Tuesday, August 28, 2018

"It's A Bouncy Lever Totter"

One of the kids hoisted a length of 2X4. It was unwieldy, throwing him off balance at first, but he got it under control, finding a pivot point upon which he could balance it. He didn't have a plan for the wood beyond lifting it, or rather, if he had a plan it was lost in the effort to wrangle it. Catching my eye, he smiled, as if to say, "Look what I did." I raised my eyebrows and nodded, letting him know that I was indeed looking at what he did.

He then began to rock the 2X4 on his hands, up and down like a teeter totter. He was no longer looking at me as he concentrated on the motion. Not far away, lying flat on the ground was a shipping pallet. He eyed it for a moment as the board rocked downward, he took aim, weaving the wood between the slats of the pallet. When he released his grip, the 2X4 remained in place, jutting from the pallet at an angle. He studied this new development for a moment, hands on hips, then reached out and grabbed hold of the board, pushing it first away from himself then pulling it back toward his body. The motion caused the pallet to move side to side. He then pushed down on the board and it acted like a lever, lifting the far side of the pallet. Again he wordlessly looked at me and I again acknowledged him with my eyebrows.

I was not alone in watching him. A girl had also been following his exploits from her perch on a nearby swing. She called out, "You made a lever and a teeter totter . . . You made a lever totter!" She laughed at her joke. The boy looked from her to his apparatus, then back again. It seemed as if he was trying to make sense of what she had said. At least that's how she took it. Jumping from her swing, she announced, "I'll show you!"

She instructed him to stand on the pallet while she gradually put her weight on the end of the 2X4, lifting him into the air. Now getting what she was driving at, he then attempted to create the seesaw action by jumping up and down. The motion caused her to lose her balance. She hopped off, causing the pallet end to land with a small thump. They were both laughing now. She stepped back on and he bounced her off, she stepped back on and he bounced her off. They did it over and over, laughing at their discovery. She said, "It's a bouncy lever totter!"

They played their game for several minutes, then as it began to lose its charm, which is to say, it's challenge, they began to experiment, moving their bodies to different points on the pallet or lever, looking for balance points, trying to startle one another. If they were old-time-y scientists, I imagine they would have been saying Eureka! but instead they were laughing, which when children play is often synonymous with that cry of discovery. This game too began to inevitably lose it's "charm" as they played the risk right out of it, so that's when they began to experiment with wiggling it side-to-side rather than up and down.

Before they finally left their game, they tipped the whole thing on its side, then upside down, then onto its other side, effectively rolling it over. The girl said, "Now it's just a blah blah," an expression that gave them one last laugh before they went their separate ways.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "We are here on this earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different." Any educational philosophy that takes us away from this core purpose is an unnecessary, perhaps even harmful, complication.

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