Monday, October 15, 2012

Useless Things Made Useful

Some time ago, one of the older kids had used a glue gun to stick three wine corks together, then either abandoned it or lost it on the ground, where it has become a classic loose part, something useless to be found and made useful.

A younger child picked it up and looked it over, feeling it with the fingers on both hands, a young 2-year-old experiencing something that, frankly, few of us have ever experienced: three wine corks glued together.  If I'd seen such a thing anywhere but in our outdoor classroom, I'm quite certain I'd have picked it up as well.

As he walked along beside the stumps where we hammer nails, bottle caps, and nails through bottle caps, he cupped those three stuck together wine corks and began bouncing them along atop the stumps. I don't think he's ever seen us hammering on those stumps; our Pre-3 class typically doesn't start in with hammers for a couple months, but it seemed he knew what they were for, and was trying it out for himself. He'd been with us during the summer, weeks ago now, maybe that's where he'd seen it and the shape of the cork, the sight of the stumps, sparked that memory. Or maybe he was just curious about what would happen if he bounced those corks along the tops of the stumps.

When he got to the end of the row of stumps, he held the three corks stuck together in front of his eyes, then suddenly tossed it into the air. He looked at me, smiled, shook his head and asked, "Where'd it go?" He'd seen it land. It was a joke. I played along, "I don't know," smiling and shaking my head in imitation. He picked it up and showed it to me, smiling, then took his treasure with him.

I followed him into the sand pit, a place into which he had to climb, using his hands and knees to get there. Still, he arrived at our sand pit row boat with the corks clutched in his fist. He stood for a moment, contemplating the cavity of the boat, tossed his corks in, then climbed in after them. He sat on one of the seats in the boat and began bouncing the corks beside him.

Another boy was on his knees in the sand beside the boat. He had a pine cone in one hand and the roof from a dismantled bird house in the other. Carefully, he put the pine cone in the sand, then covered it with the roof. He then bent his head low, low, low until it almost touched the sand and peered under the eves to spy his pine cone. 

He stood up and began to walk in an ever widening circle around his pine cone house until he spied a pair of wooden boat blanks half buried in the sand. He pulled them out one-by-one, then arranged them over the ends of the rooftop, creating walls, fully securing his pine cone.

In the meantime our boy with the corks had moved on. I found him trying to operate the cast iron pump, an procedure that required both of his hands. He said to me, "Can't do it." 

I said, "Have you tried pumping the handle all the way to the top and all the way to the bottom?"

He put his hands on the pump handled and strained to make it move upwards although it was already as high as it goes.

"Have you tried pumping the handle all the way to the bottom first?"

He pulled down on the handle and it moved, although he was disappointed that no water emerged from the spout. I said, "The water comes out when you push the handle up." He pushed the handle up and water came out. He watched the water flow down the gutter and I followed his gaze until I saw the three corks stuck together, there in the gutter where he'd put them for his latest experiment with these useless things made useful.

It was only a few minutes later that I returned to find the boats, pine cone, and bird house roof up there as well.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...


You wrote: eves
You probably meant: eaves

You wrote: an procedure
You probably meant: a procedure

You wrote: the pump handled
You probably meant: the pump handle