Friday, October 30, 2015

There They Went And Learned It Anyway

When I began teaching at Woodland Park 15 years ago, I found our cast iron pump stashed away in the back of a closet. I figured it was back there because it was somehow broken, perhaps irreparably so. I mean, why else would my predecessor have relegated something so cool to storage room purgatory? I showed it to the kids and we decided to take it apart and see if we could figure out what was wrong.

We didn't diagnose the problem that first day, but I figured things out enough to do an internet search that helped me determine that we needed to replace the two leather gaskets. And, in a nutshell, that's how I became a cast iron pump expert. 

They say that a set of leather fittings should last a decade under normal use, but the preschool use is obviously not normal use because we're changing ours at least twice a year and we are currently due for a change. I'm expecting the parts to arrive any day now, but in the meantime, we're finding that we need to "prime the pump" several times a day to keep the water flowing. What that means is that if the pump sits idle for 5-10 minutes, we need to pour a little water into the top of the pump to get it drawing water again.

The way the set up works is that our 30-gallon cistern (a Rubbermaid tub set in the sand pit) is filled by a garden hose that I've semi-permanently installed along the base of the fence. Typically, we refill it two or three times a day. We know it's time to do this when the kids call out, "The pump is empty!" or "We need more water!"  Then an adult runs outside the school fence and turns on the spigot. We know the cistern is full when the kids call out, "It's overflowing!" Every now and then the children conspire effectively enough that no adult notices the overflow until we have a rushing river and a nice muddy pond. 

During these periods when we are awaiting new fittings, I try to keep an anticipatory bucket of water on the wall near the pump for priming purposes. I've tried to teach my whole priming technique to other adults, but since most of them only work around the pump a handful of times a year and aren't nearly as focused on the minutia of pump operations as me, I really shouldn't blame them for needing me to help with the priming process. Nevertheless, it's sometimes frustrating to be earnestly told by an adult several times a day that the pump "isn't working," and to then have to stop what I'm doing to show them how to "fix" it. In fairness, a handful of my parent-teachers have figured it out, but it has been primarily my responsibility to keep the water flowing.

Lately, however, I've been spending less time on the project. Perhaps out of their own frustration or perhaps merely because they've been watching carefully and want to try it too, I've discovered that some of kids, the ones for whom the pump tends to be the center of their outdoor play, have figured it out for themselves. For the past two weeks, I've watched no fewer than a half dozen different children prime the pump on their own. Not only that, but the first order of business each time they get the pump drawing water again has been to refill not one, but two buckets to sit on the wall in anticipation of the next time the pump needs to be primed.

I'm kind of in awe of this development. I'd not been able to teach it to adults so it hadn't even occurred to me to attempt to teach it to the kids. And there they went and learned it anyway.

Earlier this week, I asked one of the guys why he had filled two priming buckets, something I never did. He answered, "In case somebody forgets and spills one. Then I have another." That's happened to me before. I'll be using the two bucket technique from now on.

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