Monday, September 27, 2010

The Evolution Of The Tree Part Toys

Any of you who followed this blog over the summer know I got on a kick of making toys and art from the laurel, hemlock and cedar branches I was pruning from my yard.

Some, like the cookie tree and the tree blocks have since proven themselves in the outdoor classroom, their popularity ebbing and flowing, but getting used regularly and pretty much as I'd expected. The kids have developed some "looping" techniques for hanging the cookies, which is an innovation that takes a lot more concentration than just hanging them in a vertical chain . . .

. . . and many of the tree blocks have become part of the "loose parts" that bestrew the space, turning up in all kinds of places . . .

The bottle bush has had a rockier experience in the classroom. The kids, especially the younger ones, enjoy decorating it, and it seems to offer just the right amount of challenge, but the branches have proven to be a bit brittle, requiring lots of repair jobs . . .

You can see the hardened repair glue oozing out like sap.

. . . and I've never quite been able to shake my nervousness about broken bottles. We've only so far lost one blue vase, which was made of thinner glass than the bottles, but I'm never quite able to relax when the bottle bush is out, so it doesn't get out of the storage room as often as it needs to in order to ultimatelly earn a permanent spot in our limited space. I think if I could figure out a way to temporarily install it in the sand pit, with its softer landing zone, I'd feel better. I'm not giving up yet, but time is running short.

The tree part balancers are fun, especially for the older kids, but I've discovered they're best used as part of more organized group activities. If they're just left out for the kids to find, they have a tendency to be pulled apart and repurposed for all kinds of other things. I put too much work into them for that, so I'm going to try them out as part of our Pre-K science explorations, and perhaps has part of one of our table toys stations.

That said, by far the biggest disappointment up to now has been the performance of the tree part construction set. I'd created it in my garage with high hopes.

It seemed to offer limitless possibilities . . .

. . . and it wasn't entirely ignored when it appeared in the outdoor classroom . . .

But the truth is that it was simply too small for the wide open spaces of outdoors. The parts got scattered, repurposed, and lost quite quickly out there, and to be honest we have plenty of other objects that can serve the same purpose as these pieces, so I've had it packed away for awhile.

Last week I reintroduced it as an indoor table top toy with much more satisfying results.

Of course, I think that combining it with our Pacific Northwest native animal set really helped get the kids involved with it.

When I make these things, I always have an idea of what they'll do with them, but I also know I need to let the kids really show me how to play with them. I'd assumed this was a construction set, and it is, but what has really impressed me is how the kids are spontaneously using it for exploring sorting, matching, sets building, and other mathematic activities.

It's fun, and sometimes a challenge, to watch the toys evolve.

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Unknown said...

I'm glad u have it up there, teaching and learning from preschoolers, a lot to learn from those preschoolers, u must be the type with the real head, u are down to it and u know the whole methods and tricks as well.

Anonymous said...

LOVING this. I have put my carpenter father on the task of making the tree blocks for me and I think I can handle putting together the stand for them.
Such a great idea I think my girls will love it.

Scott said...

It's great to see the changing ways your children are using the tree toys. It seems those animals were just the trigger for ideas with the tree blocks. I'm wondering where the kids' ideas will go next.

Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Tom

This is really interesting about the tree part construction set and having more success with it on a table indoors. I do think it's a serendipitous process figuring these things out.

Perhaps outdoors you needed a bigger set - which involved a bit of challenge to move the log blocks from pole to pole. Possibly you might need some check shirts and fake moustaches for everyone to wear too - oops! That's probably stereo-typist and very un-pc of me. Just slipped out. Aaarrh!

Anyway you have once again extended the potential and possibilities of wooden play. Big thanks.

Leigh @ Toasted said...

Just a thought for your bottle tree - how about some cork tiles set up underneath it? We've got cork tiles in our house and hardly anything breaks when dropped. And the other advantage is that if something does break you can sweep it up easily.

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