Thursday, March 31, 2011

Let Them Teach Themselves

I've always known that children like mixing things up, of course, they do it any chance they get. I was forever coming up with ways to involve kids in mixing up paints or play dough or volcanic eruptions, but it wasn't until I met Jenny of Let The Children Play fame that it occurred to me that there didn't need to be a goal to their mixing . . . Or at least I didn't have to have a goal.

They have just as much fun, they learn just as much if not more, and I don't have to hang over them bossing them around about measurements, proportions, spillage or waste. In fact, nothing is wasted in free-form potion making.

We just put out, for instance, bowls of flour, Ivory Snow, corn starch, powdered tempera, salt, and sand, along with some cans of shaving gel (they've been on my shelves for at least 5 years, sitting there since a parent bought it instead of the shaving cream I'd asked for), and pitchers of water and vinegar. I've sometimes used vegetable oil and corn syrup as well. And anything else we might have lying about. Add some empty containers for mixing and let 'em go.

We don't start by telling the kids what they were mixing, but rather let them discover it on their own. It's always a surprise when the first child combines the baking soda and vinegar, but when the reaction happens, the ones who already know tell the ones who don't about what's happening, explaining it in terms they will understand.

Then, naturally, they all want to do it. After awhile (and they need at least 45 minutes to really engage in potion making) as the bowls need refilling, they start to ask for ingredients by name ("I need more baking soda," or "I want the shaving cream when you're done.") or ask questions ("What is this stuff?") or try to figure things out for themselves by sniffing ("This is the vinegar!") or touching or looking carefully, as they try to create or re-create results. That, my friends, is science: not following a recipe, but rather inventing or discovering one. I love more than anything else when they don't even bother to turn to an adult with their questions, but instead ask a friend, "How did you do that?" That, my friends, is how community is built and products improved; not by hoarding information to later sell in the supposed "free market."

It's so tempting as a big, all-knowing adult to want to intervene, to show or tell them what we know rather than let them discover it on their own. We worry about clothing, messes, and waste. We see them heading down the tunnel without any cheese and want to take them by the shoulders and turn them around. And, I suppose, there is a time and a place for that, but I nearly always find it's better to just turn learning over to the kids and let them teach themselves.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Draft: The Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Versus The Goo Goo Gaas

Each year, our Pre-K class produces its own play from script through costumes, sets, music, and staging, as a sort of end-of-year treat for their younger classmates, parents, siblings, grandparents, and close family friends. Last year I kept pretty good track of the process here on the blog. If you're interested in reading about that, this link leads to the video of our production and includes links to everything that lead up to it.

This year we started working on our script in January, fleshing it out through February, then starting rehearsals two weeks ago, which is an important part of the writing process. For most of the kids, it's hard to imagine what it's really going to look like when it's just words on paper, so we do a lot of editing and rewriting on our feet which makes it all look like chaos usually right up to, and including, the dress rehearsal. So, even though what I'm sharing with you below is perhaps technically a 2nd or 3rd draft, I'm calling it a first draft because the first few weeks of "writing on our feet" is so essential to really understanding what we're up to.

The parts in parentheses are stage directions, based upon the children's creative ideas, that I've added and that I will read aloud as I narrate the play. As I tell them, if they just listen to me, they will always know what to do on stage.

We voted on our title yesterday:

The Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Vs. The Goo Goo Gaas

Lachlan – Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan
Charlie B. – Bad Guy Mummy
Charlie L. – Bad Alien
Isak – Invisible Goo Goo Gaa Gaa
Peter – Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper
Orlando – Viking
Ariya – Goo Goo Gaa Gaa
Dennis – Sticky Goo Goo Gaa
Max – Bad Guy Flying Monster

Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan, Invisible Goo Goo Gaa Gaa, Bad Guy Mummy, and Bad Alien fly in a space ship. (They all get in the space ship.)

