Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Best Safety Device

Remember when we built a teeter totter? Then we turned it into a kind of tippy balance beam, then a spring board?

The boards won't last forever and I sure hope we can find more when these wear out. They are long, strong and flexible, originally designed as part of a kind of portable "A frame" climbing system and definitely not intended to be outdoors year round in our climate . . . Oh come on, what am I fretting about? Of course, we can find boards. That's the beauty of them: they're simple, plentiful and infinitely versatile.

The spring board remains quite popular, drawing a line-up of kids whenever I'm willing and able to serve as dead weight, but even when I'm not over there, kids experiment by walking across it, assessing their risk, testing themselves, coming to a full body understanding of how a board tips across a fulcrum acting as a lever, a catapult, a balance, or even a scale. I notice a lot of the kids who aren't quite ready to join in when it's crowded working on their skills, on their own, going back and forth, finding the place where the board tips under their weight. On Monday, Sena found the balance point in the center, straddled it then made the board tip back and forth, totally under her control. She'd been a little timid in the crowd, but when I got near enough to her, she shouted, "Teacher Tom! This is fun!" showing me how she had mastered what she had mastered.

Henry hadn't had patience for the line, mostly not liking it when those waiting after him would urge him to "jump" before he was ready. So last week he pulled another board over to the row boat we have partially buried in the sand pit, positioned it so that it over hung the boat a bit, then used it as his own personal "diving board." It didn't have the "spring" of the spring board, but it was more than made up for by its lack of a line.

This put the board in a position where, sometime during the next few days, someone had the idea of dragging the board into a place where it served as a bridge spanning the gap between the tree rounds defining the lower level of our sand pit and the top of our smaller concrete slope. It's a bouncy bridge!

I'll admit to being a bit concerned at first, especially when they started lining up to cross it. It would take a lot of concentration to make it across under the best of circumstances, but being springy, it would be virtually impossible with more than one set of feet at a time. I positioned myself to intervene and began the process of leading the children through our risk assessment process when I was interrupted.

"Hey, it's too bouncy when you get on it too!"

"Okay, I'll get off. I'll be next."

"Let's make it a one way bridge."

"Everybody only goes up."

"I'm next!"

"I'm next!"

And they all queued up along the tree round tops. After the first few crossed the bridge, they ran around to get in line again, creating a pattern their friends imitated. Up to this point I hadn't said a word. Before long they had positioned another bridge, a few feet away. It was lower, less risky, and spanned only sand.

"This is the down bridge."

As new children arrived, the creators explained the system: "This is the up bridge. You have to wait in line. That's the down bridge. You don't have to wait in line."

The children themselves are their own best safety device. This time they didn't even need me for dead weight.

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Anonymous said...

Been meaning to say this for a while--you're awesome! (I finally did make a s-m-a-l-l donation. I was waiting til I had "enough" but I guess smalls every so often beat big but never!)

Anonymous said...

An illuminating episode, nicely bringing in chunky loose parts as well as risk self-management. "Hey, it's too bouncy when you get on it too!" - a dynamic risk-benefit assessment for sure, but I wonder whether it was also a plea for a slightly less intrusive adult presence? (That's the playwork influence coming out.)