Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Eureka Fest

On the last night of 2012, when told I am a preschool teacher, a fellow celebrator, someone genuinely interested, asked me, "Really? What's your philosophy? Montessori? Regio?" It was kind of a holiday miracle: no one outside of this little corner of the internet ever asks that question. The standard cocktail party response to finding yourself trapped in a conversation with a preschool teacher is, "Oh, that must be fun!" or "I don't know how you do it."

I answered by praising the models she'd mentioned, then went on to say all the key words and phrases: "play based," "progressive," "child-directed," "emergent," "cooperative," "inquiry." I've given more concise answers in the past, but it was New Years Eve, I was feeling expansive, and I had a receptive audience. I finished, as I usually do, however, by saying, "I really don't think I have a philosophy. There are a lot of good ideas. I cherry pick the ones that I think will work for the kids, their parents, and me, try them out, then use the blog to reflect on how it goes."

She then said she would check out the blog. Being a bit of a narcissist, I assumed she meant this morning, so here's a post about my philosophy:

You can't have enough baby food jars around a preschool, which is pretty awesome considering they're apparently an endless resource around here. They're compact, made from thick glass, and come with lids. At any given moment we keep a stash in the storage room just waiting to be called into play. It was a few days before the holiday break, we'd been using a lot of glitter, and I'd been seeing a lot of adult-centered ideas for homemade snow globes made in jars. What would a child-directed version of this look like?

The only way to find out is to gather up the baby food jars, bowls of glitter, small beads, spoons, and water, put it all on the work bench, and see what happens. At the last minute I decided to also make a gallon jug of vegetable oil available. This was a fateful decision as it turns out.

There are always kids who fall on anything that involves mixing, which is how the first wave of kids approached the materials: filling their jars, stirring, spilling, washing their hands, then doing it again, all the while getting a nice, thin coating of oil on everything, including their winter coats, which were showing large, greasy, ever-expanding spots. Slippery hands, naturally, made getting lids on the jars a particular challenge. 

Some of the kids never really moved on from the mixing stage, filling jar after jar, while others began to play with what we were calling their "glitter shakers." Then a strange and unexpected thing happened. The kids who had used only water found that when they shook their jars the glitter and beads swirled around for a few seconds then settled to the bottom. However, the kids who used both oil and water discovered that the oil entrapped the glitter, forming glitter blobs that really didn't sink or float, but rather hung about in the water. They broke apart when you shook the jars, but then quickly reformed when you stopped, some floating, some sinking. (I reckon this is part of how oil spill clean up is supposed to work, right?)

Whatever the case, every time I circled near the work bench kids ran up to me, shouting, "Look at this!" and "Look what's happening!" and "Look what I made!" It was a Eureka Fest, with each kid, in turn, seeing something in their jar that they'd never seen before, recognizing it as something new under their own personal sun, then turning to the other people to talk about it.

Of course, many of us also discovered what happens when you shake a baby food jar full of glitter, water, and oil with a lid that's not screwed on correctly, but, you know, that's a thing to learn about too.

Later that evening, I was at one of our family's homes for one of our holiday social/parent ed functions. On the kitchen counter, I spied one of the glitter shakers that apparently made it home intact, there on the counter amidst other holiday decorations. I guess we'd managed to make holiday "snow globes" after all. 

My "philosophy" is in there somewhere.

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Play said...

Aweeee yes, everyone should have a DAILY "Eureka Fest" ~ TeacherTom's style.
Thank you for your ever-enchanting posts TTom. Happy New Year to you and yours!

P.S. Sorry if this is a repeat comment, the last comment went blank :)

Annicles said...

Glycerine works in a similar way but with fewer greasy spots. It would be interesting to do a parallel test