There’s a Viking too. There’s a Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper too. There’s a Goo Goo Gaa Gaa too. There’s a Sticky Goo Goo Gaa too. There’s a Bad Guy Flying Monster too. And more Bad Guy Mummys and Bad Aliens too. They are very, very Bad Alien and very, very castles.

I felt the lines, "And more Bad Guy Mummys and Bad Aliens too. 
They are very, very Bad Alien and very, very castles," was a good idea
for a back drop since the kids haven't provided any particular setting
for the play. I drew 9 "bad guys" with castles in Sharpie, one for each
boy to paint with liquid watercolor, thinking they would look good 
side-by-side on the back wall of the stage.

Actually the Goo Goo Gaa Gaas and Bad Alien and the Bad Guy Mummy really fly. (The Goo Goo Gaa Gaas, the Bad Alien, and the Bad Guy Mummy fly around the audience.)

The Bad Guy Mummy and Bad Alien and the Viking are the bad ones. (The bad ones stand on the balcony.) And let’s have swords. (Everyone holds up their sword.)

The Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper is the best because it is a storm trooper too and dumps dirt in the water so the Viking’s ship can’t get through. (The Viking tries to sail in the water, but is blocked by the dirt and goes back on the stage.)

Some of the guys took my cue and worked carefully and
individually on their section of the backdrop. Typically, the
liquid water color will dry so as to reveal the Sharpie lines
behind it.

The Bad Guy Mummy has a sword with an arm, but a sword in a pocket and a horse. (The Invisible Bad Guy shows the audience is sword with an arm.)

Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan has a goo goo gaa with a hand. (The Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan shows the audience his goo goo gaa with a hand.)

We all go to outer space, except the Viking. He doesn’t want to go. (They get into the space ship.)

We see planets and live in them. (They get out of their space ship and get in the planet.)

Most of the guys, however, chose to work in teams, focusing
way more on the process, which included "flicking" the paint,
painting the floor . . .

The Sticky Goo Goo Gaa has a by bo bo. (The Sticky Goo Goo Gaa shows the audience his by bo bo.)

The bad pirate’s boat flies with wings in outer space like Captain Hook’s boat, because him splashes in water and flies back up.

When they’re in space we crash into a bubble planet. (They crash onto the stage.)

The robot comes out. His name is R2D2.

Then ballet dancing.

Then the robot falls right down. Then everybody except the Viking falls right down.

The helicopter transports the Bad Guy Flying Monster. The Bad Guy Flying Monster lands on another planet in a helicopter. The helicopter comes out to fight the Bad Guy Flying Monster and it (comes to the stage and) rescues the Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper.  (The Bad Guy Flying Monster and the Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper go back to the planet.)

Then the Bad Guy Flying Monster has a light saber too. (The Bad Guy Flying Monster holds up his light saber.)

Then the Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan gets the Bad Guy Flying Monster and puts him in jail.

The Bad Guy Flying Monster gets his light saber and cuts the bars. And then he escaped from jail (and goes back to his planet.)

And then they build a stronger jail made out of diamonds. (and they get the Bad Guy Flying Monster and put him back in jail.)

Then the Bad Guy Flying Monster gets his light saber again and cuts the diamond bars. He put away his light saber (and goes back to his planet.)

And then they build an even stronger jail with diamonds, fire, concrete, and metal padlocks, iron chains and duct tape, straw, brick, mortar, light sabers, melted metal, and more iron. (Then they get the Bad Guy Flying Monster again and put him in jail.)

And then the Bad Guy Flying Monster gets the light saber again and cuts through that stuff. Through the roof of the jail because the roof only has wood. (Then the Bad Guy Flying Monster goes back to his planet.)

And then the Goo Goo Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan takes his light saber (and goes to the planet) and kills the Bad Guy Flying Monster. The Monster is dead . . . Or is he? (He opens his eyes and looks at the audience.)

. . . and painting one spot over and over until the paper tore.
Several of them came off the floor in pieces, and one went
straight to the recycling bin.

