Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bells And Whistles

I've written here often about how I do most of my planning for class during my commute, which, I'm proud to say, has since June been via bicycle. And this is true insofar as the "super structure" of our days are concerned. That is, I think through what was most engaging the kids from the days before, where I think they might want to go, what might compliment or enhance or help them take the next step (in my often flawed judgement). I also try to think of what could constitute that project's "opposite" in an effort to open possibilities for the minority of children who might not like crowds or mess or just be done with it. I try to plan 7-10 indoor and outdoor stations, sometimes linking them together with a theme, but mostly going for a variety, including constructive, dramatic, active, manipulative, and sensory play opportunities.

But, I've recently come to realized that I'm not entirely honest when I say that this comprises the extent of my planning. A couple days ago I wrote a post in which I revealed (to myself as much as to you) another aspect of my planning, one that I've long referred to as "adding the bells and whistles" without including it as planning. I think it's because I think of it as play.

I'm an early arriver by nature. I'm the guy who friends have learned to warn, "And don't be early!" When you've scheduled to meet me for lunch, you can rest assured that I'll already be waiting in the booth when you arrive. When I had a toddler in tow, that just meant that I was slowed down enough to be right on time. So it's inevitable that I typically arrive at school 1.5 to 2 hours prior to class time. I tell myself it's because I hate the feeling of being rushed, but it's really because I like having the luxury to stand amongst the things I've prepared for the kids and imagine the many ways they might choose to play there.

That's when I think through safety aspects, for sure, or prepare myself with mantras like "presents are for opening" to circumvent potential misunderstandings, but it's also when I add bells and whistles. In Friday's post, I talked about the materials I'd prepared, but didn't wind up using: those were bells and whistles. On any given day, there will be collections of things stashed all around the classrooms, sometimes accessible to kids, sometimes up high where only adults can get at them, usually near to where I think they might possibly be needed to enhance or expand the play there. Or perhaps it's stuff that I find interesting in some way, but can't really figure out how to use on my own and I hope the kids will help me. Sometimes it's just "bell" or "whistle," singular, when I've laid my hands on some sort of one-of-a-kind gadget that will require my full attention to help them share it. Sometimes I keep their existence to myself, figuring I'm the only adult who'll recognize when they're needed, but most of the time I show them to the parent-teacher working a particular station saying, "If the kids really get into this, you might want to consider breaking this out," and leave it to their judgement. 

We don't always wind up ringing those bells or blowing those whistles and sometimes they wind up being the most important part of our day.

Reading back through these paragraphs, I can see that an example might be in order. I've long had a stash of upholstery samples in the storage room. We were playing with our ever-popular collection of Calico Critters. (For the uninitiated, these are tiny, slightly fuzzy bunnies, bears, and hamsters in tiny clothing and with teeny tiny furniture. They cost an arm-and-a-leg brand new, but we were lucky enough to have had a large assortment donated a couple years ago.) I knew the kids were going to have fun with these, especially when combined with wooden blocks, but thought, just maybe they could find a way to use these upholstery samples as well.

I'd left them where the kids could find them, but a half hour into our day, I noticed they'd not been touched, so I started playing with them myself, spreading them out like blankets, folding some of them with rigid backs into little tents, talking about the patterns. I drew a small crowd for awhile, but they pretty much just played with me, not the fabric samples. And when I left the area, they stayed where I'd left them. For the next few days, I placed them in different places in the classroom, but they remained untouched except by me.

They did, obviously, really get into building with the blocks.

When I added some larger pieces of fabric, those got used in larger scale play, but the smaller pieces just remained where they were, stacked on a bench, day after day.

They're back in the storage room now, waiting to once more become a bell or whistle. I know I could always cut them up for use as collage material, but we have plenty of fabric handy for that. 

They didn't even seem to dig on the fuzzy fabric, although I see that
this kaleidoscope, another "bell and whistle," did get explored that day.

I know that some might consider this a failed experiment, but I don't. I learned that this particular group of children on this particular day under this particular set of circumstances weren't motivated by a stack of upholstery samples. That's useful data in what I see now as an ongoing game to figure out just how and when we will need them.

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1 comment:

Otters Miss Lori said...

Ha ha ha...I love this. I actually have the same stash of fabric samples and am also a big fan of the calico critters! We have a primarily outdoor classroom in Maryland. A couple of weeks ago I took the critters and a stack of samples along with some squat boxes out with us and they were well enjoyed by the kids, probably in some of the ways you had anticipated. Mostly the samples became rugs and blankets and tents for the critters. I just love how great minds think like on opposite sides of the country. I am new to this blog and am really enjoying your philosophy and topics!