Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Skittle Pinball!

Not long ago I posted about using our giant pendulum. This wasn't the only pendulum-like activity we've had going on in the classroom these last couple weeks. For instance, we played with my old Skittle Bowl set, which I've written about here more than once (here and here, too). We've usually had it on a table top, but this year we cleared some floor space.

The "proper" way to play Skittle Bowl is to swing the wooden ball on it's chain around the pivot pole at such a trajectory that it scatters the pins upon its returns in your direction, but it's a challenging idea for preschoolers, who are much more apt to prefer taking a direct aim.

I'd put a couple of our wooden multi-purpose boxes up as a kind of protective barrier, or at least a visual reminder, that there might be a wooden ball swinging around in the area. Taking inspiration from the giant pendulum, however, the kids wound up using the boxes as a platform from which to launch the ball. Not only did it add to the challenge and fun, but served the same functional purpose as with the giant pendulum, and as the stools did in yesterday's post: to prevent children from edging continually closer, and generally jostling one another as they awaited their turn. I find it interesting that they are the ones who chose it this time, as if they've come to value the sense of order and safety it gives them. Parent educator Jean Ward used to talk about how adult presence can provide a child strength or confidence when he's struggling for self-control. The boxes and stools seem to be tools that work in a similar way.

We had our annual go at pendulum paintings as well. 

This year I kept the painting "rigs" together, only removing the paint cups, and took them outside. For the past couple years we've monkeyed around with what we called the pendulum machine: a PVC pipe structure from which 2-4 tennis ball pendulums are hung. The idea is to build block towers then knock them down with the tennis ball. The kids have almost always taken to the "machines," but rarely played with them the way they were "intended." They really seemed to just like swinging the things -- gently, in circles, hard. The blocks targets were just in the way (except the time Isak discovered that if he "teed up" one block on another, then threw the tennis ball with enough force, he could knock it across the room.) There was something about them that lead to wild play, usually resulting in the ultimate demise of the PVC constructions.

I figured, as an evolution to the pendulum machine, and since the kids had already been practicing with the pendulum painting rigs; let's give them a familiar apparatus with which to try something else.

I put one on the work bench. All that hung from it was a piece of string and a single "compliment chain" link. From it I hung the tennis ball, leaving it suspended nearly a foot over the table surface. I also brought out a pile of additional links and the wooden pins from the Skittle Bowl set, two other familiar elements in a different setting. 

As the first few kids arrived, I showed off the "outdoor pendulum." After we swung it around a little, I said, "Okay, let's use it to knock down these pins." I stood 4 pins on the work bench. Luella swung the ball. It was hung so high in the air that it missed by a mile. "You miss!" I said.

"It's too high," she answered.

"Maybe we could make it longer with those compliment chain links."

Sometimes children do exactly what you hope they'll do. Luella said, "Yeah!" and got to work. Charlotte and Lily started making chains of their own. After several attempts that still came up short, Luella finally got it right. She knocked the pins down once, then was done.

Other children took if from there.

There's a hole in the center of the work bench, drilled there to accommodate an 11-foot umbrella should we need it due to weather. I didn't want any of the pins to get lost down the hole, so at one point I put a rock in the hole to stop it up. Delightfully, this became an obstacle that, when hit by the tennis ball, would cause it to careen off in crazy angles. Ah! How about a bunch of rocks? How about hiding the pins behind rocks?

What about if we put the pins on top of a box?

These three boys began to build set-ups for one another involving both pins and rocks, going back and forth, taking turns. Each time the ball passed through the swing zone it careened off rocks, sometimes knocking down pins, sometimes missing. The boy whose turn it was got to keep swinging until all the pins were down. 

It was skittle pinball!

It was the interaction of accident and experience, which is the story of most good things. I can't wait to see where this goes from here.

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