And then the Viking comes out on his horse with his swords and there’s a big fight. And then the helicopter spins through over the heads of the Goo Goo Gaas upside down and makes a fire.

The helicopter shoots water on the fire and then the Dump Truck Goo Goo Gaa Lachlan gets burned. (He falls down and says “owie, owie.”)

Then the Goo Goo Gaas get protected (under the space ship.)

The Bad Alien and Bad Guy Mummy, after the Goo Goo Gaas go, the bad guys come. The Bad Alien has hands and then he comes with a light saber. The Bad Guy Mummy comes with a sword.

And then a paper comes and wraps us all up and then we get throwed (into the water.) And then the hearts come down and cover us all up.

A bat comes and gets the Bad Guy Flying Monster (who comes alive again.)

Then the Bad Guy Flying Monster has a plan (and rubs his chin.) He opens the bat’s claws and falls out Kaboom!

The Goo Goo Gaas draw pictures and throw them on the audience.

And the Goo Goo Gaas, the Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper, the Bad Alien, the Bad Guy Mummy, and everybody runs around the audience.

The recycling robot garbage truck takes everything away.

Then the Bad Alien, the Viking, the Bad Guy Mummy, and the Bad Guy Flying Monster get the Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan (and put him in jail).

And then the puff balls fly out!

And with all those large canvases taking up almost all of our
floor space it shouldn't have surprised me that many of the
paint cups got kicked over, further saturating the paper. So,
anyway, there are 8 sections of back drop drying on every
flat surface of the room, many in several pieces. I suspect this
will be something we'll have to try again, hopefully in a
way that shows the teacher learned something from this

But the Viking has a diamond sword and cuts through the jail (and the Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan escapes).

Then the Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper gets into a fire station. Then the Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper gets the Bad Alien (and takes him to the fire station.) The Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper and the Bad Alien are friends (and they hug.)

Then the Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper dumps dirt on the bad guys.

The Bad Alien doesn’t want to get dirt dumped on him (and says, “No!”). Actually the Bad Alien scares the good guys away (and the good guys run to the other side of the stage.)

The Goo Goo Gaa Gaa Dump Truck Lachlan does not want the bad guys to kill him (and says, “No!”)

The Bad Alien goes on the Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper for a ride.

Then the Viking gets invincible (and shows the audience his muscles.)

The Goo Goo Gaas drop bikes on the Viking.

The Viking takes his sword and cuts through the bikes.

The Dump Truck Star Wars Ship Clone Trooper wanted the bikes not cut (and says, “No!”)

Then the Goo Goo Gaas cut through the Viking’s sword. Then the Viking makes a diamond sword.

A chair falls down on the stage.

Then a table fell down on the stage.

Then then Goo Goo Gaas find treasure in the audience and throw them at the audience.

And then the Viking takes his sword and cuts through the chair (and table).

And then the people fall off the stage (into the water).


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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Paper Clips!

During the past few weeks we've painted with pendulums, made tall paintings, and painted a box city. We toured a chocolate factory, had big kid visitors, and got to shoot a real fire hose connected to a hydrant. But nothing has captured the kids sustained interest quite like our office supplies. Sheesh!

We often have staplers, scissors, and hole punches out, and they always get some action, but during my family's recent move into smaller downtown quarters, I came across a stash of supplies left over from the bygone era when my wife worked from an office in our home (the reason we owned an oversized house in the first place). Specifically, I discovered more Post-It notes and paper clips than any family could use in a lifetime, so I brought them into the school. I then proceeded to sit on them for a few weeks, thinking that they were office supplies the school might one day need until it occurred to me that I was just curating the damn things, which is what us bag ladies too often do with our "treasures."

Let them be free! I told myself, so I put them on our do-it-yourself table where they could be used the way nature intended. The first thing I discovered was that a family with young children could indeed go through all those Post-It notes in fairly short order.

