Yesterday the kids played with our giant tube, and as I predicted, only one of them noticed the new 16-foot, freestanding, $1,600 awning standing in the middle of their outdoor classroom that came in the tube. Even on a large scale, it's all about the boxes.
Although, in fairness to the observatory powers of the children, only about half of them even made it outdoors yesterday, opting instead to stick with the giant tube where it currently lives in the gym, the only place that makes sense at our tiny school. The "gym" is in reality a former chapel (our landlords still refer to it as that in the lease), unheated, and open to the outdoors on the days we play there.
For those of you new to the blog, Woodland Park is a cooperative preschool, an early childhood education model that puts parents in the classroom as my assistant teachers. I asked Charlie L.'s mom Shelly to hang out with the giant tube, while I went outdoors to get other parent-teachers going on their stations (team string painting, glue gun construction, sand play, gardening, etc.). When I returned to check up on what was happening, I stumbled into the final scene from Dr. Strangelove, but instead of a crazed warmonger riding "the bomb," it was a crazed co-op parent steadying the giant tube while children raced from one end to the other, rolling balls down its length.
In the comments to yesterday's post, Shelly wrote about the experience:
To be honest, I was wary at first of being the parent in charge of tube play today. Some of the kids had a steamroller thing going with the tube when we first started out . . . I was thinking, "Yikes!" Once we got the balls going, though, it turned into kind of a science experiment about slope and momentum.
Now, not only is Shelly the proprietor of the terrific sewing blog Tales From The Seamripper, but she's also a former teacher with way more credentials than me, so I'm not surprised, after 3 years of working together in the classroom, that she was able to steer things away from flattening our friends and in the direction of scientific exploration.
Donna from Irresistible Ideas For Play Based Learning wrote about the giant tube:
Now that looks like fun, but Tom, I so want to know your contingency plan for when someone gets stuck half way down . . . and let's face it, now that you've voiced it, it's bound to happen! Promise me you WILL post about that one!
Like Donna, I had kind of assumed that crawling through the giant tube would be one of the more popular ways to play with it, but Shelly said only a couple of them even tried and the ones that did only made it a couple feet before backing out. It's a pretty tight fit. The kids aren't able to crawl through it unless they're able to drag themselves through with their forearms, plus it's pretty long and dark, all of which seems to have colluded to intimidate the children yesterday. But I think Donna's right, given enough time, someone will get stuck, which is a pretty good argument for getting it cut into shorter pieces.
That doesn't mean, however, that we didn't get some experience with unclogging the tube. As Shelly writes:
Then the belts and the wooden boxes started going down the tube and got stuck -- we had this awesome problem solving session, which resulted in getting the stuff unstuck.
While I tried manhandling the tube, then went off to track down a long piece of PVC pipe to use as a plunger, Shelly did what a teacher ought to do and talked the children through prospective solutions, experimenting, and finally coming up with one that involved increasing the incline and other techniques that I was not privy to because I was too busy running around trying to solve the problem myself. Man, I'm glad to have assistant teachers who remember to stay focused on the job of getting the children to think instead of just being the big adult who fixes things for them. Rock on, Shelly!
But there was a lot more going on in the kid's giant tube play than just science. Social skills, for instance, were being practiced, like sharing, cooperation, settling conflicts, taking turns, and self regulation. There was a large motor component, a sensory component, a math component, and a dramatic play component to the play I saw taking place there.
A couple days ago, Anna from atelierista wrote in a comment to my post Just Like Living, in which I discussed the artificiality of dividing learning into subjects:
I've been struggling (or maybe not struggling, but coming to understand) the sameness of it all while writing a curriculum document for the school where I work. I guess it's pretty radical to think that there is just learning (or thinking), not science learning or social studies or art learning, all in separate little boxes, but I really think that's how it is.
Her parenthetical substitution of the work "thinking" for "learning" is a significant one to me. For the last couple days, every time I hear the word "learn" or "learning" I've been mentally substituting "think" or "thinking." It works. Try it.
This giant tube play isn't a learning experience, really, as much as it is a full-body thinking experience, and that's what Shelly brilliantly brought out in the children's play.
And, after all, it's true when I really think about it: as a teacher I have no expectations about what children learn in preschool, that's kind of up to them, but I do expect that they will have to think, and that to me is the better part of education.