Thursday, May 13, 2010


When I first started teaching at Woodland Park one of my initial disappointments with our facility was that we didn't have an acoustic tile ceiling, the kind that lends itself to easily hanging things from it, so I installed several hooks instead. It was a real project because after only a few inches I hit concrete and I don't own a drill that can penetrate that, but still, I've managed to get a few in there securely enough that they have held things like our balloon cagecompliment chain and giant pendulums for 8 years. My primary motivation in installing the hooks, however, was to play with pulleys.

On Tuesday, our Pre-K class was experimenting with hoisting buckets and baskets of devil duckies up to the ceiling when they started talking about how much fun it would be to add pulleys to the "castle," which is what they call the beach hut. This was one of those magic moments when their agenda and mine dovetailed so we took our pulley collection and ropes out to our construction/tinkering area yesterday. Since I'd had so much success on Monday with the technique of just giving a couple parents a general idea of what I had in mind, then leaving them alone with the kids to create our water wall, I thought I'd try the same concept with pulleys.

Dennis' dad Terry, Katherine and Lachlan's mom Kimberly, and Max's mom Callie formed an amazing teaching team.

The first installation was to get a pulley system on the "castle."

I love the bent nail construction technique.

Thomas climbed the step ladder there on the left and the pulley system was
used to deliver a hand drill to him so that he could use bits of various sizes
to drill holes . . .

. . . He was particularly impressed with how easily our smallest bit ate
through the wood, creating a hole too small to show in this picture.
The larger hole, the one you can see, took a lot more effort.

The castle pulleys remained a two man operation yesterday, but today I'm going to teach them how to make it work without help, by tying off the rope so that it holds the basket at the topmost point while they climb the ladder to retrieve their tools, paint, or whatever needs to be up there. Thomas is confident that the advent of these pulleys is the secret to ultimately adding a second story to the castle.

Our second pulley was installed on our magnolia tree over the sand pit.

In the morning, I'd installed a staircase next to our water wall so that adults wouldn't have to be available to steady the step ladder we'd used on Monday. This staircase was built by my father, an engineer, at least 30 years ago as part of a bed he built for my younger sister. It has been in our yard for the past decade and is still rock solid.

The kids used this pulley to hoist buckets of water to their friends waiting on the top step, who would then pour it out into the funnel at the top of the water wall.

There were other pulley installations, but the last one I documented was the one that created a conveyor system that ran between another branch of the magnolia and our maple.

The kids had fun filing the bucket with water, pulling it to one end and letting it go. Since the top rope is more or less parallel to the ground, however, the bucket tended to stop in the middle. I think I'll try to re-install it today with a little more of an angle.

During our circle time at the end of the day, we were discussing our pulley play. Thomas raised his hand and proudly informed us, "Pulleys are simple machines." Now we all know.

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Betsy said...

I love your outdoor space, but I have to ask: How do you get away with some of the stuff you have out there? Our state licensing rep would have a fit if she found exposed nails, splintered wood, etc. in our play yard. Just curious!

Teacher Tom said...

For various reasons, Betsy, our set up doesn't require licensing. Of course, we avoid having the sharp ends of nails exposed, but splinters are one of the ways we learn about wood. I wouldn't be able to teach in a place that forbade splinters! Everything would have to be plastic, padded and, well, so unlike the real world that I don't know how useful stuff the kids would learn . . .

Scott said...

Your outdoor classroom keeps developing - at this rate, one day I suspect that I'll read you do all your teaching outside, abandoning the indoor classroom altogether! What fun those pulleys are.

Play for Life said...

Tom do have spies out on us or something? First you beat us to the water wall ... by just a few days, now the pulleys! Sherry is off to 'Bunnings' this very morning to buy a pulley system that we (that's ME) are going to install from our large sand pit to a smaller one we have just established inside our giant tractor tyre, near the climbing equipment. We've wanted a pulley for ever and the new sand pit is the perfect excuse (if we ever needed one) to instal one just so you know, after the pulley system we're thinking maybe a teepee is in order ... just in case your spies start slacking off!
Donna :) :)

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

Pulleys! Love them, love it!
Our ceilings are beyond high (150 plus year old building) and the Fire Marshall of the week has clipped everything hanging. But, when there is a will there is a way. In the meantime, I'll just look at your pics and get my fix!

pamela wallberg said...

Arg! I echo Donna - you've beaten us to the punch with the water wall and the pulleys. We want to try putting in pulleys in our couch architecture area, so that roof tops can be raised and lowered at will, but i think i need to install a proper hook (as opposed to all our plant hooks) because i fear there will be some serious hefting going on...this time next week? there will be pulleys...

last year we had a pulley project going on, but the pulley was hung by children so low that teachers kept bashing their head on it. yours looks much safer...

SquiggleMum said...

I can't wait to add some pulleys to the trees in our backyard! Thanks for the added inspiration.

Unknown said...

I just love the outdoor space! It keeps getting better and better. I love that you can look at your pictures and almost hear the happiness and laughter of the children. That makes my heart rejoice.