Thursday, July 19, 2012

Breaking Glass

Yesterday in preschool, taking a page from Gever Tulley's book, Fifty Danerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), we spent a half hour breaking glass with a rubber mallet. 

In spite of its provocative title, this book is really about teaching children to take responsibility for their own safety, which is how we always approach the activities we borrow from there.

At least a third of the kids opted out altogether at the idea of breaking glass, wanting no part of what we were up to, a manifestly safe choice, but most were curious about this hazardous sounding undertaking, wanting to test their abilities or perform an experiment or simply hang out and observe. We set up at the workbench, starting with a discussion about why breaking glass could be dangerous. We talked about how sharp the broken pieces would be, how they could cut skin and make us bleed. We shared about personal experiences with broken glass, Lennon telling us that his family had experienced a broken jelly jar that very morning. 

We then talked about the rubber mallet and what might happen when we hit glass with it. They all predicted the glass would break into little pieces. In describing his prediction, Lennon made a sort of exploding gesture with his fingertips. I asked, "Do you think the bits of glass will fly up into the air?" He nodded. "Oo, what if it flies into your eyes?" We agreed that would be bad, which is when I introduced the eye protection.

Only once I was convinced that we were focused on the realities of the risk we were about to take in the name of science, did I bring out a piece of glass, in this case a mason jar I'd knocked off a shelf awhile back, chipping the rim and cracking the side. I maintained control of the mallet, holding it between my legs, placed the jar on an old towel, then wrapped not just one but both ends of the towel around it, sealing the glass inside. Now we were ready to try to break our glass.

Fergus didn't want to wear eye protection, so we designated a spot some distance away where he could see what was going on. Audrey didn't want to take the risk herself, but donned a pair of goggles anyway, curious about what would happen.

I can't recall who got the first whack, but it resulted in the classic tinkling sound of breaking glass. I re-claimed control of the mallet asking, "Do you think it's broken?" Everyone nodded. We opened up the towel and examined the shards, noticing they were in all sizes and shapes. I held up a couple dagger-like pieces and we discussed how much we didn't want them stuck through our skin. We noticed the tiny pieces created by the direct impact and we talked about how even these tiny bits can cut you. Then we looked even more carefully to see that there were some glass bits as tiny as grains of sand. Those too could cut you, which is why only Teacher Tom was going to handle the towel. 

I had a stack of thin plate glass I'd salvaged from some old frames and we methodically worked our way through them, following the same procedure as each child got a turn. It was hard for some of them to keep their fingers away from the towel after they'd taken their swings, so eager they were to look at their handiwork, but that's why we do the double wrap: to give me time to calmly remind them that there is broken glass inside. We made a study of the patterns we found, identifying the impact points and noticing how the shards were smaller the closer they were to where the mallet impact point. Some kids really went to town, hitting the glass multiple times with all their might, pulverizing the glass. Others, like Daphne, had trouble bringing themselves to swing the mallet hard enough to even crack the glass and we urged her, "Harder! Harder! Harder!" 

And all the while we talked. We talked about glass. We talked about sharpness. We talked about accidents. We talked about patterns. We talked about shapes. We talked about safety. We talked about taking turns. We talked about impact. We talked about our experiences. We talked about thick and thin. We talked about predictions. We talked about shards and bleeding and why this wasn't a good idea to try at home without mom or dad's help. It was the talking about this common every day phenomenon that made the whole thing worth doing.

And in the end we broke a lot of glass without anyone getting hurt.

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Barbara said...

Ohhhh that sounds like fun. Here I am a 56 year old person and my favorite part of trips to the transfer station in our community is sending all of that glass into the recycling chute for recycling and hearing it smash! But would I try something like this in my preschool class?? Not sure but done in such a safe way it sure would be a memorable learning experience!

Anonymous said...

This is just absolutely wonderful. Just plain wonderful.

KEEN Recess Team said...

Really inspired by this post and your blog! I'm writing on behalf of the KEEN Recess Team. Recess is a rallying cry for kids and adult to take a break from the daily grind, get outside, and create their own playground. It's inspiring to see a teacher like you who understands so well the needs of children. We love reading your stories.

KEEN Recess Team

Anonymous said...

A delicious bowl of glass! Jeez, that picture freaked me out for a sec when I saw it.

-Solomon Berkovitch

Glass Table Tops said...

Glass is great and you can use it to decorate your house! However, you have to be careful if there are kids around.