Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Lesson Of Just Saying, "Screw It"

They're called jelly marbles or water marbles or clear spheres and have been all the rage among blogging preschool teachers for the past several years. And they are fascinating. Made from a super-absorbent polymer, they start as tiny seeds that when placed in water for a few hours, grow into a slippery, squishy marble many times the original size. 

Other teachers swear by them, but, to be honest, I find them frustrating. For one thing, I've not been able to figure out a way to prevent them from winding up all over the floor without spending a lot of time bossing the kids around about how to play with them. These are slippery, round, bouncy little balls that find their way into every corner of the room. The few times we've played with them, I find them under tables and chairs for weeks afterwards. Then there's the annoying fact that in any group there is always a kid or two who take great gratification in simply crushing them into little gelatinous pieces, a condition from which they never recover. If left to their own devices, these kids can render the entire 1000 sphere collection into rubble in a matter of minutes, leaving a mess and wrecking the fun for everyone else. And finally there's the matter of what to do with them once we're finished using them. I know you can let them dehydrate and store them in a plastic bag for later use, but that requires a large space where you can spread them out on towels, or a giant colander, and let them sit, possibilities I don't have at school, and I hate throwing them out, so typically, for months afterwards, they live in a tub which is constantly underfoot until I finally just take them outside and let the kids use them up.

All of this, I'll readily admit is a problem with me, not water marbles or the kids. I suppose this is a bit like how other teachers feel about glitter, something that has never bothered me, but apparently makes others want to pull their hair out. And despite this, I keep trying out the jelly marbles, envying the fun other schools are having, I suppose, but with low expectations.

I've had a batch under foot since the first few weeks of school, so, thinking of them as creepy Halloween eyeballs, I just dumped them into the sensory table yesterday, hoping that this time would be different -- the definition of insanity. The kids fell on them instantly (kids always fall on them) scattering them all over the room, and crushing them in their fists. Sigh. I tried to just stay away, letting a parent-teacher be in charge of my frustrations.

Across the room, we were using filleted mini pumpkins, gourds, and ornamental corn as painting tools. The idea was to dip them in red, yellow, or orange paint, then make prints on paper. That's where I hung out, painting with some of the few kids who were not so fired up about jelly marbles. It's the nature of this particular art project to get your hands messy, which is part of the idea. I like the opportunity for kids to experience this sort of tactile, sensory exploration of the materials. Naturally, once they were done, they wanted to wash up. When Audrey P. held up her paint-y fingers, saying, "I'm going to wash my hands," I suggested, at least a little out of my frustration with the clear spheres, "Why don't you see if the jelly marbles can clean your hands?"

She smiled like an imp.

From then, it was only a matter of minutes before our official "art project" had been abandoned entirely, as the children began moving back and forth between the art and sensory tables, purposely besmirching their palms, then washing them off in the marbles. The parent-teacher responsible for the art table, became the parent-teacher responsible for wiping up the floor, a job that became even more vital when a couple of the girls had the idea of taking paper over to the sensory table to take prints off the marbles.

I'm still not sold on water marbles, especially since I now have a tub full of them, marinating in orange tempera that is liable to wind up underfoot, but I did enjoy being there as the kids made it their own without much bossiness from me. I just gave up and watched it happen. And maybe that's what I need to learn from water marbles: the lesson of just saying, Screw it

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Amanda said...

What a very true tale and lesson! I can totally identify with it as a preschool teacher. There are some things that aren't worth the fight. Kudos to you to realize that the issue was with you, not the material. I've had to come to that conclusion many times over - and I'm sure I will continue to do so as I evolve as a teacher.

Katie said...

At least you don't have a crazy dog underfoot trying to eat them all up as they go flying everywhere!