Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Price Of Inspiration: Inventing The Teeter Swing

Last week, I was alone with a boy in our "block area" as he constructed a small, basic Lincoln Log structure. It was apparently something he'd created before, probably at home. He was quite proud of it and made me study it up close, pointing out in particular the fact that there was "a window that goes all the way through." I even took pictures to satisfy his pride.

As I admired his achievement, making informational statements like, "You must have thought hard to figure that out," and "It has a window that goes all the way through," another boy stopped to watch us. After a minute or so the second boy dropped to his knees and began to build. It didn't take long to realize that he was attempting to imitate the first building. I said, "Your building is starting to look like his building."

He answered, "I'm trying to build one just like that one."

That's when the first boy took notice, scooting over to his friend, saying, "I'll show you. Let me get you started." 

I was touched by both the gesture and the words. He didn't say, "I'll build it for you," despite his clear sense of pride in having mastered the technique, he said, "Let me get you started," and did just that, staying near to provide the support of a coach.

Once the second, identical structure was created, our original builder moved along to other things, leaving the second boy behind, who continued to build larger and more complex buildings using the techniques he'd been taught by his friend.

On Monday, there was a conflict up around the swings. A boy had put a wooden plank across the seat of a swing with the plan of creating "a catapult," but was frustrated when his sister and another boy discovered it made a better teeter totter. When I arrived on the scene, I wasn't yet aware of the conflict and so said, enthusiastically, "Hey, you guys made a teeter swing!" This, of course, made it sound like I was siding with the encroachers, pushing the original idea man into deeper frustration. I'd walked into the situation in progress, and since the parent-teacher who had been there from the start was taking things in hand, I left her to the task of listening and guiding. 

I turned my attention to the two on the teeter swing with the idea of getting their side of the story, but instead I found myself watching two fully engrossed children working together, cautiously at first, to find a balance, before creating a rhythm to rock up and down, all the while smiling into one another's faces. These are not kids who play together a lot, an older girl and a younger boy, but they'd found one another at just the right moment and were learning something new under the sun; new at least in the part of the universe I've inhabited for the past 52 years.

At first I wanted them to try scooting to the ends of the plank like a regular teeter totter, until I realized that they were doing it the only way possible. It was just a loose board hung in a swing and the only thing to hold onto were the chains. They had found the only way to make this work and were mastering it as a team. I tried to just quietly watch, but couldn't help saying, "That's cool!" It was a genuine expression of how I felt. 

Over to my left, I heard the discussion between the disappointed catapult-er and the adult. The emotion had ebbed a bit and the parent-teacher was pointing out that there was another, empty swing only a few feet away. When he objected that there were "No more planks!" she pointed out several nearly identical ones within a few yards. He was listening, thinking about it, and judging by the fact that he was settling down, it seemed he was considering this option.

A small group of children had gathered to watch the teeter swing in action and, as I had, overheard the conversation. No sooner had the idea of a second swing been introduced and the pertinent details pointed out, than two kids were heading for the nearest plank. And sure enough, before our tortured genius could act, the second swing had been transformed into a teeter swing.

Of course, this was salt in the wound. The adult stuck with him, being ears for his creative torment. He wanted to make a catapult and it seemed that the universe was conspiring against him. They retreated down the hill a bit.

Meanwhile our second set of teeter-swingers got to work figuring things out even as our first team gave it up and moved on, leaving their imitators alone. And just as one boy had stood on the shoulders of another to expand his understanding of Lincoln Logs, these two took it to the next level, standing on the teeter-swing and even managing to get it to rock. This is one of the most important ways that learning happens: children playing together, working together, and inspiring one another.

Down the hill I saw that a log had been selected as a fulcrum and yet another plank had been found to create a catapult. I made my way down there to find that the boy was still not happy because, tragically, the same duo who had commandeered his first attempt and invented the teeter-swing had followed him down the hill to ask, "Can we have a turn?" It seems that in his quest to create a catapult, the world could only see teeter-totters. He finally satisfied himself with a catapult that launched small traffic cones and attracted a queue of children awaiting their turn: such, it seems, is sometimes the price of inspiration.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: