Thursday, July 26, 2012

Something That Needed To Get Done

I can't remember where I saw this idea, but I feel quite certain that someone who reads this will know and pass that knowledge along so that I can rewrite this sentence to give credit where credit is due.

The basic idea is to use shaving cream as mortar for building blocks. The set up for this was minimal. We just got out a half dozen cans of the least expensive stuff we can find, some wooden blocks, our collection of masonry tools, and turned them loose. 

In attempting to track down where it was I saw this idea, I learned something shocking: there are preschool classrooms in which shaving cream -- soap -- has been banned. Apparently, there is a fear that children will eat it? I'm putting a question mark on that last sentence because I'd be too embarrassed to let that stand as a statement on this blog. The only "danger" I've ever come across with shaving cream is that sometimes a kid will get some in his eyes, which stings, but come on: you wash it out and from then on they know to be more careful.

Those who praise shaving cream play, me being one of them, most often talk about it being "messy," and it is, but that's not how the kids looked at this project. I'd "sold" it as a building activity and the children who "bought" it were there to build, the mess being incidental. I'm sure if this had run longer than it did, we would have wound up with more of the up-to-the-elbows-and-beyond kind of play, but we only worked it for about 30 minutes, and the kids most likely to seek out a sensory experience were engaged in water play elsewhere for most of that time. 

This building group, in fact, was constantly wiping off their fingers, Meyra and Daphne doing it after each block placement, in order to enhance their precision, using the tools to move the shaving cream. Fergus mostly just deployed it directly from the cans onto the blocks.

Just look at all those clean hand.

Our parent-teachers work hard at Woodland Park, and when I can, I try to find ways to make things easier. We were outdoors and there was rain in the forecast, so when it was time to move up the hill for our closing circle, I suggested we just leave the blocks on the tables and let Mother Nature do the work. It would be imperfect, of course, but good enough for preschool.

Of course, it didn't rain and I returned the following morning to a pile of blocks and tools covered in dried shaving cream. Rats. I separated out the tools and gave them a run through the sink, but didn't have time for the blocks, scooping them into a tub and setting them inside for later attention. 

And there they sat for the next week, a box of crusty blocks that was always in the way, and a teacher who never left himself the time or energy to deal with them and who, in the ebb and flow of the day never remembered to ask for help.

Yesterday, I finally just filled a tub with warm water, took it outside, and got to work washing them off with sponges in a quiet corner of the outdoor classroom while the kids played. Before long Duncan stopped by.

"I'm washing these blocks."

Without comment, he picked up a sponge and got to work.

Soon Betsy came to see what we were doing. "We're washing these blocks. Want to help?"


And then Isaac joined us.

I'd set up an old window screen on a couple logs as a place for the blocks to drip dry and soon the four of us were in a nice flow, a 2, 3 and 4-year-old, with me, chatting together about the shapes of our blocks, the colors, the potential for mold and mildew if we left them wet, cleaning those blocks. It took us about 15 minutes to get through the small batch I'd brought out with me, just sitting there in the midst of all those other kids who were taking apart machines at the workbench, painting prayer flags at the art table, riding the unicycle merry-go-round, digging in the sand, making bubbles, swinging, sliding, running, climbing and playing with water. 

These were not the children who had made the blocks messy: those were kids from our last 2-week summer session. We were not doing this with the mentality that we were cleaning up after a mess we had made, we were simply cleaning those blocks because it was work that needed to get done, heads together, no complaints, no one urging or cajoling or lecturing a lesson about responsibility. 

We were cleaning those blocks because it was something that needed to get done. 

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Julie S said...

I saw Lisa Murphy, aka The Ooey Gooey Lady, present this idea at a conference. It had never occured to me - love it.

Julie S said...

You're at Woodland Park?! I teach up in Edmonds. Found you via Deborah Stewart's blog, Teach Preschool. Would love to visit your school some time!

Naomi Foster said...

I do this in my classroom. I have samples from a store that sells granite countertops. The samples are all different colors, but a uniform size and shape. They are my favorite blocks. They make a very satisfying 'clack' when you stack them together. When I use them with shaving cream, I also put out wooden craft sticks as spreading tools. I love this activity.

We were told last year that children ages 2 and under can no longer use shaving cream. This came from or licensing inspector. We were written up for it. Nobody knows the reason why. Even in classrooms with older children, the can must be *locked* away between squirts, and only an adult can touch the can. I am convinced that the inspector was over-applying some small regulation, and that it was misintrepretted. But we must comply with what the licensure tells us to do. Personally, I think the only real danger would come from the fact that the can is 'contents under pressure' and they are afraid that a child might somehow cause an expolsion, lol. I swear, they are suffocating us with safety.

Amy said...

I don't know what the regulations are in the USA, but at the centre I used to work at in Australia, shaving cream was temporarily banned until we could find a brand that didn't contain traces of peanuts (nut products of any kind are banned from most centres here). Who would have thought that there would be traces of peanuts in shaving cream?

jwg said...

Along the lines of ridiculous...The licensing reps around here have decided that if you let kids go to the bathroom by themselves you have to keep the hand soap outside the room, have an adult put some on their hands and then have them go back inside to wash. This is after a regulation that says they can only go by themselves if they can handle the whole process by themselves. The only exception is if you can find a brand that doesn't say "keep out of the reach of children" on the back. (Soft Soap if anyone needs to know) Never mind the fact that a kid old enough to do the whole bathroom thing alone is unlikely to taste the soap. And if he did he'd never get enough to do harm and he'd be unlikely to do it again.It's a wonder that my generation and the ones that followed ever survived childhood! Be glad you are not running a licensed program in NY. They'd pretty much hate everything you do.

Cave Momma said...

I will have to do this. We love shaving cream over here but it's normally just a fun sensory experience. I'm sure my builder would love to add this in. And washing is always an added bonus for them. =)

The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

Absolutely wonderful! This is going on my to-do list. I haven't heard anything re. the use of shaving cream (I teach in a Kindergarten in Ontario)...but will just keep my mouth shut about it (we spread shaving cream on baking trays for drawing and tracing letters)...

Dez said...

We tend to use shaving foam for drawing and writing. Sometimes we add foodcolouring but I love your idea of using shaving foam for mortar - brilliant!

JoAnn Jordan said...

Love how this became a multi-day activity.