Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Cookie Tree Gets Her First Workout

Transplanting the cookie tree from my house to the preschool was a bigger challenge than I'd anticipated. I knew I'd have to leave the dogs at home to make room for it to lie in the back of my Subaru Outback Wagon, but I hadn't anticipated having trouble making it fit vertically. She has a wider embrace than I thought. In the manufacturing process, I'd drilled holes through the main trunk, then jammed sticks in the holes until they were tight, using no glue, which turned out to be a definite design advantage when it came to transportation. I was able to help her get skinny fast by removing several branches. Once at school, I applied hot glue to the looser pieces in anticipation of the kids. I'll need to borrow a pick-up if she ever needs to be moved again.

I knew exactly where I wanted to install her, at least for the time being.

A few days ago, I wrote about needing to refresh the outdoor classroom to keep it from getting stale in much the same way one does an indoor classroom. We had built a pair of these platforms during our playground revitalization efforts back in February by nailing old fence planks to shipping pallets, then sawing off the ends. One of them became the foundation for our beach hut/castle, while the other has pretty much just hung out in the area between the workbench and sand pit, serving primarily as a walkway between the two areas.

I'd noticed that children were primarily using our Little World area as a source for materials rather than a place to actually play, often scavenging around for "jewels" or other loose part artifacts, then bringing them out into the larger space to play with them. By dragging this modified pallet into the area and giving it a little "landscaping" I was declaring (to myself at least) Little World as we'd known it to be dead -- long live Little World!

I'm really starting to get excited about the potential for these mobile platforms in a small, urban outdoor space like ours. I'm going to scrounge up a few more pallets before the end of summer.

When the children arrived the cookie tree only wore a couple pieces of her jewelry, but within minutes she was fully adorned.

At times drawing a crowd . . .

. . . but mostly playing hostess to one or two kids at a time.

One of the things I was curious about was whether or not she was sturdy enough for the classroom. I'd made her from sticks I'd collected in my yard based upon their shapeliness, not considering the fact that well "seasoned" wood could be a bit brittle. I'd fully expected a couple of the longer, thinner branches to bite the dust yesterday, but they all survived. I think being up on a pedestal like this really helped protect her in that there really wasn't room for more than 3 at a time, which reduced the incidence of jostling. I think the fact that I'd intentionally chosen to use hooks with sharp-ish points on the ends -- kind of like the business end of a nail -- also helped slow the kids down.

There was a lot of deep concentration, especially as the chains got longer or as they worked to push the limits of what this new toy could do. The children found all kinds of ways to hang the cookies that I'd not anticipated, such as dangling several from a single hook, or linking the bottoms of chains together to create loops from one branch to another.

The most perilous moment (for the cookie tree, not the kids) came when Charlie L. and Charlie B. decided to de-decorate her in a frenzy. I could see that the greatest risk to the integrity of her branches will likely come from kids yanking on the chains of cookies, rather than lifting them off their hooks.

She didn't stay naked for long, however.

And by the time I was ready to leave for the day, she was back in the game, posing like the dancer she is.

The question will be how she endures/evolves as a toy. It's possible they'll learn all they can from her in the matter of days, then abandon her. Maybe she'll wind up being the kind of thing that gets brought out a couple times during the year, then put away again. Maybe we'll need to come up with other types of collections to hang from her hooks, like chandelier prisms or ribbons or twinkle lights. Maybe she'll come indoors sometimes. Who knows? It will be interesting to see.

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Barbara Zaborowski said...

I think, of all the words you use, "maybe" is my favorite. "Maybe this will happen." "Maybe that." And maybe the kids will come up with a whole different use for the no one has thought of yet!
There was a definite plan here, a beginning (hanging tree cookies from a tree) but it's so open-ended; you're willing to then turn it over to your co-learners and see where they take it.

Scott said...

I wonder how some of those belts would look hanging on her....

I gotta get me one of these!

Lise said...

I love this! I'm thinking the cookies would also be lovely hanging from a real tree (bush), maybe using S hooks over small branches. Oh,'ve added something to my to-make list!

Michele @ The Hills are Alive said...

lovely! and I too love the "maybe" what if's possibility land you create and then invite the children into

I'm getting me some tools : )

Gwynneth Beasley said...


If they lose interest - how about cut them some cookies that they can individualise with paint etc - a rainbow tree.

Or - laminate leaves - all different sorts and colours for decorating the tree!

Make sure you keep us posted on how it evolves!

Play for Life said...

Tom 'she' really is a beauty and much taller than I had imagined her ... and I agree Tom 'she' really does look like a lady!
Donna :) :)

Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Tom

I'm a little off subject slightly but just wanted to nod enthusiastically about mobile platforms. These do make a big different in small spaces.

Lovely post - as always!