Perhaps the greatest compliment I ever received as a teacher came last August during our summer program. Naomi's grandfather was visiting from England and as he stood watching us play with balls of yarn, he said, "This is how we played when I was a boy."
I have little patience for knee-jerk nostalgians, always harking back to lost Edens, but when it comes to children's play I have no doubt that our era of law suits and the marketing of pre-programmed, heavily-commercialized toys from which the last few drops of creative potential have been wrung has left our children poorer when it comes to the kind of free play that past generations took for granted.
Our 3-5's class continues to be fascinated with mixing things. Not only have we engaged in quite a bit of free-form potion making, but just about every painting session these days has concluded with all of the paint being carefully combined and stirred to create pots containing various shades of preschool gray. When a local art supply store was recently getting rid of its remaining boxes of plaster of paris to make room for "something better," I grabbed one, thinking it would make for an interesting "old school" mixing session.
Before we got down to mixing, however, we painted our molds (including various kinds of novelty ice cube trays) with vegetable oil to prevent the hardened plaster from sticking too much. I was at a loss for explaining what, exactly, we were doing, so I compared it to making a kind of concrete, except without the toxic dust.
The kids were pretty excited by the discovery that the plaster was starting to cure even before we were finished spooning it into the molds.
As you can see, we also made several "custom" molds by pressing toys into old play dough.
By the end Sarah returned us to our free-form experimentation roots by "finger plastering" a hunk of dough with a coat of plaster.
What we had left over, we scraped into a pie pan with a large rock and several toys.
And, naturally, on the following day we removed the figurines from their molds and painted them.
A session that, indeed, the children wrapped up by mixing lots of preschool gray.
We then went outdoors and mixed up another batch of plaster of paris so we'd have things for our friends to paint this week.
It was quite gratifying to have several parents comment on how they remember mixing plaster of paris when they were kids.