Sunday, July 15, 2012

While I Was Standing Nearby

We had our catapults out last week, these little hand-made jobs that we usually use to launch ping pong balls and those little perforated practice golf balls.

Some kids aren't always satisfied with what something can do. They are driven to figure out what else something can do. I call those people scientists.

I found this guy with one of the catapults up by the cast iron water pump. I couldn't figure out what he was up to as he wrestled first with the catapult, then with the pump, a procedure for which it looked like he could use an extra hand.

I stood nearby.

He said without looking up at me, "I'm trying to put water in it." That's when I understood his idea: he wanted to fill the little cup (a bottle cap) at the end of the arm spar with water, then see what happens when he tried to launch it.

The leathers in the pump are approaching the end of their useful life, which means that it often takes a dozen or more pumps of the handle in order to get water flowing if the apparatus has sat idle for any length of time. With it's moving parts and rubber band, the catapult is an awkward machine to manipulate unless it's sitting on a relatively level surface. And that bottle cap cup was an awfully small target to hit with a flow of water. These are all the things I was thinking while standing nearby.

After about ten pumps, all while holding the catapult steady against the spigot, he said, "The pump is broken."

I answered, "I think you just need to pump it a few more times."

So he pumped a few more times until we heard the squelching sound that lets us know the piston is finally pulling water up the intake pipe. The water flow at first missed the target, but after fiddling a bit he managed to get about a tablespoon's worth of water in there.

It was going to be a real challenge now to place the catapult on a flat surface and to draw back the arm and to launch it without spilling that water. That's what I was thinking while standing nearby.

He then, very carefully, began to carry the catapult away from the pump, and started making his way down the sandy, toy bestrewn slope that connects the upper and lower parts of the outdoor classroom. That's when I understood that he was now going to carry the catapult, filled with water, down to where the rest of the kids were still launching the projectiles we'd provided.

He's going to trip or at least stumble, spilling the water. That's what I was thinking while standing nearby.

When he got to where the other children played, where his father was serving as a parent-teacher, he carefully pulled the arm back, making sure to keep the cup, still with a little water left, parallel to the ground, while lowering the base into a flat position, then making sure his father was watching, he launched a tiny spray of water into the air.

One of the other kids complained, "Hey! You got me wet!"

He just smiled.

That's what happened while I was standing nearby.

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Anonymous said...


Cave Momma said...

My son is a scientist and I love LOVE watching him experiment. It is fascinating watching his brain work. I hate to think of how much of that could get squelched if I have to put him in public school.