Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Drinking Straws

Our sensory table is an amazing piece of furniture, clearly made by a master craftsman of some sort, probably a boat builder judging by the long brass screws and coating of marine varnish. It was built to survive long after the school is a pile of rubble, sturdy beyond reason, divided into two deep galvanized steel basins.

It's evidence to me that there was a "civilization" that inhabited our school before my time, most likely the one lead by the legendary Peg Schwartzman, a teacher who was heading toward retirement at about the same time I was just starting out. Our paths crossed for a couple of years when she taught at the Northwest 5's Cooperative across the street from us, where my friend Teacher Aaron now presides, and I've run into her at a number of political rallies where we find ourselves on the same side. To this day, nearly 20 years after Peg moved on from Woodland Park I still have boxes of games and puzzles she made by hand. I still break out the collection of bird's nests, animal bones, and pelts she left behind. There is a shelf of natural science materials in the storage room that once belonged to her that I've never used, but haven't been able to throw out either. I know, for instance, that there's an apparatus labeled "root farm" up there that I really should try to figure out.

But it's our sensory table that makes me think of Peg nearly every day. I can only imagine the kind of devotion she must have inspired in her parent community to have had one of them put in the dozens of hours it must have taken to build this one-of-a-kind sensory table.

In Peg's honor, I tend to fill it with natural materials like water, rice, wheat berries, beans, flax seed, dirt, and sand, but it is such a versatile table that I also use it to contain our marble run, scads of junky toys, and rubber bands. Along those lines, for the past couple days it's been home to drinking straws.

We combine them with scissors. I like the satisfying feeling of snipping through a straw and the way the short end flies up into the air when you're successful. The kids also sometimes enjoy inserting them into one another to create "super long" straws, or stringing the bits onto lengths of yarn to make necklaces. A parent one time figured out a way to make "straw chains" my bending them into circles and linking them together. And there's always the game of moving all of the straws from one side of the sensory table, then back to the other. This is a particularly fun game for the 2-year-olds who always seem impressed that they are able to pick up so many straws at once.

But it's the cutting that's most fun and there are some kids who not only master the technique, but who develop the ability to aim the short bits of their straws with alarming accuracy. Yesterday it was 3-year-old Sena who developed the technique. At first we thought it was an accident that she was "shooting" the bits of straw across the table at her friend Sarah, but soon her consistency made me suspicious. I said, "Hey, I want you to shoot some of those at me." She grinned, adjusted her body slightly and beaned me in the forehead 3 straight times before misfiring slightly and sending one over my shoulder.

I spent the rest of session trying to match her technique, just as I suspect Peg would have done.

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Regency Kindergarten said...

Tom, it's a good idea to let the children play and find their own technique to play.
The good thing is that they are thinking "out of the box" :)

Unknown said...

Teacher Peg sounds like a very special teacher. I am so glad that the children at Woodland Park get to work with you. I can tell that you adore them : )

Michelle said...

What fun straws can be. I remember the first time we put the straw and scissors in the sensory table. The kids couldn't wait to get their hands on them. I never realized how quickly children can master the skill of aiming and shooting straws... and yet cannot seem to put the flush the toilet after they are through :) Fun Times!!

Deborah Stewart said...

Wow Tom! In all my years of teaching I have NEVER thought of or heard of putting straws and scissors in the sensory table. What an amazing idea! Thanks Tom (and Peg) for such imagination.

Unknown said...

Great idea for all ages! Scissors, straws, glue and paper would be fun too! Im gonna look for straws at the dollar store today. Thanks Tom

MamaPlante said...

I like to hide paperclips in the sensory table or clip them on objects and add magnet wands to the table. Let the hunt begin. I also add plastic tweezers and encourage the kids to pick out bits of the materials they like, that have same shape, color, etc.

dv.x.3 said...

Oh, Jules would love this one. Last weekend we let him play in his room alone with a friend of his for 15 minutes, after which he emerged with the question, "do you like my haircut mama?" The look on my face made him beat a quick retreat, saying, "oh, I was just joking" but I found evidence to the contrary: a bucket filled with his hair, his friends' hair, his stuffed bear's hair, snipped rubber bands and toothpicks and tiny pieces of paper. Just about anything they could get their hands on that wouldn't get them "into trouble." Straws and scissors... I think I'll supervise this time. :)

Jess said...

What a GREAT idea! I love the idea of straws in the sensory table! Right now we've got silk flowers, tweezers, and large salad tongs in ours!

Rose said...

I love the idea of straws in the sensory table. This week we have dry beans in ours and the kids are loving them but I can't wait to try the straws.

Play for Life said...

I also love the way straws fly off when you snip them and that great sound they make when the snipped ends stick together and you have to squeeze them slightly to POP them open!

Now as for shooting them at peoples foreheads ... yeah I gotta say the Department of Human Services here in Victoria might have something to say about that Tom ... you know duty of care and all that jazz ... yeah i know, they're such party poopers! However ... I'm just trying to imagine what Sherry would put on the report ... hmm ... I can see the newspaper headlines now ... "5 year old child's eye taken out with plastic drinking straw missile in Croydon kindergarten!" ... probably my worst nightmare ... BUT SECRETLY just between you and me ... and off the record ... I do agree, it would be loads of fun ... IN FACT... apart from the missile bit ... I reckon we'll give it a go!
D :) :)

EcoKind Design said...

I can't stand to throw straws out when there must be another use for them.

Do you want my modest collection to add to your not so modest collection? :)