Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Thought Process Made Transparent

I have a tree house related update to report.

When last we heard about this project, the kids had built a ladder, a process I chronicled in a series of 3 posts (here, here, and here) with an epilogue thrown in for good measure. We left the ladder on the concrete slide for the last few days where the kids have been using it to scamper up the slope -- I've yet to see any of them use it come come down, because, I suppose, sliding down is more fun.

A group of the kids, over the course of several days, had begun to collect "treasure" in their role as pirates and carry it up into the lilacs with them. I thought, all on my own, without any help from the kids, that it would be cool to have a pulley and rope system for transporting the stuff to the top. So, as the kids played, I found our box of pulleys, a hammer, some nails, and a length of rope and got busy. There is a solid post we installed at the bottom of the slope last Fall. It's a companion to the two at the top of the slope, between which we've stretched a rope to give the kids something to hang onto as they play up there in that narrow space with a hard, steep decline falling away from it. This third post was intended as the downhill anchor for yet another rope to support kids as they climbed up, but we never got around to installing it, and by now we've determined that the kids don't really need it. I figured, however, that this already established "right of way" would make the perfect place for a pair of pulleys and a long loop of rope.

We started by opening our pulley box which contains a dozen or so of these simple machines. This action, coupled with the rope and hammer attracted some attention. We examined the pulleys for a few minutes. I said, thinking aloud, "We need 2 pulleys for this project. They need to be the kind that pivot," throwing in a vocabulary word while demonstrating that some of the pulleys are "fixed" while others can "pivot." A 2-year-old then went through the box and selected a perfectly matched pair of pivoting pulleys.

I explained to my small audience, "Now I'm going to attach one pulley to this post and one to the post at the top of the concrete slide using a hammer and nails," then proceeded to do so, narrating as I went. The first length of rope we tested was too short, but fortunately there was a longer one in the shed. I tied it on, keeping up the flow of information, my thought process made transparent, about each step of what I was doing for the benefit of the ever-changing group of 4-5 kids who weren't too busy playing pirates to pay attention. I said, "Now, we need a container for carrying stuff." Within minutes we had a selection of two to choose from. We rejected the metal basket as having too many holes and "stuff will fall out." We rejected the large bucket because it would be too heavy, especially "if kids put rocks in it." I put out a call for "a small bucket with no holes," and my wish was as good as a command as the kids quickly found one to fill the bill.

I've written here many times that our curriculum at Woodland Park isn't drawn from any one pedagogical model, but is rather cobbled together on a day-to-day basis from the whole gamut of child-centered approaches, including Reggio Emilia, Montessori, The Tinkering School, democratic free schools, and you name it. I once read that the Waldorf approach places a high value on children having the opportunity to observe and engage with adults as they do "real" work. I could be wrong about that, but from wherever that idea comes, I like it. When there is work to get done around the school, especially work I've been putting off, like washing shaving cream off blocks, I often like to just get busy doing it right in the midst of our school day, making space for the kids to participate as their inclinations and abilities will allow, narrating my thought process all the while. This was one of those projects.

It may not sound like this has anything to do with the tree house project other than the fact that it's been installed adjacent to the ladder. What I didn't tell you is that beyond installing something "cool," I was attempting to plant the idea of pulleys with the intention of introducing what I hope will be an acceptable next step in the direction of Charlotte's impossible vision of playing in the branches of our cedars. 

So yes, I'm hoping that this is to be continued . . .

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Mrs. V said...

Inspired by your blog and the book "50 Dangerous Things", I have started a project with my daycare kids using REAL TOOLS. *Gasp!* We saw a fort and tunnel made of sticks and branches on a field trip to a nature center, and the kids wanted to make one, too. Thanks to your blog, I am actually allowing the kids to use small hand saws, a post-hole digger, shovels, gardening tools, and a home-made hole awl to construct our stick fort behind our center. The kids are having a blast and are learning a lot. I've told the kids they are learning to be structural engineers.

Pam Schmidt said...

You have brought the kids a wealth of experience they might have not gotten anywhere else! This is the antidote for all the electronic time wasting stuff most kids use to fill their time. Excellent!