Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Glue Table

There is a short list of items every teacher considers essential to running his preschool classroom and on mine, right near the top, is white glue – gallons of the stuff. Typically we order 6 gallons to start the year, knowing that we’ll likely have to place a second order sometime around late winter.

While most of us think of glue as a means to an artistic end, un-indoctrinated preschoolers approach white glue as an art medium all by itself (much the way they do tape). We do dozens of collage projects in class using all sorts of exciting materials (e.g., carpet squares, feathers, spare marker caps, small metal parts from machines we’ve disemboweled) but inevitably there are a half-dozen or more finished pieces that are nothing more than a pool of glue overrunning a piece of cardboard. Usually, these pieces are stuck so firmly to our drying shelves that I have to use a screwdriver to pry them off. Often they’ve dripped through onto the art of others. Sometimes they take the whole week to fully dry.

Man, that drove me crazy as a beginning teacher. “Don’t you want to put something in all that glue?” I’d ask, but as I’ve learned to give up my agenda in favor of the children’s, I’ve just started ordering more glue. And why not? As an art medium it costs less than half of what tempera paint costs, and while clean up is a bit more of a challenge than paint, it’s still water soluble, at least while it’s wet. Where I once saw waste, I now see beauty.

And it’s the greatest beauty of all; it’s that look of meditation or concentration that settles over the face of a child as she systematically empties bottle after bottle of glue onto a target of some kind. It's clearly a scientific exploration into the physics of viscosity, gravity, and squirt bottles. Or maybe it's part of a spiritual journey, judging from the look of tranquility on some of their faces. It doesn't really matter. All I know is that some kids are driven to it and far be it from me to tell them when to stop. I love how earnestly they hold up their empty bottle to declare, “I need more glue.” And I love even more that we hand him another full bottle. An adult could stand there over a child’s shoulder, I suppose, and give instructions on the “proper” use of glue, stopping him after those few essential drops, but I’ve found it far more satisfying to just let kids get there on their own – and they always do, eventually.

But first we have to let them get it out of their systems. One way we do this are our ongoing group, glue collage projects. Parents have come to refer to this as the “glue table,” although it is technically our Do-It-Yourself Table. I have an enormous collection of what was formerly referred to as garbage that we use for these projects. Here is one we are working on right now:

We’ve been adding to this piece since the second week of school; not every day, but frequently enough that the glue bottle emptiers among us are getting their fill. As you can see, we’ve decided to start adding glitter – you know, for the holidays – and it will take a ton of glue if we’re going to encase the whole thing.

We usually keep these projects around for several months, bringing them out until they attract no customers, then they get pitched. Although, here’s one that’s been hanging on our wall for the last 3 years:

That particular class of kids really grew to treasure their group project and were one day talking about wanting to paint the whole thing gold. That evening I gave it a coat of metallic gold spray paint and put it by the front door for the kids to see as they entered. As they arrived, each and every one of them said, “Look mom! It turned gold!”

(Note: Many of you have asked for a photo of our volcano. I'll try to remember to take one today and post it here tomorrow.)

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Anonymous said...

That is the most fabulous use of "garbage" I have ever seen. This has been most inspiring!

By the way, I've been known to tell a parent or two that have had issues with the glue waste that all that squeezing of the bottles is building those little muscles in the fingers that are needed for future writing skills. It works.

Jenni said...

Ah yes, the pages of paper I have had to figure out how to even GET to the drying rack because they were really pools of glue. I love those the most; especially when, after they are done with that exploration, they stick ONE piece of confetti right in the center!

When I had an uptight director who hated that I let children "waste" the glue (couldn't get her to understand it wasn't a waste...any wonder why I don't work for her anymore) I did find that some of the children could be distracted by the sensory table filled with a water and flour concoction almost the same texture as the glue and glue bottles. It was even messier at times and, for some, even more fun!

Unknown said...

You have such a great perspective! I love that!

Let the Children Play said...

Glue and tape - definately essentials in any early childhood teachers toolbelt!

And your group project has my mind ticking over about what I could get our kids to do here.

PS Jenni in the comments: I love the one piece of confetti pictures too!

Scott said...

I love the way that kids can get such contentment from simple acts - squeezing and watching glue puddle. And they are learning so much about the world from such experiments.

(And I love your group projects. They're great!)

Deborah Stewart said...

I love this post - I am always coming across teachers who are quite stressed about letting their students mess or make a mess with glue. They will spend ten times more money on contact paper just to avoid the mess of glue. I guess they prefer not to have to use a screwdriver to clean up the table:) One of my favorite comments you made! I wish you would share this post on my blog as a guest!

Teacher Tom said...

Oh Deborah, wait until you see the "mess" photo I'm going to post tomorrow. I doubt the paint will EVER come off the floor!

Deborah Stewart said...

I love it and will be sure to check it out!

Tami said...

I love how this is a group effort and how it grew over time. What a great experiance!

Unknown said...

I will never look at white glue the same after overhearing a conversation between two kindergarten students in my class. "Why is there a cow on the glue bottle?" "Oh, that's because glue is made from COW SNOT!" Just one of the many reasons I love teaching little ones!