Saturday, August 04, 2012

Building A Ladder (Part Three)

This story about our ladder project started in this post, continued yesterday in this post, and may or may not have further installments beyond today: that will be up to the kids.

When last we saw the team, we had finished building our ladder and were now testing it out on the concrete slide, where kids were lining up to climb it to the top, then slide back down. I hung out with the children for a while, sort of monitoring it to see if there were any unexpected hazards or challenges in using our home made ladder, but neither it, nor the kids, seemed to need me, so I asked the parent-teacher responsible for the work bench to keep an eye on things, and went back to circulating.

Four-year-old Charlotte, who had initiated the ladder project over a week ago as the first step in her master plan, had ceased berating her classmates with urgings of, "You guys, we have to build a tree house," and now appeared to be fully absorbed in the risks and challenges of our newly installed ladder. If you had asked me, I'd have said she'd forgotten, or at least temporarily set aside step two in her project, which was to use the ladder to climb up onto the line of cedars that divides our outdoor classroom into upper and lower parts, in the branches of which she envisions that tree house. 

I was monkeying around with a couple of the kids on the swings, when I became aware of a hubbub down by the concrete slide. Heading my way, Charlotte in the lead, were six kids, carrying the ladder which they'd dislodged from the concrete slope, and were now marching it across the sand pit toward the cedars. It wasn't easy going as the ground is uneven, the ladder bulky, and the entire crew appearing not entirely certain about where this was all headed. But here they came wrestling and arguing and cajoling as they went. I began narrating what I saw, mainly as a way to warn the other kids who might be in harm's way as they wrangled the ladder onto more level ground where they stopped.

Charlotte said, "We have to put it on the tree."

The kids stood looking at one another. Some appeared as if they wanted to just keep carrying the ladder around the outdoor classroom. A couple attempted, in an uncoordinated way, to lift their portion over their heads in the general direction of the tree branches. And some merely stood as if waiting for more instructions. Meanwhile Charlotte kept repeating, "We have to put it on the tree," but no one, including her, seemed to know how they were going to manage that, especially since none of them, having carried that ladder all this way, seemed anxious to put any part of the ladder on the ground. So there they stood, holding the ladder off the ground, while Charlotte repeated, "We have to put it on the tree."

After a couple minutes, I said, "Maybe we need to figure out which part goes on the ground and which part goes up into the tree."

Charlotte thought that was a useful suggestion, and said decisively, "This part goes on the ground." She chose the uneven end of the ladder, the part with one upright two feet longer than the other. Man, it was hard to keep my mouth shut. Six-year-old Makie, who had all along filled the crucial role of "first follower," agreed with Charlotte, and the others in turn, followed her.

Yet still, no one seemed ready to put any part of the ladder on the ground. After a couple more minutes, I said, "We've decided to put this end on the ground," touching it so that everyone knew what I was talking about, "so this part needs to go up into the tree, right?" I pointed to where I thought it would find its most secure anchor. This didn't produce the desired result as they once again twisted and turned that ladder without any part of it actually coming in contact with the ground. 

Charlotte was by now growing a bit frustrated, "Teacher Tom, will you help us?" 

I said, "It seems like the people holding this end need to put it on the ground about right here." As I said it, I gently guided the uneven end of the ladder to its proper spot. Once in place, I said, "Now we need to lift the other end up into the tree." 

"Teacher Tom, we're not tall enough." We could all see that Charlotte was right, so I said, "Everybody help," and together we finally tilted the ladder, uneven end down, against the trunk of the tree.

And then we stepped back to have a look. I asked, "Does that look stable?" This is when I expected that someone would have the idea to flip the ladder over, but instead Charlotte said, pointing to the shorter end, "This part needs to be longer." There was general agreement, so Charlotte ran down to the work bench area and came back with a short piece of 2X4 lumber, which she then held in place.

Going with the flow, I asked the obvious question, "How are we going to attach it?"

Makie answered, "Maybe glue?" and Charlotte responded, "Yeah, glue."

I left the kids there with their precarious ladder, under the supervision of a parent-teacher, while I went to the storage room for a couple bottles of glue. By the time I returned, the crowd had thinned a bit. Charlotte and Mikie applied the glue to the wood. I think the challenge of holding the wood in place while the glue cured must have dawned on the two of them simultaneously. 

Makie said, "We need tape," and Charlotte responded, "Yeah, we need duct tape to hold it while it dries."

So I went back to the storage room, returning to find the girls still holding the piece of wood in place. In the meantime, Isaac had applied several shots of white glue to the longer upright. I helped peel off pieces of duct tape and our reconvened team of 5-6 workers got busy wrapping the glue saturated wood. When they thought they had it secured, they let go. It fell apart.

Makie then suggested, "Maybe we should put the other end of the ladder on the ground," indicating the even end of the ladder.  Charlotte responded, "Yeah, we should put the other end on the ground."

So, once more the kids, with my help, wrangled the ladder down from the tree, flipped it, and re-installed it, this time with the even end on the ground.

I invited the children to test it with their hands, shaking it to make sure it was "secure." Within seconds, the kids had queued up for a turn to climb into the tree, Charlotte first. I thought, This must be a proud moment for her, finally achieving her vision. When she got to the top rung, however, a line of eager kids behind her, she said, "I need some wood and a hammer and some nails so I can start building the tree house."

I persuaded her that we needed to let everyone have a turn climbing the ladder first. Reluctantly, she agreed, climbing back down to make way for the next kid, all the while going on about needing "some wood and a hammer and some nails."

This is the end for now, but you never know, there might well be future installments. That's up to the kids.

To be continued?

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1 comment:

Shellee said...

I love this trilogy. You keep reminding me to step back and let the kids do the thinking (and especially the doing). WONDERFUL!!! I'll just bet little Charlotte will have her tree house. :)