Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wheeled Vehicles

During my first year teaching the 3-5's class, Jeanne Hall, who was still teaching the Pre-3's class at the time, and I decided to splurge on a couple of heavy duty tricycles. These were those solid monsters designed to endure generations of preschoolers. We spent a lot of time talking about them because they were expensive, but finally decided it would be worth it. They arrived to much fanfare, but Jeanne was immediately disappointed to learn that her kids' legs were universally either too short or too weak to make these weighty machines do much more than rock back and forth. The children in my 3-5 class could get them going, but were frustrated by the numerous vents and cracks in our asphalt. The only way they could really get up any kind of momentum at all was by letting themselves coast down the small slope leading toward our garden, inevitably slamming into the fence where they became stuck until an adult helped push them back uphill.

Our big, beautiful, expensive trikes then spent the next 7 years being obstructions in our storage area until I finally gave away to Woodland Park families last summer during our end-of-year cleaning.

Then there was the time I bought the fleet of smaller, very inexpensive trikes, the story details I shared in a previous post, and the result was a lot of interesting collage parts within about 6 months, and one very nice piece of classroom art to hang on the wall:

We have long owned a set of little wooden toddler bikes (the kind you push along with your feet) that have found their place, but frankly the whole wheeled vehicle thing has always been a challenge at Woodland Park. I've tried to make myself feel better about this dearth with the knowledge that the kids have trikes, scooters, bikes, skateboards, and roller blades at home, but I stayed on the lookout for something we could use.

A few years ago we managed to scrape together the scratch to afford our unicycle merry-go-round, which was the only piece of playground equipment that survived our make-over because of its superior play value.

That's it in the foreground.

It still gets used almost every day. I love that they can go as fast as they want without endangering the others, it comes with its own smooth track (although the older kids have learned to pile wood chips on it to create a "bumpy" ride), and it is very sturdy (the only thing we've had to repair so far have been to replace the pins that hold the pedals in place). But best of all is that as they ride, they tend to look across at one another to smile and laugh, making it one of the best entry level cooperative play activities we have for the younger kids.

We've also discovered these preschool mainstays:

We use these in our "gym" where the floor is smooth, albeit carpeted (for acoustic reasons; the space was almost unbearably loud, even for me, before we laid it down). We like to tie ropes onto them to pull one another around, or to tie them together into trains. We also recently made them into a giant "skateboard."


Last year, we acquired one of these kooky things:

I call it the "stepper," but the name hasn't caught on with the kids. The idea is to hold onto the handles and make it go with an exaggerated walking motion. It only goes in straight lines, which means it's fairly easy to set up a "track" area in which the steppers can get going as fast as they like without plowing down their friends. We really like the fact that it has room on it for 2, or even 3, kids to ride it at once, turning it into another cooperative activity.

But the reason I'm writing about wheeled vehicles this morning is that my friend, colleague, and Woodland Park alumni Teacher Aaron from across the street showed up on Monday morning and asked if we could use a child-sized wheel chair . . .

. . . and a "Unicorn."

We've been playing with these new vehicles this week and man are they fun. Both have been in our actual classroom and I've been impressed by how well the children have been able to maneuver them around the tables, chairs, carpets and people in our small space. 

Every time I look up to see one of our kids sitting in the wheel chair, my heart leaps with a twinge of sympathy. So far everyone who has tried it out, even our youngest kids, have been able to get it going under their own power, but taking turns pushing has been just as popular as taking turns riding. Benjamin and Owen had a blast building towers of cardboard blocks then pushing one another into them.

The "Unicorn" (that's what it's called) is a new contraption to me, although several of our parents say they've seen similar things. The kids make it go by wiggling the steering mechanism from side to side. They can cause themselves to turn in a sort of wobbly circle by turning it round and round, and can go backwards by reversing it before they start to wiggle it from side to side. So far, not a single adult has been able to make it work, while every child has been successful.

As of today, I'm happy to say that Woodland Park is wheeled vehicle deprived no longer.

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A Daft Scots Lass said...

Its not everyone that can pull of a skin-tight white lycra turtle neck.

Congrats, Teacher Tom!!

Nice bloggy

Anonymous said...

Your giant skateboard looks amazing! Just wondering how many kids will try that one out at once?! :)

Michele @ The Hills are Alive said...

love it. Just saw a "stepper" at a friends house recently great fun. and we have a
gyro car" at home thats sounds a little like the unicorn (you can push with your feet or propel it fwd or back by wiggling the steering wheel) but it is shaped differntly
Worth googling it or taking a look on YouTube for a great video of it in action (complete with bad 90s music 'Dont Stop Wiggle Wiggle' you wont be able to get that ear worm out for some time
Love your blog. Just finished making a digging pit for my little boy to wake up to tomorrow for his 3yo bday. Complete with pipes and dinos and some stumps and "tree cookies" and sure it will become a Little World and maybe even room for a "bug hotel" too