But the real action has been with the paper clips. Making chains with them has become nothing short of a mania, something they are teaching one another. One of them must have come into class with some knowledge, which has now gone viral.

They are calling them "compliment chains" and proudly handing them off to me to add to our classroom compliment chain when we give compliments during circle time.

I love those little fingers reaching under an arm to "pinch" a paper clip.

There were a few "giant" paper clips included in my home collection, which are fun . . .

. . . but it's the standard issue ones that are sustaining the play.

Let me tell you, in all the years we've been hanging compliment chains from the ceiling, this will be the first one with a chance to completely encircle where we sit on the blue rug, then head off over to the other side of the classroom, which is the declared goal of the 3-5's class.

I sometimes lose sight of these little things in my enthusiasm for my job, always asking myself, What will we do with this? or How can I support them in working on that? It's far more important sometimes to just stop curating and ask those questions of the kids.

And the giant pencil? I just stuck that photo in here because I really like the picture.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Gun Play

The children in the Woodland Park 3-5 class make their own rules and it usually doesn’t take long for them to ban guns at school, real or pretend. I’m glad the children do it because otherwise it would be up to the adults. We would probably make the same decision, but for all the wrong reasons.

As far as I know (and I’m prepared to be corrected) there is no scientific study that shows a connection between preschoolers playing with toy guns and future violent proclivities. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed no correlation between the boys (and it’s mostly boys) who have a strong urge to “play guns” and their propensity for actually hurting their peers. And personally, between the ages of about 4-8 I carried a lot of guns as part of pretending to be a cowboy, soldier, or The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and today I’m a pacifist to the tips of my toes. But knowing our Woodland Park community, if left to the adults to make the rules, I’m pretty sure that the concern about future violence would carry the day.

There are many theories about why young children play guns, but most revolve around the concept that being powerful through violence is deeply ingrained in both our culture and psyche, if not our genetics. Our nation’s history, in many ways, is the story of using gun violence to exert power. From the Revolutionary War through our current violent occupations of the Middle East, we’ve “proven” our superiority from behind the barrels of guns. Our literature is rife with the conflict between good and evil, with “necessary” violence more often than not being at least part of the solution. Any home with a television, no matter how strictly monitored, will eventually bring gunplay of some sort – be it the news or a cartoon – into the home.

Whatever our personal opinions about guns, it’s hard to argue that our children are not surrounded by violent imagery and it shouldn’t surprise us that they bring that into their dramatic play. Just as they might play with dolls to experience the nurturing they see around them, or basketballs to emulate athletes, they pick up toy guns (or more often than not, form them from their fingers) as a way to explore the violence in their lives, real or imaginary. And it’s mostly boys because guns are almost always connected in some way to masculinity.

This is important work they’re doing and as a teacher I have a hard time standing in the way, but I must because the children always ban guns.

It usually goes something like this:

Child: “I have a rule.”

Teacher Tom: “What rule would you like to suggest?”

Child: “No guns.”

Teacher Tom: “No guns in preschool. Why should we have that rule?”

Child: “Because guns scare me and I don’t like to get shot.”

Teacher Tom: “We don’t want people to be scared at school and getting shot hurts. What about pretend guns?”

Child: “No pretend guns either.”

Teacher Tom: “Why don’t you want pretend guns in school?”

Child: “Because they scare me and I don’t like to get shot.”

Teacher Tom (to the whole group): “Does anyone like to be scared?”

Class: “No.”

Teacher Tom: “Does anyone like to get shot?”

Class: “No.”

Teacher Tom: “So should we have a rule that says, No Guns In Preschool?”

Class: “Yes.”

And that’s how guns get banned. But just as a real-life gun ban doesn’t mean that there won’t be guns in society, our preschool gun ban doesn’t guarantee there won’t be guns in the classroom. As the executive in charge of enacting legislation, I feel it’s my responsibility to use some discretion in enforcing the ban. I’ll usually look the other way as long as the gunplay stays within a self-contained group of children and doesn’t start involving the children who would rather not be “scared” or “shot.”

