Thursday, August 27, 2015


Yesterday's post showed the kids playing with a building set called Magna-Tiles, which is something of an anomaly at Woodland Park, especially outdoors, where we are, more often than not, found playing, quite literally, with garbage.

A more typical example is the boy, barely two, who approached me earlier this week with a single plastic vehicle wheel attached to an axel. He showed it to me saying, "Broken."

I echoed, "Broken."

He held it up higher and said again, "Broken."

I repeated, "Broken."

We have a lot of broken toys out there, some of which are out there because they are broken. Stuff rarely gets thrown out at our school, but rather becomes part of a process of moving toward the trash, over time, until it's just gone, probably buried in the sand or wood chips. I often ask the children if they're ready for me to toss items. Usually they aren't, then proceed to incorporate whatever it is into their play. The other day I found a chunk of what's left of a ceramic souvenir figurine that was once an Inuit mother holding her baby. All that remains is the mother's face and a bit of her arm. When I said it was broken and asked if it should go in the trash, the kids told me they needed it as an ingredient for the "soup" they were making, and so it's still out there somewhere, a shard of ceramic still not finding its way into the landfill.

Among our still fully functional items is a small collection of ancient yellow construction vehicles of various gauges, although, to be honest, this "broken" wheel and axel didn't necessarily come from any of those. As the boy toddled off, he headed toward where we generally pile those trucks at the end of the day. He then proceeded to pull the vehicles out one-by-one, checking each, no matter how big or small, until he finally found one with a pair of missing wheels. He then dropped to the ground and spent the next 15 minutes attempting to repair the broken toy: playing.

As much as I like the Magna-Tiles and their built-in capacity for being assembled into aesthetically, mathematically, and engineering-ly appealing structures, this, what this two-year-old did, finding something that is broken then trying to fix it, solving a real world problem, much better represents what a proper education ought to be about. As the great educator John Dewey said, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."

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