Sunday, July 29, 2012

A "Dangerous" Tire Swing

First there was the ladder swing, hanging there between our two traditional playground swings, then we tried out swinging on a rope a la Tarzan on his vines. Last week we decided to try out a tire swing. Lucky for us we have an old tire lying around.

We hung up a tire swing last summer as well, which was a process focused mostly on picking out the proper rope and location, with an emphasis on risk assessment as we were working our way through Gever Tulley's Fifty Dangerous Thing (You Should Let Your Children Do). We've done most of the same "dangerous" activities this summer (such as throwing spears,  licking 9-volt batteries, breaking glass, attempting to master the perfect somersaulthammering nailsthrowing rocksmaking bombs in bags, and deconstructing appliances), but without the emphasis on the book because last time one family withdrew from the school before even setting foot through the door because they worried, from afar, that everything was too "dangerous" (forget the fact that Tulley's book is all about safety). This alone wouldn't have bothered me so much, because I'd rather be transparent enough that people self-select if our curriculum makes them uncomfortable, but then another person -- someone who isn't even part of the school -- wrote an "anonymous" letter trying to get me fired. Seriously. So, anyhoooo . . . I still completely endorse the work of Tulley, but haven't wanted to deal with the hassles that come with the word "dangerous."

We ran through some basic risk assessment, agreeing that our rope seemed strong enough and that the swing set superstructure was the logical place from which to hang it, but our biggest challenge was when it came to the tire itself. You see, the tire has spent the past several months in the sandpit, serving as a sort of focal point for digging games, as a table base, or, most recently, as a target for the water that flows along a length of gutter from the hand pump

This meant it was wet and sandy. We tried brushing off some of the sand with our hands, but then Makea had the idea of using a broom. That worked better, but there was still all the water that had collected inside. We stood the tire on its edge and contemplated the water.

Charlotte suggested, "Let's turn it over and dump it out." Good idea, but if you've ever tried to get water out of a tire, you know that it's easier said than done as the water merely follows the dictates of gravity, defying efforts to just dump it out. We rolled it around a bit, but with no luck.

Luella said, "Scoop it out!"  Another great idea. We scrounged around the outdoor classroom for containers we could use for scooping, but the large ones were too large to fit in the opening and we quickly realized that the small ones would take forever one table spoon at a time.

I can't remember who suggested that we try to "bounce it out." Now that might work.  The girls (and it was a group of girls who had elected to work on this project) backed off a few steps as I lifted it over my head and dropped it. A good amount splashed out onto my sandals. This was going to more or less work, but it never sits well with me when the kids are just standing back watching me do something. Our sandpit is raised a couple feet off the ground and in the spot in which we are working there is a short wooden stairway and a short ladder that the kids can use to ascend and descend: we wondered if we could bounce water out by rolling the tire down them. 

So we took turns sending the tire down those bumpy paths, each time splashing a bit more water out. After about 5 minutes of this, taking turns, we still had some stubborn water in there, but decided we didn't mind getting "a little wet," and declared the tire ready.

I tied the rope to the crossbar then I asked, "Does that look safe?" Makea decided that as the "biggest kid," she would test it. It held her weight. Then I tested it with my weight, just to make sure. Next we tied on the tire, going through the testing process again.

By the time we were done there must have been half a dozen kids wanting to try it out, so we needed a system for taking turns. A line seemed logical to us, but with so many 2 and young 3-year-olds around, the concept of a line was a tough sell. That's when we had the idea of laying down a plank. Then when a kid wanted a turn, we could say, "stand on the plank," which has the benefit of being a far more concrete concept than "stand in a line," or go to the "back of the line," both of which are rather amorphous concepts. Maybe others have come up with this idea before us, but I think it's a little piece of genius.

There is no proper way to swing on a tire swing, although none of them chose to sit inside the circle, probably because the whole thing wound up being only a few inches off the ground. Some of them didn't want a push, others did. Since we'd moved the other swings out of the way, I gave them an option of swinging "straight" or "in a circle." Some figured out how to use their bodies to keep the momentum going. Others just hung on for dear life, then ran back to the plank for another turn.

It's impossible to come up with a definition for play that does not include risk. Preventing risk is not the job of adults; it is rather to help children learn to take their risks with eyes wide open. The only thing truly dangerous is not allowing them to learn to make these judgments for themselves.

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Anonymous said...

Ah, the wonderful childhood memories you have stirred up with your post! I applaud you on your efforts - allowing children to take risks, explore and learn! Actually learning about safety as they experiment. Sorry about the issues, this too shall pass.
I grew up on a farm where we were probably as risk at all times! Ha! Glad we survived :-) One of the best memories though, is of a wonderful tire swing that hung on a loooooong rope from a black walnut tree in the front yard. I can still feel that slow, graceful motion - and the thrill of seeing how high we could go! I am sure your children are really enjoying their new swing. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Hey Teacher Tom, to get all the water out of your tire swing drill or nail a hole in the bottom.
From a long time tire-swinger!

Meagan said...

If you want to get more annoyed at people's reactions to the "Dangerous Things" book, check out some of the Amazon reviews. The one I remember called it irresponsible and picked out sommersalts of all things, saying a child could be seriously injured. It made me wonder if she'd ever been a child. Or done a sommersalt.

Becky said...

I love that book. How can we teach children to think and work through problems in the real world if we don't let them model and learn that behaviour as children?

I had a wonderful childhood full of these types of activities, it is a gift I want to pass on to my children now.

Dawn said...

Hi Tom. I use tyres to weigh th sanpit cover down so had the water problem. I had my son drill a series of holes in all 4 on both sides so it doesn't matter which way they are laying the rain water runs straight through

Mrs. V said...

It is so great to be the owner of my daycare. No one can fire me. I proudly display "50 Dangerous Things" in my daycare for all to see. My motto is, "The Dirt Washes Off, The Memories Don't!"

Kiera said...

Oh my goodness. I had a tire swing all throughout my childhood, it was at least 2 feet off the ground at the bottom, and to swing on it you pulled it to the trunk of a nearby tree, climbed up the little hill and the roots of said tree, jumped on and hung on while the tire swung you around crazily. My cousin and I were both on it once, and it broke. Down we went, bump. Not a scratch. How can a tire swing be a 'dangerous thing?' Are parents scared their children will eat it? The most we ever got was a scare from our fall, and some black stuff on us.

It is amazing what people consider 'dangerous' these days.