glue gun, that gave them the power to make their ideas real. 

White glue will still be part of our repertoire going forward (I have a great example for tomorrow's post), but I regret all those years I withheld these mighty tools from the children, limiting them, for fear that they might go home with tiny red burns on their thumbs.

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21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love this post... As you know, I have been a proponent of low temp glue guns and kids for a long time, and my pop-up puppet kits that I sell in the Pike Place market recommends the use of them, and detailed instructions and safety tips... But I still frequently have a parent say nervously, "Couldn't we use white glue instead?" and then I point out how long it takes to dry, and how it smears on other parts, maybe even going between the sticks so the mouth won't move anymore, and how the white glue won't really hold the plastic wiggle eyes on permanently... they still say, "oh, yes, but we don't want them to get a burn..." It is so amazing how willing some people are to limit experience in the name of safety... Thank you for your post!

Martianne said...

Great creations. Thoughtful post. Love your work and enthusiasm

Also, wanted you to know there is an award waiting for you at http://traininghappyhearts.blogspot.com/2010/08/award-and-giveaway.html

Juliet Robertson said...

My excuse for enjoying a nice glass of wine is the need to collect the cork at the end. My husband's indulgence is beer - for the cap of course. I pick my wine on the basis of whether I can get a cork out of it at the end.

Fabulous commentary too about taking construction outside and adding materials to hand. It's so encouraging to read about your observations.

Um...next question...have you considered an outdoor firepit?

Teacher Tom said...

@Rob . . . I think I learned pretty much everything I know about glue guns from you and Brian K. . . We've been using high temp guns because the thing we make with low temp (like boats, for instance) fall apart too easily.

@Martianne . . . Thank you so much! I'll run over a check it out this evening! =)

@Juliet . . . A firepit is on my wish list. Because of our space constraints, I've already picked out a nice one on wheels so we can move it around or put it away if we need to. We have storage issues that are higher on our priority list right now, but I suspect we'll have a blazing fire before the end of autumn!

Teacher Tom said...

Oh, and I often choose the beer I'm drinking based on the color of the cap! =)

Barbara Zaborowski said...

We have tons of wine corks (a friend of one of the teachers) and I've been collecting beer caps all summer. If they're as popular as I expect them to be, I was thinking of talking to some of the local brewpubs.

How odd that you should post this the same weekend we did an overnight at church where the fifth and sixth graders used glue guns and I started thinking about preschoolers giving them a try.

I Love Crafts said...

I teach a craft class for younger children in Manila,Philippines. We have always been reluctant to use glue guns because of the risk of sending children home with burns. I personally don't mind if my own child gets burnt once or twice, as it teaches her to be careful. But how do you explain this to your pupils parents? Love your blog! wish we had a pre-school like your here....

Teacher Tom said...

@I love crafts . . . Indeed, the children do go home with burns. More often than not, they burn themselves on the hot glue itself, which hurts, but doesn't leave a mark, but when they touch the metal tip they go home with a small red dot.

Ours is a cooperative preschool meaning the parents are working in the classroom with me, so I've rarely had to have that conversation. But when I talk to parents about a child getting hurt with a glue gun, the conversation is the same as the one I have when they go home after bumping their heads, scraping their knees, or stapling their fingers. It's just one of the things that might happen at school. Like with most other "owies," it'll heal in 3-7 days.

Meri Cherry said...

Thank you so much for this post. I teach kindergarten LA. I haven't had the courage yet to set out the glue guns for the kids, out of fear of the parents. Now, after reading your post and seeing those amazing houses, I can hardly wait! Thank you. Fantastic blog!

Tracy said...

It's so fantastic giving the children opportunities to extend their creativity. I have watched many a time as children's creations fall apart either during or after building. I wish we were allowed glue guns at our daycare. I didn't realise there are high and low temp ones... all I know is I burn myself on my own one...

Scott said...

Okay, Tom. I've been following your hot glue gun posts and talked it over with my wife/fellow teacher about using them in our classroom. Now, seeing this creation, I'm heading to the store this afternoon to get some glue guns that will be dedicated to the kids' use.

Lindsey said...

I am a total advocate for letting the kids use the low temp hot glue guns for exactly this reason! White glue frustrates the hell out of them and I hardly ever use it these days. They need the immediate results the the hot glue gives in order to keep the creative momentum going. I've just done an interview for someone that isn't published yet where I go on and on specifically about the wonders of hot glue for kids. Love it! The kids are always impressed with what they have built each and every time and that just makes them hungry to keep building, which is fabulous.

Launa Hall said...

Splendid. I got goosebumps looking through the house photos. Thank you!

Kami said...

That is so fantastic!! Hooray for the amazing benefits if acceptable risk.

Kelly said...

I'm so frustrated. The nurse at my school just got a first grader with a burn on his finger and has told me I should not use glue guns below 6th grade. This would devestate my students. I think I'm going to job lot (cheap store) to get some heat resistant gloves. Maybe that will appease her. VIA LA CREATIVITY!

Joshua said...

What a cristal clear example of how tools effect whats possible. Good on you for letting the explore new tools.

Kimberly said...

My sons' preschool allows the kids (ages 3-5) to use glue guns on a daily basis and the creations they come home with are truly amazing. They have each gotten burned once, but only once, and it was very minor. And now they know how to avoid the burn. What they learn and how they can create certainly outweighs the risk of a tiny burn. We now use them at home too because the white glue just doesn't cut it for 3D projects.

Anonymous said...

I purchased some mini work-gloves today at a dollar store, which I'm going to incorporate into my glue-gun station along with goggles. I had a student last year who got a little burn on her lip, which made me think of eye burns.

Absolutely love your site, Tom! Thank you so much for all you do!

Maria Navaratne said...

I run a daily preschool workshop in an art school here in Colorado. We have 3 to 11 year olds using low temp glue guns. Our 3 year olds are so proficient and we notice their level of skill even more when we have vacation camps and the older children come for the first time and are so nervous about using the glue guns. We have some photos of our Creative Free-Choice program on our FB page: https://www.facebook.com/E11CreativeWorkshop and our website: www.e11cw.com

I am now tempted to experiment with hot glue guns.....is that what you use?

Lauren M said...

I did a search of using hot glue guns in the classroom and came upon this post. I am impressed by the house! Excellent! I'm teaching middle school for the first time in addition to teach high school art. I've used hot glue guns in the high school and kids do burn themselves. I want to make Elf Houses with middle school and now I see that elementary kids are using glue guns successfully, so I'll try it with the 6th graders.

Colleen said...

I am still on the fence--not because I can't imagine the possibilities but because I worry a bit about how parents might react. It is funny to read the post from the middle school teacher saying those students burned themselves with a glue gun. I burn myself with the glue gun and I am in my 50's. Maybe the question is simply "at what age is it okay to start burning yourself with a glue gun". Haha. In the meantime love Alene's Tacky Glue. My classroom couldn't survive without it!

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