Monday, August 02, 2010

"This Is How We Played When I Was A Boy."

As a new teacher, I'd once given the children free access to balls of yarn. Henry got hopelessly tangled in it and through his anguish taught me two lessons. The first was about this important tenant of the Tao: Let your feelings flourish and get on with your life of doing. The second lesson I thought I'd learned was to never again give preschoolers free access to balls of yarn.

I'd been starting to think I'd over-learned Henry's second lesson back in January when Jenny's television star children added yarn to their impressive entry in the International Tape Off (read from the bottom up for the full story chronologically). Jenny then pointed me to what Kristin's kids had got up to, among others. And finally Donna and Sherry shared their children's magnificent creations. In between all this I visited Artopia where I found an intriguing interactive yarn artwork. I knew I had to at least try once more giving children free access to balls of yarn.

I thought I'd start with some sort of "target" for the yarn, building this from PVC pipe:

I positioned this in the center of the outdoor classroom, under the canopy. As I had it figured, the kids would start with the PVC frame, expand out to wrap the entire canopy, then finally branch out to encompass the rest of the outdoor space.

The framework came apart under the tension almost instantly, but it held together well enough for the children to keep going.

The frame only remained the focus of their efforts for a few minutes. Skipping the canopy-wrapping altogether Thomas carried a ball into the sand pit, looped it around a tree and that became the story of the morning.

The unicycle merry-go-round became a giant spool for
winding up the yarn until it got so tangled it wouldn't

Naomi had brought her grandfather and teenaged cousin, who were visiting from England, to school with her. I stood with them watching the children work their balls of yarn, weaving, wrapping, tangling and tripping as they went.

Naomi's cousin said, laughing, "In England, this school would be illegal," referring perhaps to more than just the yarn play.

Naomi's grandfather said, "This is how we played when I was a boy." I took him to be referring to the industrious joy that characterized their play, more than the specific activity.

When I called the children in for circle time at the end of the day, I could see 2-year-old Vivian standing outdoors, apparently absorbed with something at her feet. I called out to my parent-teachers at large, "Will someone bring Vivian in for circle time?" My daughter Josephine was the one to respond, discovering that Vivian was, as Henry had been 9 years ago, hopelessly tangled in the yarn, but instead of weeping, she repeated over and over, "Stuck. Stuck. Stuck."

I wanted everyone to see the results so I didn't let anyone take it down at the end of the day. Since it was the last day of this summer session, however, I felt it did need to come down before the first day of our next session, so I went in over the weekend to dismantle it. I was tempted to just cut my way through, but instead took the time to salvage as much as I could. It was difficult untangling it -- they had really worked hard and it was delightful to come across patches where one or more children had clearly had a pattern or plan in mind. I loved tracking back and forth across the space, following in the footsteps of first this child, then that, overcoming the obstacles and facing the challenges, in reverse, that they must have encountered. I got lost in the minutiae of unravelling it and ran out of time so I'm going in again this morning to finish the job.

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Unknown said...

One more reason to love took the time to unravel. I love (so much) how you see the world through the eyes of children. Magical!

MOM #1 said...

OK, it's official. In my next life, I'm definitely coming back as a permanent pre-schooler and I'm going to be at your school every single day. That looks like so much fun!

Play for Life said...


That my friend is all I have to say!!

Donna :) :)

Unknown said...

When someone says "this is how we played when I was a boy" I think you know you are on the right track Tom. I loved this post. And I love that the yarn was almost like a visual record of where they had been and how busy and involved they had been during their play outside. Very cool.

Cathy @ NurtureStore said...

This reminds me of when my daughter was let loose with some yarn, just around the time she discovered she could tie knots. It made the unravelling just that bit harder :)
In my part of England this type of play is encouraged. I'm just launching a Play Academy carnival to promote play with my UK readers.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me when I was a young teacher starting out and my son who was in my classroom at the time and his friends began talking about the "string" (wires) they noticed running from house to house on poles (lightwires). I too gave them free access to yarn and string (indoors) and for a week they strung "lightwires" all over the room. We culminated the event with a visit from an employee of our local electric coop. Thanks for reminding me of such good times:) Teresa in NC

Play is Important said...

I too love this - & no, it wouldn't be illegal in England! Though there may be quite a few reception & children's centre staff that could be inspired by this...

Juliet Robertson said...

As Spike Milligan once said...

"String is an important thing,
Rope is thicker, but string is quicker"

It's amazing how much string can get in so many places.

I'm wondering what would happen if you left out some masking tape...

Muma Paparazzi said...

My son was let loose with a ball of wool the other day....while we were having an end of day chat he almost decapitated his baby sister gulp! I might give him another go tomorrow outdoors - he'd love it!

jwg said...

For easier dispensing, and fewer frustrating tangles, put a ball of yarn in a coffee can, cut a small hole in the lid, and thread the end to the outside. Kids can pull off as much as they need but the yarn is less likely to get tangled. Just make sure the hole is not so small that it rubs the yarn. Of course, some kids will want to take the balls out and unroll them, and that's ok. An oatmeal container works well, if anone still uses real oatmeal.

Deborah said...

It is so interesting to hear the Grandfather note that this was how he played as a boy. I think that we have become so concerned with safety issues and excuses as to why children can't do something that we never look for reason why they can or should. I love this idea of weaving yarn throughout the playground. I think I might have used the scissors though to clean it up:) But just as you always do, you have shown me that it was in the unraveling that you were able to be reflective of the learning and creativity that has taken place.

pamela Wallberg said...

So....yard actually looks like fun! I'm thinking forward to the fall, and the joys of glue for a renewed glue off...yard and glue hold so many possibilities!

Are you still on? I think there should be a call out for participation....

Saya said...

I have let the preschoolers have free access to a ball of yarn before as well. It was after we read a story called "big ball of string" by Ross Mueller and Craig Smith. It's a story about a boy kicks a ball of yarn from his home to the park, wanting to play soccer. Naturally first thing they did with a big ball of yarn (which I did make into sphere) was to kick it around, but by the time the day is over, it was all over the place just like your picture. I had them make it back into a ball, though... they had fun doing it, watching a string become a big ball again. It was FUN!

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