Sunday, August 28, 2011

Who Is Going To Sit In Those Cubicles? Not These Kids!

Gees . . .

Awhile back our little corner of the internet was afizz with the idea of fizzing sidewalk chalk, an art medium produced by mixing baking soda, corn starch, water and food coloring. I saw it first on Quirky Momma, which is where you'll find the proper proportions and procedures. The idea is that you mix up this paint, apply it to your sidewalk, then squirt it with vinegar, which makes your painting fizz.

I thought Woodland Park's kids might like to give it a try, except that being the full-on commies we are, we wanted to put the means of production into the hands of the workers/players. Instead of pre-mixing the paint, or giving them any kind of instructions, we just provided the powders, water, and color (we used liquid watercolor instead of food coloring), along with some tools for mixing and paint brushes. We made a few batches of successful paint, but lacking sidewalks, we used it to paint other things like the brick wall of our building and the wooden boats we were tinkering with over on the workbench.

To be honest, however, as is generally the case, the mixing experiments took over and we wound up with very little actual fizzy sidewalk painting and lots of containers that looked like this . . .

. . . useless for painting purposes. And after making the paint fizz a few times, the squirt bottles full of vinegar became another means of scientific experimentation, although since one of those experiments is almost always to squirt the other people, often in the face, it was kind of a mad scramble to find the balance between free-form-fizzy-sidewalk-paint-based play and making sure the kids weren't getting the acidic stuff in one another's eyes. (By the way, I've finally found squirt bottles I can rely on -- Ace Hardware store brand.)

During most of our time playing with the stuff, there was a core group doing the mixing (mostly girls), and a second group doing the squirting (mostly boys), which produced a fairly harmonious mixed-gender, mixed-age exploration. When it came time to clean up, there was lots of our so-called "paint" on our work table and only a few stripes on the side of the building (the painting part of the project just really didn't engage the kids, even if it did involve painting a wall).

Not wanting to waste anything, we just dumped everything on a tray (although I did remove the squirt bottles of vinegar, making a mental note to have them available the following day filled with something less eye-stinging). The kids then fell on that, their fingers digging into this concoction that was reacting more or less like your typical cornstarch-water slime (often called oobleck).

I'm not really sure what happened to most of the oobleck, although I did find a cache buried in the sand pit. Even after we'd cleaned up for the day, kids were still fiddling with the left over dribs and drabs of their impromptu creation.

Attempting to go with the flow, the following day I gathered up what was left of our concoction and put it on one side of our sensory table, along with additional corn starch.

The boats are there because a couple of the kids had used the modified oobleck to paint
 their boats.

The other side I filled with water, envisioning a day during which the kids would expand upon their mixing/oobleck explorations.

And hidden away, off to the side, was even more corn starch that I imagined breaking out in a frenzy of big-time genius-level science!

Ooo, I was ready. The kids had showed me where they wanted to go and I'd responded. Yes! And for about 15 minutes everything went just as I'd hoped, until we had a nice basin of green gooey stuff. Then the kids started throwing everything that wasn't nailed down into it before abandoning it for the rest of the day.

This wasn't the big hit for which I'd hoped, or at least not for as long as I'd hoped. For one thing, most of the key experimenters from the day before were over at the art table where we had what I thought were two different things going on. We'd set up bowls of soapy paint. The idea is to blow a big mound of bubbles, then put a piece of paper on top of it to take a print. Next to that, attempting to get around in front of the squirt bottle craze, I'd set up some easels with the canvas I'd removed from our windmill and squirt bottles filled with liquid watercolor, with the idea that they could spray that canvas to their heart's content. After a few minutes of trying things my way, the kids then continued along their own path of exploration.

I'm pleased I thought to lay down more of our windmill canvas under this project. It turned out beautifully.

Clearly, squirting paint into the bowls of soapy paint was where the real action was.

If you look carefully in the picture above, you can see we made at least one "proper" bubble print. And if you look over by the wall, you'll see that we also got to see what happens when you spray paint a big red ball.

This squirting two bottles at one another at point-blank range was a particularly fascinating part of the experiment that lasted a long time.

This process went on for several more days as I kept trying to get around in front of the kids and the whole mixing, squirt bottle thing. As it turns out, they were just too fast for me, too creative, too passionate about their interests. It was a game we played together, one with no objective other than to satisfy their curiosity. You know, real education.

It might seem chaotic, messy, even a little out-of-control (at least through adult-colored glasses), but this is how a play-based, child-driven curriculum works. It's not the kind of thing you can put in a manual or teach to an education student in a classroom. Education is about real kids, real passions, real creativity. It's about the real world, and indeed, that's the only place teachers can learn how to do it.

Corporate types say that "creativity" is the most important business leadership skill for the future, yet all too often they are advocating for schools that seem specifically designed to squelch creativity through standardization of curricula, high stakes testing, data mining, homework, longer hours, more adult-driven rigor . . . Where are they going to find those creative leaders for the future? Seriously? People keep telling me that to rise to the top of a corporation you have to be on the ball, but can't they see that they are working against their own best interests?

Oh wait. Maybe they aren't so ignorant. Corporations are hierarchies. They apparently each only need one leader or perhaps a small leadership team. So that begs the question: what are they hoping to educate the rest of our kids to do? If we shifted our schools to a model of igniting flames instead of just filling empty vessels, the world would be chock-a-block with leaders and then who would sit in all those cubicles?

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Kierna C said...

Love it - and am relieved that I'm not the only one who quietly laments that 'my' wonderful idea didn't catch their attention, only to later realize that their idea was far superior & much more fun than mine!

Samantha said...

This post has inspired me in so many different ways. Thank you.

The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

Haha! Loved reading this...with a small knot of HOLY MESS anxiety...just a small one, mind you. I'm at school at the moment, preparing for the big FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN and feeling inspired; I needed YET ANOTHER reminder that my plans are nothing in the midst of wild-child-creativity!

Rachel said...

I am so glad that your kids had a blast mixing, painting and spraying! We need to do spray dye on sheets too - one of these days :)

Happy Campers said...

Great post! Just the other day, I was going to do the "recipe" with cornstarch & water with my 8yo, but then I just handed him a box of corn starch & a pan of water with pipettes and a bunch of other kitchen tools and let him figure out what would happen. He loved it! :) He asked for the vinegar & I happily obliged!

Heather said...

Thank you so much for posting a great blog. I try to find as many activities as possible that are hands and body involved activities.

Swati said...

I wish I could have my child in your school.

Nicole said...

When I read your posts, it makes me wish I were a kindergarten teacher again! However, we get into enough creative messes in Gr. 4 to cause the less than enthusiastic custodian heart palpitations :) Good learning is messy!

den said...

If we shifted our schools to a model of igniting flames instead of just filling empty vessels, the world would be chock-a-block with leaders and then who would sit in all those cubicles?
Hey ho dream on.