Wednesday, June 04, 2014

That's How It Works

Yesterday was the first day of our first summer session at Woodland Park. Kids were pumping water, creating a stream through the sand, and we decided to build three bridges over it, side-by-side, using a plank, the homemade ladder, and a log.

Later I was sitting in our sandpit boat pretending to row when one of the boys who had been a bridge builder joined me. He wanted a turn so I scooted over. After a few strokes, he stopped and lay the end of the oar atop an old, heavy, wooden balance beam that has wound up, over the course of our play, alongside the boat.

"This could be a bridge."

I thought he meant that we could drag the balance beam up to where the other bridges were. It's been used that way before, but one kid can't manage it all alone. I said, "It's heavy. You'll probably need help."

He leapt from the boat, grabbed the business end of the oar and wrestled it on top of the balance beam. Holding it in place he, said, "See? A bridge. I didn't need help."

"Oh, you meant that the oar could be a bridge."


"I thought you meant you wanted to drag the balance beam up there." He looked at me blankly, so I fell back on an informative statement, "You made a bridge without help."

At the time, I didn't even notice the other boy performing his own experiments with a rope.

When he released his end of the bridge, however, the oar teetered in its oarlock raising it like a drawbridge. This was clearly not what he had in mind. He lowered the oar back into place, but when he let go he got the same result. After several minutes of wrangling the oar, trying to find a way to keep it in place as a bridge connecting the boat to the balance beam, he finally tucked it under the balance beam, which held it in place.

He said, "There," maybe to me, maybe to himself, then clambered back aboard with the apparent intent to now cross his footbridge, although once standing on the precipice, he stopped.

I said, "That's a pretty narrow bridge. You'll have to balance."

He put a foot carefully on the oar, slowly applying weight, testing himself and his construction before committing himself. Good thing too, because his "bridge" was really a lever, which lifted the balance beam in response to his weight. He studied the phenomenon with his foot, then switched to using his hands, raising the balance beam up and down.

I said, "You made a lever," using the vocabulary word, in context, just in case he didn't know it.

He said, "It's a lever."

After raising and lowering the balance beam several times, he jumped from the boat and attempted to lift the balance beam with his hands, unaided by the simple machine he'd created, managing to hoist it a few inches off the ground. "It's heavy."

Back in the boat he used the lever a few more times. "It's not so heavy with the lever."

I said, "That's the cool thing about levers."

And he replied, "I know."

He does know. Loose parts, adults loitering with intent, and the time and space to play: that's how it works.

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1 comment:

Carrie said...

I like your phrase "Adults loitering at play." I feel like it is a better description than "adults supporting play." I think that too often adults interact too much.. I love your examples of how you interact with your students and how they learn from their interactions with the world around them. I think that if more adults loitered around play what a wonderful world this would be.