Sunday, August 08, 2010

Tree Part "Beads"

If you've been reading along here these past couple months, you'll know I've been on a bit of a tear this summer, making toys from the cedar, hemlock and laurel branches I've been pruning from my yard. I've made tree blocks, a cookie tree, a bottle bush, tree part balancers, and a tree part construction set, but I've recently realized that I haven't shared the tree part project that really got me going: tree part "beads."

I'm calling them "beads" because that was the original idea. I cut sticks of various diameters into 1/4"-1" bits, then drilled holes in them.

I provided green garden twine with large yarn needles, expecting results like these:

But the great part about having a whole construction/tinkering station at our disposal is that there are other bits and pieces and tools around to spark ideas and make connections that go beyond what my meager adult mind can conceive.

It's an ongoing learning process for all of us, kids and teachers alike, figuring out how to "tinker" in a constructive, safe manner that encourages the kind of flow from idea to idea that is at the heart of the theory of "loose parts" and tinkering. It is still relatively new to us to have hand tools like hammers, saws, drills, screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers available to us on a daily basis. Many of our parent-teachers have expressed insecurities about working with these tools themselves, let alone guiding children in their use. There are concerns about safety, of course, and a great deal of back-and-forth about "tool rules," conversations I expect to be having forever, but it seems that we're starting to hit our stride and these tree part beads have been at the heart of our progress.

Little did I know that this apparent one-trick pony would become such an accomplished performer. Over the course of the past couple months, my "beads," in the hands of the children and with the growing confidence of the teachers, have learned several new and exciting tricks.

Bamboo skewers and basic tie wire, for instance, have come to be regular additions to our "bead" constructions.

The wire, in particular, has necessitated the introduction of a new tool.

Not all of the kids were able to squeeze these tightly enough to cut the thicker bailing wire, so we've also had to introduce the concept of wire gauges, and now offer a selection of wires for the children to use.

And we've learned that wire cutters can do more than just cut wire.

Peg board has recently been added to the mix as well, creating a whole new category of things we can do with these "beads."

And when we start to get to the bottom of the of the "bead" box . . .

. . . or just because we think we can, the kids have learned to make their own "beads" from sticks they find on the ground.

It has been quite amazing watching this whole thing unfold. There were times back in April and May when I was about to throw up my hands, when the whole thing seemed stilted and too pre-programmed, when we all worried too much, or not enough, about kids hurting themselves or one another, when children got board with the activities because they didn't go anywhere. I'm so grateful to my parent community for being willing, able and even eager to tinker with the experiment of preschool tinkering right along with me and their children. Every day it seems we're all learning new things, opening new possibilities, and seeing new potential. Just as it required a space of time to allow Little World to evolve from something new, strange and artificial into an integral part of our day, we also, it seems, have to give our construction/tinkering initiative its own time to cure and ripen.

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Juliet Robertson said...

This is so encouraging! I'm wondering whether Gever Tulley has heard what you're up to. He might have to up his summer school a notch or two if children have been to your pre-school first!

Play for Life said...

Tom It's great to see so many of your girls getting involved with the tinkering process. I don't like sounding sexist but let's face it girls don't always get exposed to this type of play at a young age ... or any age for that matter! Speaking of which, I really like your original thought of threading the beads and as it's not too often that boys get exposed to a lot of jewelry making I reckon buttons added to the wooden beads would really inspire some terrific jewelry creations.
Florist wire is great for construction and lends itself nicely to jewelry making. I know your not opposed to a little bling yourself not that we've seen your sparkly wire bangle of late. Perhaps you could wear it to inspire the boys!
Donna :) :)

Michele @ The Hills are Alive said...

my favourite part of this post is the kids making their own beads from sticks they have found (which just reminded me of a v funny car conversation yesterday trying to explain the old joke Q: What is brown and sticky A: A stick to my 5 year old. Her answer was "golden syrup" which was fair enough but she just couldnt get the joke part about a stick being "sticky" (ie stick-like) and I couldnt explain it to her. But its NOT sticky mummy they are kinda dry and plain unless they have something on them like tree sap or something. Too funny

Kat said...

I love these! I just spent the day collecting driftwood on the shore of Lake Michigan and now you have my wheels turning, wondering what I might do with all of it.

SquiggleMum said...

I watched some big burly workmen chopping down a tree across the road the other day. I couldn't help but notice how strong and straight those branches seemed. And what a waste it was for them to become woodchip. So, feeling brave, I went over and asked for a few logs!! Hmm, now whether to turn them into beads like these, or blocks, or...