Monday, March 14, 2011


(Note: I'm thrilled to have been interviewed by Jean of the wonderful art and early childhood blog The Artful Parent, the results of which appear today on her pages. Head on over and leave a comment and you just might win a Teacher Tom "endorsed" glue gun!)

Despite a classroom in which we were playing with a giant pendulum in one corner and painting pendulums in another, despite a sensory table of water, funnels and hardware store tubing, one of the places in our classroom where the children most congregated last week was our small "blue table," upon which our marble collection resided.

I know I sometimes have the tendency to make preschool more complicated than it needs to be, building contraptions or balloon cages or coming up with elaborate installations, and those things are certainly fun and often even worthwhile, but they also carry with them the inherent risk that my investment in preparation time will also lead to an investment in my own agenda. And when the teacher's agenda threatens to supersede that of the kids', well, it's a set up for a frustrating time on everyone's part.

The humble collection is a good way to keep a teacher humble and truly focused on what the children need and want to do. In this case it's a collection of marbles that originated in my own boyhood collection and augmented over the years. But a "good" collection can be pretty much anything -- keys, buttons, toy football helmets, spinning tops.

Anything, really, with enough variety that it can be arranged, classified, and sorted. If you look carefully at the marbles on this old Chinese checkers star, for instance, you'll see a number of sets taking shape on the points. Or how about the marbles on this triangular game board?

It looks like s/he was going for "metallic." Others might sort by size or pattern. But it doesn't have to be that fancy. A tin lid or a bowl will do just as well because children innately experiment with making sets and sequencing, they'll automatically do it with any collection that has enough variety to allow for it, which really is what math is all about as far as I can tell.

They'll do it whether there's an adult voice prompting them or not

Often with collections, I'll duct tape a wooden rim around the edge of the table to help the children keep things together. With the marble collection it was essential, of course, since you really don't want them running loose on a classroom floor.

Last week we also added this neat little marble run.

It includes a stairway xylophone along its ramps that the marbles play as they zig zag their way down. We have a large, fancy marble run set, but this proved every bit as popular . . .

. . . with the added charm of being something that was made long ago with wood and nails . . .

. . . made with the expectation that toys were not necessarily fool proof. The marbles, for instance, don't make it to the bottom every time like they do with our plastic set, often jumping the track with enough of a regularity that we feel a thrill when they successfully make it to the bottom. And if we're going to play with it together, there's a cooperative gentleness or finesse that's needed or else the whole thing just topples over. I love how all those hands work together, as automatically as sorting and sequencing, to set it back to rights.

(Now head on over to the The Artful Parent where I'm honored to have been interviewed by the inimitable Jean, one of the most creative and inspiring people on the internet. Make sure to say "hi" over there if you're interested in that glue gun!)

Bookmark and Share


Jeanne Zuech said...

Love marbles, love collections! Thanks for showcasing the table for sorting and experimenting - all things shiny and roll-able are definitely attractions for children to test out. Thx!

Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree said...

Kids are natural collectors! My daughter and I were looking at my bead collection from when I was little! She loved it and literally sat on all the beads that we put on the carpet-----it was a sensory experience!

Great interview at The Artful Parent! I started reading your blog over a month ago, but the interview has made me understand more! I will start letting my daughter (4) use a glue gun---would have never let her---but she would love it and learn to be careful! My father always let us use all his tools and he let us help with everything. The kids in the neighborhood would come to our house to play because of this!

Love Mr. Rogers too and will have to check out his parent resource book you suggested! Thanks for your inspiration,

Lindsey said...

Love the interview! I didn't want to comment over there because of the giveaway. We have enough gnarly old glue guns to arm our three foot high troops already ;)

How do you keep your jeans from dying when they get like that? when I get a rip right through the knee it usually only takes a couple of weeks before I stick my foot in getting dressed and accidentally rip the leg off completely!

We also had a collections appreciation kinda day over here. I dragged out the "bits and bobs box", which is something my mum always kept handy for me when I was a wee lass. Maybe I should write about it on the blog some time. Nothing quite as exciting as an eclectic collection of bits and bobs :)

Anonymous said...

We have a small preschool in SC. After reading about this last night, I went right to school this morning and set up a similar table! We have a mostly-unused collection of marbles and some random pieces of a marble run that we bought at a yard sale. With some cups, some shells, both a wooden and a metal Chinese checkers board, we were ready to go.
It was so popular that we set it up again after nap, with a promise that we could do it again tomorrow! Thanks!