Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making Rope

One of the main differences between being a teacher and being a parent is that you spend about as much time and energy considering group dynamics as you do the needs and direction of individual kids. Obviously, they're intertwined, but every group takes on its own personality which tends to dictate what you can and can't do successfully in class. 

Last year's 3-5's class was heavily into dramatic play, for instance, which meant that many of my beloved "tinkering" projects lay fallow unless I was able to find a dramatic play hook that appealed to their collective psyche. This year's group definitely enjoys its dramatic play as well, but I've not yet seen the intensity we had last year, especially when it comes to full-body dramatic play. These guys are more likely to huddle in groups of 2-3 around a collection of small figures and "play stories," whereas last year's class was more likely to "steal" all of those figurines and squirrel them away in their hideout. (We spent a lot of time talking about the boundaries between their games and the rights of others to not take part in them.)

We're using plastic bags cut into loops as our rope-making material. The idea is that as the
the crank is turned the individual loops get twisted. As they get tighter, they begin to 
twist together behind the spacer, forming the rope. For more details on how it works,

I mentioned a couple days ago that one thing that's emerged strongly so far is the habit of "pitching in," working together on community projects without being asked or cajoled. I've also realized that we have a lot of puzzlers, builders, and tinkerers in this group. Whereas last year, puzzle pieces would have been just as likely to be commandeered as treasure or weapons, these puzzles are actually getting worked. Much of our classroom shelving is covered with pieces of fabric held on by aging velcro, which means it's quite easy to knock down, something that happens several times a day, making a section of toys appear "open" when they are not. When this happened last year, it was quite likely that the entire shelf would be quickly emptied to make room for the bodies of kids looking for a "fort." Yesterday when it happened, Sena and Sadie got right to work building a complicated castle with wooden blocks.

This is all to say that I'm excited for what this means for the tinkering portion of our curriculum. A couple years ago we had a group that actually enjoyed building stuff with hammers and saws and drills. These guys seem to be more about fiddling around with oddball machines and gadgets.

Yesterday, we tried our rope-making machine, which didn't see much action at all last year. I recall Charlotte's mom Amanda saying last year after a session during which she pretty much sat alone at the workbench, "At least I had fun." I specifically waited for her turn to come around again in the parent-teacher rotation this year to break it out in order to take advantage of that self-taught expertise.

It's really a two-person job: one person to turn the crank and another to hold the opposite ends of the plastic bag strands and the spacer. When we've used it in the past, it's been mostly the kids turning the crank with the adult managing the more complicated end, but there was so much intense interest yesterday that Amanda began teaching some of them how to manage that part as well. She had a line of kids waiting their turn for nearly an hour.

I've always wanted to try using our machine to make a proper rope, or perhaps even build a new larger one that could be semi-permanently installed in the outdoor classroom. This might be the year.

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