Saturday, December 01, 2012

A Place Where The Possibilities Are Endless

One of the cool things about having two families in our community who are successful restauranteurs is that we have an endless supply of things like wine corks. In fact, so plentiful are they around the place that there are sections of our outdoor classroom, particularly around our work bench, where if I call out, "I need a cork," a half dozen kids will produce one within 30 seconds.

We use corks for all kinds of things, like glue and glue gun collage, in the sensory table, and as a soft material for practicing using our saws. I've often said that one of the primary societal functions of preschools, beyond teaching young children, is to serve as a place to finish using up stuff that the rest of the world has designated as garbage. Egg cartons, bottle caps, wood scraps, paper bags, yard waste, baby food jars, newspaper; it's an endless list of things we can turn into art or science or storage or simply leave about as loose parts before it arrives at its ultimate destination in the recycling bin or, sometimes, a priceless keepsake. We don't use these things, we finish using them.

When something, like corks, is ultra-plentiful it's astonishing how new doors continue to open into how to use them. The other day, 2-year-olds were employing them as people in a game of housekeeping they were imagining outdoors. Others have used them as currency in games of commerce. I've found stashes of them around the school, both indoors and outdoors, treasure hordes set aside then forgotten.

One of the fundamental cool things about corks, of course, is that they float on water. I've long wanted to figure out ways to create boats from them, but it's been a challenge, especially since we've discovered that cork items assembled with glue guns tend to fall apart in water. A couple weeks ago, however, I was watching a child use a cork she'd impaled with a stray bamboo skewer to make a mallet for playing our marimba when it dawned on me that this might be just the construction technique for which I was looking.

We filled one side of our sensory table with corks and the other side with water, then provided skewers and toothpicks. The younger kids in the 3-5's class tended to struggle with the technique, but our 5's class went to town.

We started out with various kinds of sailing vessels, moved on to motorized and rocket powered boats, then quickly on to things that fly, buildings, and various free-form sculptures.

A few days ago, we had a discussion here and on the Teacher Tom Facebook page about the concept of wastefulness and how it applies to preschoolers. And even when we've decided it's all being used (not wasted) the real world idea still lingers there as something with which we need to, both as teachers and citizens, concern ourselves. But when we play with things that are already garbage, that concern no longer exists. That's then we really get a glimpse into the real-real world of a young child: a place where the possibilities are endless.

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1 comment:

Deborah said...

Young children are such natural engineers and scientists and given the tools like these can lead to such great learning and development. It is a shame to even call it "trash" :)