It’s a tightrope that has many pitfalls, both expected and otherwise, as you will see.

One day Cash was standing in our loft with what was clearly a gun he had fashioned from some ½” PVC pipe he’d found in the block area. Since he was quietly playing on his own, it was the kind of thing I normally allow to pass, but one of his classmates noticed, objected, and complained, “Cash has a gun,” so I had to do something.

I said, “That looks like a gun.”

Cash lied, “It’s not.”

This is one of the very real negative side-effects of a strict preschool gun ban, it encourages kids to lie.

I pushed on. “You and your friends made a rule that says ‘No guns in preschool’.”

“It’s not a gun.”

“It looks like a gun.”

“It’s a love shooter.”

Giving him credit for quick thinking, I said, “That doesn’t sound so bad. Do you think your friends know it’s a love shooter?”

Cash looked down upon his classmates, “No, they probably think it’s a gun.”

“And they’re probably scared because they think you’re shooting bullets at them.”

Cash answered, “I’ll tell them,” and with that he descended from the loft and went from child-to-child informing them that the PVC construction in his hand wasn’t a gun, it was a love shooter. By the time he was done, he’d collected a team of boys, each with his own PVC love shooter. They marched back into the loft and proceeded to rain love down on a group of girls who were dancing around with their hands over their heads.

I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the mom in charge of the drama station, proudly watching the scene, enjoying my own magnificent ability to turn violence into love. I said, “Look at them spreading love instead of war.”

She answered, “And the girls are loving it too.”

It must have clicked for both of us at the same moment. Our eyes locked as we shared a look that bespoke horror. We watched in awkward silence as the boys and girls joyfully played a game that looked to us adults like some sort of bizarre, slightly-pornographic fertility rite.

She finally broke the silence, “They have no idea, right?”

And I answered, “I hope they get tired of it soon.”

When it comes to children, adults often see things that aren’t there, be it sex, violence or an objection to eating beets. That’s why I prefer the children making their own rules. They often know better than us what’s what.

Extra reading

When it comes to playing guns, I always make sure the tell the kids that the “No Guns” rule applies only to preschool and that their own families may have different rules. For those of you who would like a little further reading about guns and preschoolers, I’ve provided some links to articles I found insightful/useful:

Beyond Banning War and Superhero Play: This piece by researcher Diane Levin makes a strong case for allowing children to explore violence in their play.

Super Heroism and War Play In The Preschool: This is a well-written think-piece based in large part on Diane Levin’s research.

Guns and Boys: Okay to Play?: This is a short, practical guide for parents.

(Reposted, with editing, from 8/26/09)

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

It Seems To Be Working Out Perfectly

One of the ways I've come to use this blog as a teacher is as part of my reflective practice. I take a few photos during the day, sometimes without looking at the viewfinder, then later as I transfer them to my computer, I find myself mulling over the day, reflecting on the things that worked, that didn't work, that I would do differently, that I want to help the children expand upon, or simply that I wish I could preserve in amber for all eternity. Often I notice things in the photos of which I was totally unaware in the moment, a gesture, a relationships, a moment of pure concentration or sheer joy that had gone on behind the backs of the kids upon whom I was focused. It didn't start that way, but as time has gone on, I find that the discipline of posting something here daily, coupled with the reflective time I spend with the photos has made me a more creative, more responsive teacher.

Lately, I've been scrolling through the photos from earlier in the year, last summer, and even back into the previous spring, reminding myself of the story, I guess, of how we've come to where we are over the past year. Last week, I stopped on this photo, for instance, remembering this tangle of ropes and sticks that Orlando had called a "monster trap," and that had, to all of our surprise and delight, actually caught a "monster."

