As a boy, we didn't eat out in restaurants much, but when we did, the finest of dining was to be found at those that gave you drinking straws sleeved in their own paper wrapper. We'd grab them in our fists, then smack them down on the table top to expose one end of the straw. Then we blew through the open end causing the wrapper to take off like a rocket. It seemed like the kind of thing a parent would forbid a child from doing in public, at the dinner table, but mom and dad said nary a word, possibly because they controlled it by limiting us to one straw per visit.
One of the big downsides of the wrapper rocket is that it's really just a
one-off deal, unless you want to take the time and effort required to slide
the wrapper back on your straw each time, which means we never
really got to experiment with the concept.
But let me tell you, the people making straws for restaurants these days are making crap wrappers. It's been years since I've been able to recreate that experience. I don't know why (although I suspect corporate cost-cutting measures) but whenever I try to blow, there's already a tear somewhere in the paper allowing my sharply blown breath to just sort of feebly whisper out into the world, leaving me with the much less advanced method of removing my wrapper by hand, not to mention: no rocket.
I found this simple, yet brilliant idea for Straw Rockets on Mad About
Science's website. You need straws of different diameters. (I used bubble tea straws
and standard issue straws.) Cut off the larger straws into rocket lengths,
then pinch the top and seal it with a bit of masking tape. Slide this over
the smaller diameter straw and blow!
Last week I found myself eating dinner at one of those burger places that feature mondo sized fork-and-knife gourmet burgers in a kitschy, old-style malt shop-ish atmosphere, at a table with some of my daughter's teenaged friends -- boys. I was shocked, pleasantly so, when a wrapper rocket suddenly flew under my nose. Whoa, I thought, I'm coming back to this place. They even have retro drinking straws! It was only upon inspection that I discovered the young man had, before blowing, carefully twisted the wrapper until he had closed off the holes from which the air could escape. Excellent! Kids these days! (I guess I'm aging into one of those geezers who complains that corporations aren't what they used to be instead of kids.)
Here you can see I even captured an image the projectile in flight! The great advantage of
these is that you can easily use them over and over again, allowing the kind of
experimentation that the wrapper rockets don't allow.
I don't think about gender much, at least when it comes to me and my chosen profession. It's true that we're fairly rare birds, men in early childhood education, but there are enough of us that I don't feel all alone, and there is a proud tradition that includes guys ranging from Mister Rogers and Captain Kangaroo to the doctors Spock and Seuss. There is, however, currently a low intensity discussion going on at the Teacher Tom Facebook page about why there aren't more men in early childhood education.
Although the challenge of again finding your rocket on our wood chip
paved ground is almost as much of a challenge as sliding
a wrapper back onto a straw.
I've generally taken the position that, in the US at least, it's about pay. Right or wrong, men are still more likely to be the primary bread winners and preschool pay is very low. Most of the preschool teachers I know are either young single women or have spouses with decent incomes. My own wife is a business executive, which is true of all the other preschool teaching guys I know.
There were other challenges as well. For instance, when you wanted to see what would
happen when you shot a rocket into the vegetables, you had to be careful or it
would just slip off before you got around to blowing. There was a trick we had to
learn about keep the rocket launcher tipped slightly up so gravity wouldn't snatch it
When I first contemplated becoming a teacher I went to talk with Tom Drummond, a brilliant and recently retired ECE instructor at North Seattle Community College, under whose auspices our cooperative preschool system runs. As the only male I knew in the profession, I specifically went to ask him two questions:
- People keep telling me that we need more male preschool teachers. What do they mean?
- What can I do about the suspicions of pedophilia?
To answer the second question first, Tom's straight-forward reply was, "If there is even a whiff of suspicion you'll have to retire and move to Bimini." That's a scary thought, actually, and one I know is on many men's minds when they consider teaching young children. All it would take is for one person to maliciously or mistakenly lay down that accusation and, frankly, it's over. Seriously, who's going to send their kids to a school with that kind of cloud hanging over it? I even had one parent tell me that she had never told her father that her child's preschool teacher is a man because he would "simply assume you were molesting the kids." It's sick from whatever angle you look at it. In a way we're all living on borrowed time, even female teachers, but especially male ones. So, you know, there's that reason on top of all the others.
We tried them out on the swings as well. Would our swinging motion launch the rockets farther?
As for the question about why we need more males in ECE, he answered that he didn't really think that there was anything that a man could do that a woman couldn't when it came to young children, but he supposed they were talking about the tendency for men to encourage more risk taking and, perhaps, bring more humor into the classroom. I hate even writing that down because it somehow pushes aside all the hilarious female teachers who have their kids challenging themselves every day, but I do think, in very general terms, that is what is meant when parents talk about wanting more "male energy" in their child's life.
And let me back peddle even more by saying, I don't know and please correct me if I'm wrong.
Or how about making it go higher by bending the straws like this?
I will conclude with a warning, however. Should you be dining in any establishments in the Seattle area featuring straws wrapped in paper, this aging hippie dude is gonna be blowing some wrapper rockets across his table and, if all goes right, they'll be landing on yours. My wife will not be pleased, but I hope she is a bit amused and that she will see it is a charming manifestation of my "male energy."