Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Green Step Thingy

I can't remember what this thing is really called. We call it "the green step thingy." We purchased it several years ago when we were in our old facility with its meager outdoor space. The idea was for this to be an indoor toy, something to ride around in the room we called the "gym." It was the only unimpeded flat space we had, and you need something like that with this toy because there is no way to steer it: it goes in a straight line in one direction, and a straight line back. If you want to get it off that track it requires manhandling.

I started wanting it for the same reason I originally wanted the unicycle merry-go-round: it looked like a toy that invited cooperation. Yes, you can ride it alone, but it's infinitely more fun if you can get a buddy or two to join you. It makes adults laugh to see children riding on this thing. There's something endearing about the high-stepping motion it requires, especially when two or more are doing it in sync. It's even more hilarious when adults ride it. It's impossible to ride it without a smile. I especially love it when two kids decide to do it together, face-to-face, one going forward and the other backwards -- they just beam into one another's faces, present together in the somewhat bizarre cooperative effort of making this thing go.

Sadly, we've not used it much at all since moving into our new space 15 months ago, mainly because although we now have a spectacular outdoor classroom, we still lack a flat open space, and who wants to be indoors when we can be out there?

The nub of the matter is that we've been curating the thing, storing it in an aisle of our storage room, meaning that it's life has been reduced to being stepped over and pushed out of the way; a literal impediment. Last week I got fed up with it and, finally, brought it outside, despite our wood chip bestrewn play surface and the aforementioned lack of a flat space. Screw it, I figured, the kids will either figure out something to do with it or we'll get rid of it.

We might not have a flat space outdoors, but there is a long, not-terribly-steep hill that leads from the gate down to our entryway. I figured I'd introduce the green step thingy to our 5's class. When I wheeled it out, they immediately queued up for a turn: one of the things I've come to appreciate about teaching a class full of 5-year-olds: they've quickly internalized the whole class ethic of taking turns. I never wanted a classroom in which kids spent time in lines, but here they are, doing it on their own. During our first week of school I made the comment, "We're going to have to figure out a way to take turns." Rex said, "Everybody line up behind me," and that's been the way it's worked ever since.

I "shadowed" the first couple riders as they set out from the top of the hill, walking backwards just a few steps ahead of them, both to make sure the way was clear of children as well as to be ready to serve as brakes should it go out of control. But just as we learned when we tried our wagons out on this hill, the slope is not too extreme and the wood-chip paved ground prevents the wheels from turning too freely. In other words, we found that getting down the hill was a ton of fun, and not too hazardous.

Getting back up, however, was another matter. At first I took the job of providing an assist in getting it back to the top, but it wasn't a sustainable solution. After everyone had ridden down once, I declared that getting it back to the top of the hill was a job for the kids. It was hard work, enough so that many of the kids decided they didn't need another turn after all. 

The green step thingy has now been outside for a week. The kids aren't lining up for turns any longer. Most of the time, it stands at the bottom of the hill, something to step over or push out of the way. But it is getting used. Every now and then one child will ask another, "Do you want to ride down with me?" Then the two of them push it together to the top, mount the parallel platforms and beam as they take those silly steps back down to the bottom, where they leave it for the next team to form and decide to work together. Perhaps this is how the green step thingy will finally fulfill the destiny I'd originally envisioned for it.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Loved picturing this cluttering up your storage area, and it was so great that you brought it out despite the fact that it might not work out. I have a green Little Tykes alligator teeter totter which was a birthday present to my son when he turned one. He's now about a month away from turning 18. The great thing about it is that it can be used by one, two, three, or even about five kids if they care to squeeze up. I believe it was about $35.00 at the time it was purchased. If you don't have one of these, I highly recommend it. It's been tons of fun for my kids and their friends, and a host of other kids that visit. Hence the reason I've still got it 17 years later!