Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Using Just The Right Amount

During my first year teaching preschool, I was appalled at the amount of glue kids were squirting from our little Nancy bottles. It just seemed so wasteful. Committed to not bossing kids around, I tried using informative statements like, "That's a lot of glue," "It only takes a dot of glue to hold a googly eye," and even the usually more powerful, "I think that's too much," but to no avail. I attempted role modeling and narrating my own "proper" glue usage with similar results. I even purchased new bottles, snipping the tips to create extra tiny holes in the hopes of limiting the flow. The kids just handed the bottles back to me saying it was "too hard," causing me to make the holes a little larger and little larger until the good white stuff was flowing freely again.

It was only after many months that I finally gave up my obsession with waste, introduced the glue table, and started just buying gallons of the least expensive glue I could find. I no longer think of glue as an adhesive, but rather as a stand-alone art medium.

This was the beginning of my journey into the deep philosophy that "waste" is in the eye of the beholder. It's not just glue. All kids some of the time, and some kids all of the time, will use the materials at hand to what adults perceive as excess, sometimes with spectacular results (bubble printing is a classic example), but more often with spectacular messes, both of which are valid results of a trail-and-error scientific process.

One of my favorite lines from all of literature is this one from Goethe:

In limitations he first shows himself the master.

More often than not, we interpret this to mean the limitations imposed from above or without, forgetting that most of our limitations in life are of the self-imposed variety. Playing with extremes is how we learn about self-limitation, which is at the heart of self-regulation or self-control. When we're not permitted the opportunity to explore limits, it means we are under the control of others, leaving us with two choices: rebellion (the natural human response to external control) or obedience (the unnatural one), neither of which tend to contribute much positive to our self-identity or our ability to think for ourselves.

I've often boasted that our school runs upon garbage, using for one last time those things heading off to the landfills and recycling centers, not using stuff as much as finishing using stuff. The fact that this is good for the environment is truly an unintended consequence: it really came about because we value managing our budget and value exploring the extremes. You just can't waste stuff that is already waste. Garbage and cheap materials are one of the ways we accommodate these seemingly opposing values.

This is why when a child dumps an entire bowl of googly eyes into a lake of glue then empties a shaker of glitter onto it, I no longer see waste. In fact, I know she is using just the right amount.

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Amber said...

I LOVE this post. Spot on. I feel like this is a crucial step in learning self regulation. If the child is never allowed to learn what happens when there is too much, how will they learn to regulate when enough is enough?

Brenda said...

This made me laugh Tom, we've just had a morning where the glue, googly eyes and scraps were just as liberally used. And I agree, an environment were these things were monitored and limited according to adult ideas would be no fun at all - for anyone!

Donna said...

I view glue use the same way!! A former director of mine once said she never knew a teacher who went through so much glue until she met me. I have heard other teachers say "That's too much!" I have to reply "How does he know that if he doesn't experience 'too much' for himself?"

Ericka said...

Love, love, love!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the philosophy of glue. Besides which, it is so satisfying and beneficial for kids to do that heavy proprioceptive work of squeezing.
I feel differently when it comes to the abundance of materials found in a lot of preschool classrooms. Too many of a lot of things: Blocks, dress-up clothes, doo-dads. It is an art to provide just the right amount of open-ended materials, without overwhelming the kids so that the "things" lose their value.

Robin DeLamater said...

Tape holds the same fascination, doesn't it? If I were a parent looking for a school, I would look to see how the teachers approach glue, tape, and paint. Much would be revealed about their values.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Teacher Tom, for saying out loud what I kept quiet when I saw providers "pulling their own hair" full of stress when a child took some more playdough than the quarter size that had been put on to his plate. Then later going crazy because another child was using a marker with "too much force against the paper and that was destroying the marker" Then I made the goal of recycle and upcycle material so I could use the moneys to have a bunch of colors and glue and playdough and google eyes for the children and no worry for the too much.