Monday, October 01, 2012


I think if you asked most people what kids learn when they play with Hot Wheels it would have something to do with speed or gravity or momentum, and they'd be right. But when you play with Hot Wheels in a crowded classroom, with a limited number of cars, a single strip of orange track and a couple lengths of gutter, there's a lot more going on than mere physics.

The one-car-one-child system allowed the kids to really focus on what was happening with their own car from the top of the track to the bottom. In more free-form Hot Wheels play you find you have to almost physically race your car to the bottom in order to make sure no one takes it from you.

I added a challenge to their play last week by setting a limit of one car per kid. I managed this by maintaining control of the box in which we keep the cars, a well-made Victoria's Secret box, pink, with white hearts. Each child got to pick a car. They could trade their car whenever they chose for another car in the box, but it was a one-for-one deal: put one back before taking a new one. I'm not sure why I did it that way, except perhaps because there was quite a bit of enthusiasm for the activity at first and I might have been a little concerned about a multi-head collision had I just put the box on the floor. 

This particular arrangement of the gutters, with an attempt to create a "jump" mid-way, had a tendency to flip some of the car upside down. After some discussion, they solved the problem by deciding to get rid of the jump, then worked together to re-create a continuous track.

In the alternative "melee" version of Hot Wheels, there tends to be a lot of car hoarding; gathering as many as you can in your shirt tail, for instance, then dominating the track for a time as you release them in a rapid-fire manner, one after another. Or running and battling to maintain possession of your favorite, shouting "Hey, that's mine!" when someone snatches if off the track mid-run. The one-car-one-child policy, at least in our 5's class, took this competitive urge off the table. It got the kids more focused on cooperation, conversation, turn taking, not to mention helping to direct their attention to what was happening with their own car as they kept track of it from the top of the track all the way to the bottom.

Hot Wheel play encourages us to use our entire bodies, which can be a challenge around precarious track set-ups. There was a lot of talk about being "careful," and cooperative track repair work.

In the pictures you'll see tape lines on the carpet which I'd planned for us to use in an attempt to employ a process of elimination model to rank our cars from fastest to slowest, but they had games of their own going from the very start and if I learned anything during my years helping to throw parties for a public relations firm it is to never interrupt fun to have fun. There will be another day for my ideas.

The conversation was ongoing as the kids talked about what they were doing, made plans, negotiated, excitedly described what had happened with their car, or excitedly re-created, in words, what had happened when their two cars had interacted.

The gutters were far more popular than the official Hot Wheels track. Both were finicky in that they needed constant adjustment, so it wasn't that. Maybe it was because it was easier to play together on the wider deeper track.

It was a joy to see the kids occupy space cooperatively, their bodies moving fast and energetically, but under control and with purpose, talking all the while. I never once mentioned taking turns, they did that on their own. I never once had to talk to a child about being more careful with his body, they did that on their own. I never once had to help settle an argument over who got to play with which car, they did that on their own. I never once had to repair a broken track, they did that on their own.

I reckon that at least some of this peace and love and happiness had to do with the fact that this was the first time I'd played Hot Wheels with children approaching 5, maybe they've by now internalized a lot of what it takes to play in larger groups, but I want to also consider that the one-car-one-child system had something to do with it as well. I'll definitely be trying it out with the 3-year-olds this year.

I doubt I'll give it a go with the Pre-3 class. Everyone knows that the only way to play Hot Wheels when you're 2, is to walk around clutching one car in each fist, ignoring the track: it would have to be a two-cars-per-child system, no trades.

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Unknown said...

the last part about the 2 yr olds made me LOL! so true!