(Note: I'm thrilled to have been interviewed by Jean of the wonderful art and early childhood blog The Artful Parent, the results of which appear today on her pages. Head on over and leave a comment and you just might win a Teacher Tom "endorsed" glue gun!)
Despite a classroom in which we were playing with a giant pendulum in one corner and painting pendulums in another, despite a sensory table of water, funnels and hardware store tubing, one of the places in our classroom where the children most congregated last week was our small "blue table," upon which our marble collection resided.
I know I sometimes have the tendency to make preschool more complicated than it needs to be, building contraptions or balloon cages or coming up with elaborate installations, and those things are certainly fun and often even worthwhile, but they also carry with them the inherent risk that my investment in preparation time will also lead to an investment in my own agenda. And when the teacher's agenda threatens to supersede that of the kids', well, it's a set up for a frustrating time on everyone's part.
The humble collection is a good way to keep a teacher humble and truly focused on what the children need and want to do. In this case it's a collection of marbles that originated in my own boyhood collection and augmented over the years. But a "good" collection can be pretty much anything -- keys, buttons, toy football helmets, spinning tops.
Anything, really, with enough variety that it can be arranged, classified, and sorted. If you look carefully at the marbles on this old Chinese checkers star, for instance, you'll see a number of sets taking shape on the points. Or how about the marbles on this triangular game board?
It looks like s/he was going for "metallic." Others might sort by size or pattern. But it doesn't have to be that fancy. A tin lid or a bowl will do just as well because children innately experiment with making sets and sequencing, they'll automatically do it with any collection that has enough variety to allow for it, which really is what math is all about as far as I can tell.
They'll do it whether there's an adult voice prompting them or not
Often with collections, I'll duct tape a wooden rim around the edge of the table to help the children keep things together. With the marble collection it was essential, of course, since you really don't want them running loose on a classroom floor.
Last week we also added this neat little marble run.
It includes a stairway xylophone along its ramps that the marbles play as they zig zag their way down. We have a large, fancy marble run set, but this proved every bit as popular . . .
. . . with the added charm of being something that was made long ago with wood and nails . . .
. . . made with the expectation that toys were not necessarily fool proof. The marbles, for instance, don't make it to the bottom every time like they do with our plastic set, often jumping the track with enough of a regularity that we feel a thrill when they successfully make it to the bottom. And if we're going to play with it together, there's a cooperative gentleness or finesse that's needed or else the whole thing just topples over. I love how all those hands work together, as automatically as sorting and sequencing, to set it back to rights.
(Now head on over to the The Artful Parent where I'm honored to have been interviewed by the inimitable Jean, one of the most creative and inspiring people on the internet. Make sure to say "hi" over there if you're interested in that glue gun!)