Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thinking With The Giant Tube

Yesterday the kids played with our giant tube, and as I predicted, only one of them noticed the new 16-foot, freestanding, $1,600 awning standing in the middle of their outdoor classroom that came in the tube. Even on a large scale, it's all about the boxes.

Although, in fairness to the observatory powers of the children, only about half of them even made it outdoors yesterday, opting instead to stick with the giant tube where it currently lives in the gym, the only place that makes sense at our tiny school. The "gym" is in reality a former chapel (our landlords still refer to it as that in the lease), unheated, and open to the outdoors on the days we play there. 

For those of you new to the blog, Woodland Park is a cooperative preschool, an early childhood education model that puts parents in the classroom as my assistant teachers. I asked Charlie L.'s mom Shelly to hang out with the giant tube, while I went outdoors to get other parent-teachers going on their stations (team string painting, glue gun construction, sand play, gardening, etc.). When I returned to check up on what was happening, I stumbled into the final scene from Dr. Strangelove, but instead of a crazed warmonger riding "the bomb," it was a crazed co-op parent steadying the giant tube while children raced from one end to the other, rolling balls down its length.

In the comments to yesterday's post, Shelly wrote about the experience:

To be honest, I was wary at first of being the parent in charge of tube play today. Some of the kids had a steamroller thing going with the tube when we first started out . . . I was thinking, "Yikes!" Once we got the balls going, though, it turned into kind of a science experiment about slope and momentum. 

Now, not only is Shelly the proprietor of the terrific sewing blog Tales From The Seamripper, but she's also a former teacher with way more credentials than me, so I'm not surprised, after 3 years of working together in the classroom, that she was able to steer things away from flattening our friends and in the direction of scientific exploration.

Donna from Irresistible Ideas For Play Based Learning wrote about the giant tube:

Now that looks like fun, but Tom, I so want to know your contingency plan for when someone gets stuck half way down . . . and let's face it, now that you've voiced it, it's bound to happen! Promise me you WILL post about that one!

Like Donna, I had kind of assumed that crawling through the giant tube would be one of the more popular ways to play with it, but Shelly said only a couple of them even tried and the ones that did only made it a couple feet before backing out. It's a pretty tight fit. The kids aren't able to crawl through it unless they're able to drag themselves through with their forearms, plus it's pretty long and dark, all of which seems to have colluded to intimidate the children yesterday. But I think Donna's right, given enough time, someone will get stuck, which is a pretty good argument for getting it cut into shorter pieces.

That doesn't mean, however, that we didn't get some experience with unclogging the tube. As Shelly writes:

Then the belts and the wooden boxes started going down the tube and got stuck -- we had this awesome problem solving session, which resulted in getting the stuff unstuck.

While I tried manhandling the tube, then went off to track down a long piece of PVC pipe to use as a plunger, Shelly did what a teacher ought to do and talked the children through prospective solutions, experimenting, and finally coming up with one that involved increasing the incline and other techniques that I was not privy to because I was too busy running around trying to solve the problem myself. Man, I'm glad to have assistant teachers who remember to stay focused on the job of getting the children to think instead of just being the big adult who fixes things for them. Rock on, Shelly! 

But there was a lot more going on in the kid's giant tube play than just science. Social skills, for instance, were being practiced, like sharing, cooperation, settling conflicts, taking turns, and self regulation. There was a large motor component, a sensory component, a math component, and a dramatic play component to the play I saw taking place there. 

A couple days ago, Anna from atelierista wrote in a comment to my post Just Like Living, in which I discussed the artificiality of dividing learning into subjects:

I've been struggling (or maybe not struggling, but coming to understand) the sameness of it all while writing a curriculum document for the school where I work. I guess it's pretty radical to think that there is just learning (or thinking), not science learning or social studies or art learning, all in separate little boxes, but I really think that's how it is.

Her parenthetical substitution of the work "thinking" for "learning" is a significant one to me. For the last couple days, every time I hear the word "learn" or "learning" I've been mentally substituting "think" or "thinking." It works. Try it.

This giant tube play isn't a learning experience, really, as much as it is a full-body thinking experience, and that's what Shelly brilliantly brought out in the children's play.

And, after all, it's true when I really think about it: as a teacher I have no expectations about what children learn in preschool, that's kind of up to them, but I do expect that they will have to think, and that to me is the better part of education.

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Shelly said...

I feel like I'm a way better teacher now because of being a parent at Woodland Park! One of the many things I love about Charlie attending school at WP is that I learn so much about teaching and learning from you, the kids, and other parents! Plus you have such awesome ideas - it is tough not to have a fantastic time being there.

Juliet Robertson said...

Gosh I'm full of quotes today. I agree with you about thinking.. here's a fab quote

“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.” - David Polis

OK I think it's a tad romantic. I'd spice it up with a bit of freedom, risk, challenge and fun thrown in too.

rachelle | tinkerlab said...

Go Shelley! It's so nice to get a peak at the parents who help run your school. I especially love how you bring novel ideas and props into the school -- While routine has its advantages, I always notice how enthralled my daughter can be when her preschool teachers introduce new materials.

Play for Life said...

I trust that's Shelly riding the tube? Yeehaa!! What lucky, lucky children Tom! But you'll still let me know if someone gets stuck ... yeah?
Donna :) :)

brent geppert said...

tubes are cool! i love how you saved this giant tube for your students. I'll bet if you cut it up into smaller pieces you could have even more fun.

Unknown said...

You hit the nail on the head with what I've been struggling with lately. I homeschool my 3 boys (who are 5,5, and 6 years old and would go crazy over that awesome tube), and my state requires that I keep a record of the hours of each subject we cover. As the year has gone on I have been adding more and more "formal" book work, in an attempt to get the number of hours we need for the year. In reality, I know that the kids don't need that much busy work in order to learn(think), but in my effort to force what they are learning (thinking) into a specific subject area for my records I am stressing them and myself out with more busy work than they need. You have given me some things to think about. Thank you for all of your insight.

Anonymous said...

Tom, I found the tube play fascinating and wanted to recreate it in our program. However we bought be buying a sundowner shade awning anytime soon, so i was thinking along the lines of a concrete form. But I realized while you gave the length of the tube you didn't give the diameter. Any idea what the diameter might be?