Friday, September 30, 2011

Soon It Was Someone Else's Turn

I told a story here last year about how 5-year-old Isak played with our hamster wheel in our 3-5's class, intensely experimenting over and over with centrifugal force, then having mastered it, spontaneously turning to a younger classmate and taught her what he'd learned. It was one of those shining moments, one in which the power of a play-based curriculum was so clear, when then positives of a multi-aged classroom so manifest, that the wheel has earned a permanent place in the Woodland Park repertoire even if no other child ever plays with it.

Although when I broke the hamster wheel out yesterday, I suspected I'd have at least one taker. Connor is now in our 3-5's class, but last year in our Pre-3 class he had sort of claimed the hamster wheel as his own, latching onto it, carrying it around the classroom, spinning it, rolling it on every surface, bouncing it off things, sticking it into things, incorporating it into his sensory table play, block play, play dough, and everything else he did. I never really had the chance to demonstrate to any of those kids what it could do because for the week it lived in the room, it was his, and he put it through it's paces like only a 2-year-old scientist can. 

Yesterday, other children discovered the wheel first, one of whom began experimenting with a car, similar to the way Isak had last year. With a little coaching they set up a system of turn-taking making it possible for 3 children to explore it at once, surprising themselves when "the car stuck to the top." It wasn't until this group had winnowed itself down to a final scientist that Connor noticed it. He's still a young 3, and as is natural for many children his age, the connection between seeing and grabbing is almost instantaneous.

"Nooooooo! I'm using it!"

I helped Connor release his grip, saying, "Gray is using it now." Then to Gray, "Connor wants to use the wheel. When you're finished, can he use it?"

Gray, clutching the wheel tightly, answered, "Yes."

I said to Connor, "Gray said you can use it when he's finished."

Gray said, "I won't be finished for a long time," and went back to spinning the car. Connor, as if holding his place in line, put his fingertips on the countertop several inches away from the hamster wheel.

What a change from a few months ago when that hamster wheel was his, his alone, and I doubt if anything could have persuaded him otherwise. I don't know if he remembered it, of course, but some part of him must have recalled the feeling of ownership, of possession. His hand, with each spin, moved closer without actually touching. Gray was well aware of this procedure, and kept his own fairly firm grip on the wheel, even to the point that he hampered its ability to spin freely. He even kept his own hand on it when the car fell on the floor and he had to bend down to pick it up. He has a brother and knows how these things sometimes work.

I'm particularly pleased with how the boys were not relying on me at this point, although I suppose my presence was helping them concentrate on making it work. 

One of the challenges of the hamster wheel is that in order to spin it fast enough to create sufficient centrifugal force for the car to "stick," one must hold the base down with one hand while imparting motion with the other. Gray was struggling with this, which is why the car often wound up on the floor. Soon Connor had moved his hand, inch-by-inch, close enough to touch it with his fingertips. This was taking a great deal of concentration and self-control on Connor's part, I know. And Gray, by allowing those fingers to remain where they were, demonstrated amazing patience, perhaps even empathy. Both boys were fighting urges in the name of civility. 

It was a fairly tense moment for all of us as we waited for what would happen next. Eyes still on Connor's hand, Gray finally gave the wheel a hard spin while Connor, accidentally or not, held the base in place.

I said, "Connor helped Gray by holding the base so it wouldn't fall over."

Gray spun the wheel two more times with Connor's hand there before they both gave in to their urges slightly, Connor's hand creeping into a stronger position of control, causing Gray to grab the wheel in two hands and yank it away, saying, "I'm using it!"

I said, "When Gray is finished, Connor gets a turn." 

As Gray's turn took longer than a 3-year-old's patience could bear, especially in a classroom full of other things to do, Connor headed off to the far corner of the room, and I left Gray to his own devices for a time. Quite some time later, I found myself near Connor and noticed that the hamster wheel, on the far side of the room, was unoccupied. I said, "Look Connor, it's your turn to play with the hamster wheel." He glanced that way, took a few minutes to finish with what he was doing, then headed over there, not in a hurry, not with possessiveness, but just in the course of his business. He horsed around with it for a few minutes, then left it where he'd found it.

Soon it was someone else's turn.

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Raven Castleberry said...

Hello again, Teacher Tom. I can't help but say that this of all your post was amazing. I really enjoyed it. It is so amazing how kids are so innocent but also sneaky when it comes to something they want. I loved how Connor shyly sneaked his hand closer and closer to the wheel without trying to take it from Gray until you said something. Every time I read your blogs I can not wait until I get my classroom full of little ones. Thanks for expiring me even more to become a teacher.

Trisha said...

That's Finn... :)

Nature Nut said...

The pendulum ideas are AMAZING! I will be trying them out next week. Thanks for all the posts!