What had become of these ropes? I wondered. For a long time, years in fact, these ropes had been a central part of all of our outdoor play, sometimes creatively, sometimes disruptively, but they'd been something of a constant, ropes being nearly as versatile as sticks. But I couldn't recall having seen much of them lately. Under the assumption that they'd been stored away somewhere, I searched through the likely shelves, cabinets and drawers to no avail. I was about to see if I could set some of the kids on a mission of turning over the sand pit in search of this buried treasure, when I spied them.

They were in a massive knot, hanging from the doorway to what I refer to on this blog as our beach hut, although it's never worn that moniker within the Woodland Park community. Seeing it reminded me that I'd known where the ropes were all along. Not only had my subconscious known that they had been in this predicament for some time, I had photos of it, images captured while observing a game that involved making the hut impenetrable to monsters -- that theme again.

I'd grown blind to it over the intervening months, looking but not seeing the way one does when things don't change often, or only gradually, one tiny thing at a time. If you had asked me two weeks ago if the beach hut was fulfilling my original vision for it, I might have answered, "Not really": the idea having been a "play house" that the children build themselves, over time, as need be, as an extension of their dramatic and constructive play. The discovery of this rope ball sent me back through the photo archives and if you asked me that question this morning, I would answer instead, "It seems to be working out perfectly."

This is where we started last April, a simple floor constructed from a shipping pallet and discarded fencing planks, some 2 X 4's on the corners, some more fencing planks across the top for stability, and burlap bags temporarily serving as roof and walls.

We've nailed bottle caps to it and otherwise decorated it, adding "furniture," even installing a rope and a couple pulleys that remain to this day, although the white basket has long ago worn out. That piece of peg board across the bottom was one of our first additions, involving measuring, sawing and hammering, a project of a day.

Late last spring, one of the guys had the idea of installing a doorway, using an old mirror frame for the purpose.

He didn't need a lot of help, driving nails through the frame without splitting the wood, something I would not have thought possible.

Click on this photo to enlarge it if you're interested in a
close-up look at his masterful hammer work.

One day, we hung an old rope ladder across the top because someone got a bee in her/his bonnet about making "indoor monkey bars."

If you'd asked me then, I might have enthusiastically agreed that the beach hut was taking baby steps along the path toward where I hoped it would one day go, but in reality I was starting to think of it as rather fallow ground, a place of great untapped potential.

But one thing at a time, day-by-day, the hut continued to evolve without my really noticing. A bell was added, a couple of old house screens were nailed up, a few random pieces of wood attached. I tried "fertilizing" this ground that I had mistakenly identified as fallow by doing things like connecting it to the ever-popular sand pit with long pulley system . . .

. . . without even really noticing the three board walkway that already connected the two. I don't even remember that happening. The pulley system is long gone, but those three boards have become a permanent, well-trod feature of the outdoor classroom.

We added a more permanent roof last fall, using some laminated particle board from a dismantled Ikea bookshelf, something driven by the advent of our Pacific Northwest rainy season, without disturbing the indoor monkey bars, which now sometimes serve as a kind of cozy hammock for one or even two children at a time.

Looking back at these pictures, I don't feel like I lost track of the hut at all, but if you'd asked me, I would have answered, "Not really," so slowly and naturally has it evolved.

Somewhere along the line a wobbly shelf was added because someone had the idea of using the hut as a store for selling some of the loose parts they'd collected.

It's a good place to hang out, leaning on it like a window sill, beaming at your friends busy at the work bench.

When I came to these pictures of us painting the hut as part of our Chinese New Year celebration, I was reminded that the roof has now become a new kind of playscape for the kids.

Almost daily now, a child or two climbs our step ladder to add something to the collection of toys up there, to retrieve something they'd stored there, or to splash the water that's standing there from the last rain. A couple kids have climbed up all the way on top while I stand with my hands ready. Off and on, there's been talk of adding a second story, but one of our parents who holds a contractor's license doesn't think our ground floor is strong enough for the weight. We could, however, build a new foundation, he says, and lift our existing structure on top of it . . .

