Friday, March 30, 2012

We're Not Alone In This

The rain was coming down yesterday while we were playing with roof gutters and a collection of balls made from a variety of materials in a variety of sizes. We keep four 5-ft. lengths of plastic gutter in the outdoor classroom at all times, always available to the kids. To that, yesterday, we added a couple full-sized 10-ft. lengths.

I tried taking pictures of the children's experiments, but sometimes the app I use on my phone for the purpose seizes up, which is what happened yesterday, but no matter, you've seen kids playing with gutters and balls before.

Although I did manage to capture one set up they devised, running one of the long gutters from the center window on the windmill. I write the word "devised" on purpose, because, in fact, an adult moved it there under instructions. One of the reasons I don't cut the gutters into shorter pieces is that I like that to move them, the kids have to get help, although typically I'm hoping that help comes in the form of friends.

Asking for help and pitching in are two of the habits I seek to foster in children. We're not in this alone, after all. We all need help sometimes, and sometimes we all have a hand to lend. Americans too often celebrate the solitary hero, but that's a Hollywood fiction. Progress is rarely made by people acting alone: the everyday heros are those who know when to ask for help and those who lend a hand without being asked, which is really the fundamental principle of how a cooperative school operates.

Some of the kids can manage the shorter lengths on their own, but moving those 10-foot sections is almost impossible without help, especially if you have big ideas.

At one point the kids connected 3 of the shorter pieces end-to-end with the intent, I think, to land the balls in a mud puddle, to which they then added a fourth so as to bridge the puddle. But, of course, as is the nature of this kind of play, they had the idea of extending it even farther and having used up the shorter lengths, they resorted to one of the very long pieces. The result was, as Elana's dad Paul said, "a scene for America's Funniest Home Videos, most of which I failed to record visually due to the camera issues.

Planning ahead is not generally one of the strengths of groups of 3-5 year olds, and it was pretty clear they hadn't really considered the brick wall that stood in the way of their continued ball run. But they were moving that piece of gutter and something had to be done with it. At one point early on in this process they did manage to lean it up against the wall at a very steep angle, but it came crashing down under the weight of a single ball.

I'm not really sure what they had in mind, if anything, and there was a lot of working at cross purposes because they were too busy laughing and struggling to talk to one another. I tried to help by narrating what I thought I saw them doing, saying things like, "I think they're trying to get one end of it on top of the awning," or "Maybe they want it on the garbage can," but mostly it seemed to be about hoisting it around together.

Finally, they managed to get one end, perhaps by accident, atop the fence, secured by where it intersects with the storage shed.

Once in place a couple of the guys then began working together, still laughing, in what looked to me like an attempt to launch it right over the fence. I stopped them saying, "I don't want you guys to drop it over the fence. There's nothing but a big pile of blackberry bushes over there and I don't want to have to climb into them to get it back."

So they left it where it was, my words of correction perhaps being the thing that broke the spell of their cooperation. Archie rolled a ball down it. We all cheered. Then we were done.

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