(Deborah Stewart of the Teach Preschool blog and Facebook page was perhaps the first early childhood blogger I met when I began doing this. She came and found me, like she has so many others these past 2+ years, welcoming me, supporting me, often the only one commenting on my posts that otherwise were being sent out into the apparently empty ether. She is a remarkable, generous, tireless community builder, a woman who has taught me so much about the power of the internet not just as a communications medium, but also as a genuine "place" in which a warm, creative community can thrive.
Today, her Teach Preschool Facebook page surged past 20,000 fans -- I'm proud to say I was one of the first 100. I'm honored to have been asked to take part in the celebration with this post. Congratulations Deborah and thank you. It's quite likely that without you, I would have given this up long ago.)
I had always been a white school glue kind of teacher, my classes going through gallons of it each year, but I had a come to Jesus kind of experience last summer when it comes to its limitations, and through that an epiphany about the capabilities of the children.
We were in the midst of our inaugural summer session when it dawned on me that we really hadn't done much with glue, 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: the only thing we have to identify are squirrels and crows.)
White glue has its place, but as I left to walk the dogs that afternoon, I was thinking about Ava and the limitations imposed by this languid, non-toxic, washable, 24-hours-to-cure medium.
That's right, hot glue guns were on my mind.
So on the following day, 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 bottle 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, 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.