As I was fingering the big knot last week, planning to free the individual ropes for more active play, Max stopped me, "Don't take that down, Teacher Tom."

"Why not? I thought you guys might want to play with these ropes."

"I tied that knot," he answered, a statement that I don't think is factually true -- it looks like the work of Orlando -- but one that I believe has become as true as anything can be over the slow-motion evolution of our beach hut. When we're talking about that kind of time span (20-25 percent of their lives), who can really know what actually happens? And frankly, who really cares? It's what exists now that matters. 

"It's how we lock the door."

Okay. Sounds like it's time for some new ropes, especially if we're going to build any more traps.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Hair Painting Project

I've written before that I do much of my curriculum planning while on the commute into school, a time-frame that has been greatly condensed with my family's recent cut-the-fat-out move into downtown Seattle where my morning drive has been reduced from 35 to about 10 minutes (yes, I know, I should be cycling, and that will happen soon). I arrived yesterday with a good idea about what we were going to do for most of our time together, but was dissatisfied with my plans for our art station, not so much on artistic grounds, but rather based upon the idea that plagues me every now and then that the kids have another 15+ years ahead of them of sitting in chairs at school and I, as a counter-weight to that, need to keep them on their feet as much as possible.

So it was with the general idea of verticality that I began scouring the nooks and crannies of Woodland Park, coming up first one big box, then more.

At first it was just going to be those 3 large boxes, until, while struggling with the lid flaps, I had the idea of using the glue gun to connect them, making ceilings without walls, and walls without ceilings.

On a roll, I started adding smaller boxes and other sheets of cardboard, cutting doors and windows, until I'd created a sort of box house or city, with a variety of inside and outside spaces.

It was an unusual enough set up that the first few kids who arrived in class watched it from the corners of their eyes, but without stopping by to figure it out, so I asked a couple of our parent-teachers to just get going on the high parts, which is one of the best ways I know to encourage kids to want to try something. Adults at work, be it painting boxes or cleaning toilets, has an attractive magic in it.

It wasn't long before a core group of inside-outside painters were hard at work, some setting up shop in a single place, going deep, applying coat after coat of tempera . . .

. . . while others explored a variety of spaces, carrying a brush in one hand and a paint cup in the other, adding a dot of color here, and a dot there.

It's true that one of the weaknesses of my planning system is that I don't always have the time to think things all the way through, and about a half hour into this project I began to ask the parent-teachers managing this project what we ought to do with the clumsy contrivance I'd created, soon to be soggy with paint, when we were ready to clean-up. 

We finally settled on the old stand-by technique of just sort of shoving it off to the side and figuring out what to do with it later. I'll probably let the 3-5 class have a go at it on Monday since it's already in the middle of the classroom, then let it hang out all next week for non-paint play purposes. See? I'm planning days in advance now.

I had thought enough in advance to know that we would get paint in our hair.

After all, that's one of the hazards of working in a space with freshly painted ceilings. What I hadn't anticipated was how fun it would be to paint one another's hair on purpose, a trend that didn't meet with the overt disapproval of the presiding parents, many of whom broke out their cameras to record the moment.

If there is one comment (which I take as a compliment, even though it's not always offered as such) I hear from parents more than any other it's some variant on, "This is why we come to preschool, to do things we will never do at home." 

Often it's phrased as, "Teacher Tom do you have any towels we can borrow for my car seats?" or "Ugh, you're going straight home to the bath tub," or as Calder's grandfather Dick expressed it yesterday, "I'm glad I wasn't working today." But I know what they really mean despite the edge of irritation in their voices.

If you're going to be a commute time curriculum planner, which I highly recommend (and indeed it's hard to justify any other kind), you might also want to also work on developing a bit of purposeful obliviousness buoyed by a faith that once bath time is over and the photos are being reviewed, mom, dad, and grandpa will be able to laugh about it.

(Oh my.)

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