Monday, March 26, 2012

Holding Children Competent

While we're on the topic of melting, I thought I ought to share one more brilliant project that, for me, truly demonstrates the capabilities of young children and contradicts the stereotypes many people hold of them.

For this you need old crayons, some sort of heating element for melting them (we used a heating tray, but for a better rig check out this post), old play dough, and lots of interesting little items for pressing into the play dough.

I stripped the paper off the crayons, sorting them by color, broke them into smaller pieces, then melted them on the heating tray in these nifty little metal measuring cups. I've used them before and know from experience that the handles don't get hot. 

When the kids came to the table, the project was described to them, with the reminder that the wax and the cups were very hot. The kids then pressed an object (say a key or a animal figurine) into a piece of play dough to make a mold. That done, they chose a color of melted wax and carefully poured it into their mold. Then the waiting began, which for most pieces was several minutes.

There was a lot of waiting involved with this project, actually, although that didn't seem to diminish its popularity. We only had four cups of melted wax and we discovered that the heating tray really produced insufficient warmth to melt more than a single pour at a time, so if you wanted a particular color the wait could stretch out for quite some time, but no one seemed to complain or give up.

At some point Elana's mom Amity, one of the parent-teacher's managing the project, had the idea that we could perhaps speed things up if we were grating the crayons first. I pulled out some graters from the storage closet and the kids went at it. It was again slow going and I was impressed by how the kids persevered in spite of limited success in collecting shavings. Of course, it was a good way to kill the time while waiting for your wax figure to harden.

Obviously, the biggest concern with a project like this is the kids pouring hot wax on themselves. If they did, I didn't hear about it.

Every time I checked in at the art table, I saw nothing but kids being patient and fully concentrating, not the stereotype of preschoolers at all. This is what happens when we hold children competent.

After learning the basic process, the kids started experimenting with multiple colors.

Most of the kids who engaged in the project hung around to make several, which was important to really learning how this works. Many of them were disappointed with how their first attempts turned out; perhaps they hadn't made the original mold impression deep enough causing the finished product to be too thin and fragile. Some didn't wait long enough to for it to cool. Others were too rough in removing the play dough and it broke because of that. 

Still others learned they had to make the impression "upside down" so that their figure would turn out "right side up."

It was incredible to watch the kids slow down even more the second time, making sure of themselves, correcting what they thought they'd done wrong the first time, concentrating, persevering, being careful.

And it wasn't just the kids who were learning as we went. The adults too were tinkering all along the way, thinking through problems, making things work more efficiently, coming to find we could trust the children perhaps more than we did in the beginning. I've found that these are usually the best "tinkering projects," those that cause the adults to noodle their way through to solutions right along with the kids. We cease to be parents or teachers or elders, but rather partners in a creative process.

Not a bad way to use junk crayons, some dried out play dough, and a collection of cast-off toys.

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m .j. bronstein said...

Way too cool. It's an ingenious (and no less sophisticated) preschool version of lost wax casting. Big hat tip, TT. :)

Unknown said...

Awesome example of trusting children. Your commentary is brilliant, as always. I love it!

Teacher Jessica said...

By sheer coincidence my preschool class has also been practicing their risk assessment and self regulation melting crayons lately. We had explored many variations on the theme and I was not planning to put the griddle out again tomorrow until I read this post of yours. So excited to make some molds tomorrow. What a grand finale! Thank you for sharing this super idea.

Unknown said...

Pre School is one of the best choice we have made for them as they love going to school. pre school education

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