Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Fixing The Bike"

There are hundreds of different images of the child.  Each one of you has inside yourself an image of the child that directs you as you begin to relate to a child.  This theory within you pushes you to behave in certain ways; it orients you as you talk to the child, listen to the child, observe the child.  It is very difficult for you to act contrary to this internal image . . .  ~Loris Malaguzzi (founder of the Reggio Emila approach)

It seems like a lifetime ago that I hauled an old bicycle from my garage and brought it into the school with the idea that the children, some of them, the ones that were somehow like I was as a boy would want to play with it. That first day, which was really only a little over 2 years ago, we used wrenches and removed the front wheel. The wheel then became a minor part of our play for awhile before disappearing during our move to the center of the universe.

The children know I commute to school on my bike now. As 2-year-old Marcus and I "discussed" the proper treatment of plants in our garden and my desire that he not eat play dough, he changed the subject by way to shrugging me off, "Where's your bike?" Marcus doesn't like to be told what to do.

We happened to be near our storage shed, behind which was leaned the rest of that old bike. I joked, "Here it is." As I wrestled the bike from behind some nice furniture grade wood we're hope to one day mount on our fence to use as permanent outdoor easels, he asked, "That's your bike?"

I straddled it, saying, "This is how I ride it."

By now several other kids had gathered around. Naomi said, "It only has one wheel." Others chimed in, "Where's the wheel?" "How to you ride it without a wheel?"

I lifted the empty front forks up over their heads, still straddling the bar, "Like this."

A chorus of "No" questioned this authority. A parent-teacher passing by chimed in, "It's a unicycle." That quieted them.

I echoed, "It's a unicycle." 

"No it isn't, Teacher Tom, it's just a bicycle missing a wheel."

"Well, then maybe we need to fix it," I said, wheeling it across the outdoor classroom to a relatively clear spot between the sandpit and where we keep the manufacturing patterns. As I flipped the bike over onto it's seat and handlebars, I realized that this was why I'd brought the bike in to school in the first place. I have an image of myself as a child, bike flipped like this, cranking the pedals, messing with the chain, and spinning that rear wheel, studying how it worked, and imagining it was all kinds of machines, including an ice cream maker.

By the time I got the bike in place, most of the kids had raced off to other things, leaving me again with Marcus who was clearly itching to lay his hands on it. This was when I noticed the pedals were missing too, so I showed him how to turn the crank arm, although I fought the urge to point out how it made the rear wheel spin. He gave it a good turn and it startled him when the wheel turned as well. Levering the crank again, his eyes darted from crank arm to the wheel, back and forth several times before he seemed to notice the chain. He experimented with turning the crank in the opposite direction, and the rear wheel didn't turn. Then he got it going forward again. He said, softly, as if to himself, "Fixing the bike."

By now other, older, kids were starting to return to the scene. I said, "When he turns the crank one way it makes the wheel turn. When he turns it the other way, it doesn't." 

B.J. said, "That's because when he turns it that way, it's the brake."

Marcus said, "Fixing the bike. Fixing the bike."

Other children were wanting their turn with the crank, but Marcus was not ready to let go and there was some pushing. I said, "Now it's Naomi's turn to fix the bike." He released the crank without help and stepped back to make room for her. Several other kids took their turn, with Marcus getting his own turn in between each of them, saying, "Fixing the bike. Fixing the bike." No one pointed out an unfairness in this arrangement.

Thomas comes from a family of cyclists. Arriving on the scene late, but full on information, he explained what each part of the bike did and what it was called, authoritatively making it up when he wasn't sure. It was during this process that we discovered the brake pulls on the handle bars and we all started horsing around with those.

Several weeks ago, Marcus had shown a fondness for yanking leaves from the plants in our garden and I'd redirected him to a patch of St. John's Wort, where I told him he could yank all the leaves he wanted. It was about at this point that he must have decided he'd contributed all he wanted to the bike repair project and abruptly left saying, "I'm going to pull weeds," heading off in the direction of the plants.

I took that as a sign that the bike was repaired and flipped it over saying, "I think it's fixed."

"You still need a tire." This lead to a massive scavenger hunt in which a group of us hunted out circular objects (manufacturing patterns, old car tires, garbage can lids, hula hoops) trying each one out between the bicycle forks.

Not long after that, I found Marcus, inside, tasting a pinch of play dough.

The environment you construct around you and the children also reflects this image you have about the child.  There's a difference between the environment that you are able to build based on a preconceived image of the child and the environment that you can build that is based on the child you see in front of you — the relationship you build with the child, the games you play.  An environment that grows out of your relationship with the child is unique and fluid. 

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Amy BG said...

Fantastic! My bike made ice cream (and popcorn) too!

Kathy said...

Fabulous!! What a wonderful exploration, Teacher Tom. The story you tell reveals all the best things about young children - their curiosity, their insight, the way they make sense of the world, and the things they do that make us laugh right out loud! I'm definitely sharing this with the teachers and parents I know. Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Ahh, the day I explored my bike with my sister...we got it going well enough to slice my pinky finger clear off where the chain goes on the gear spokes(don't really know the name!) 250 stitches later, it was back on, but I still have a crooked pinky. Learned many lessons that day. ;)

Alex Douglas-Kane said...

Nothing like chomping on playdough for reflection! great post Tom. thanks..I'd like to comment on cranks brakes and stuff, but its meaningless to me. Spinning wheels, imagining other machines, I can do.. but still a bit of chomping beats it. Look forward to his next move....

Aunt Annie said...

Ah, we all have a Marcus. It's the Marcuses of this world that keep us on our toes. Bless him for his individuality! :D

Teacher Tom said...

@Anon . . . Agg! I'm sorry about your finger. I should mention here that I serendipitously had my hand on the brake the entire time the wheel was spinning and would pull it any time fingers went too near the gears/chain.

Although I have so say, it would have to have been going pretty fast to take off a finger!

Jeanne Zuech said...

ok, Tom, so I am a few days late to read this post (got a mini-vacation in!). Love love this slant on Image of the Child, the Bike, Marcus and the comings/goings of the other children. Splendid read for a Sunday night. Cheers to bikes and all things that need "fixing" :)

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