Archive for category Physics

Give Kids Rope

Here’s a social experiment for teachers who want to expand on the idea of an autonomous child centered environment. Give them about 30 feet of rope, and get out of their way. Be careful not to interject any anxieties, however the obvious inadvertent neck rope around the neck is never fair game. Observe with great detail their interactions, while maintaining vigilance for safety, however don’t impede on newfound experiments, including those pesky verbal disagreements. Sure you may initially hear the bouts of disputes, but do you expect when ten or more kids have their hands on a rope and they all have a different idea, as to what to do with it. Remember to have faith in the fact that allotted the time and space, they’ll figure it out.

Not, that I completely opposed to having adults facilitate a rope extravaganza, or set up a obstacle course with an ideal of forming a line, taking turns, and “spotting,” each other, but there is a sense of authenticity and sheer reliance and creativity that occurs when their up to their own devices. There is also a sort of a benign experience in allowing kids to craft their own structure, as they are more compelled to rely on each other’s peer cooperation. A tug of war game may ensue, and yelling back and forth may endure, but stay patient dear adult as the plan of action uncoils. “Get off the rope, get off the rope…I’m trying to tie it.” “Stop grabbing onto the rope!” “It needs to be tighter!” “Yeah…let’s maker it tighter.” These are just a few of the loud burst of adrenaline your hear before those really interested stick to the task at hand while others may slowly begin to disperse, away from the seemingly chaos – before order.

And then the rope begins to get snugger; the knots begin to get tied, as they settle on the suitable height or angle. Or the rope over a pull up bar, attached to a bucket or a stool, becomes a sort of pulley system. And then the real fun begins, after the tension has settled and they are invoked in physics lesson at hand. All physics projects need testing, measuring, and further experimenting, as they’ll find ways to tangle their whole bodies around the subject at hand. The upper torso will lunge towards rope stretched between to anchoring points, to find away to balance. Feet and legs will curl around to suspend themselves in mid air. And then as an adult you’ll ponder how their made up knots has supported the weight of ten frantic kids – wondering if a knot will slip out at any given moment and send them crashing down. But then you’ll notice there only about four feet at max above the playground. And yet the joy on their faces and their non- stop gaiety, will lead you to believe that they’ve discovered a way to fly. Or that no ride at an amusement park could compare to this cooperative physics thrill.

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Gaining New Heights!

Today was a different turn of events in and out of the classroom. Yesterdays whirlwind of wildness, brought a gentler breeze of caring nature.

Thursdays are designated field trip days, and for the morning we were off to Daystar, a retirement community down the road. At Daystar we painted little Origami boats for their community bulletin board. There were striped boats, Pokka dot boats, battle ship boats, submarine boats, and fairy boats. All the custom Origami boats were handcrafted by Deloris – absolutely flawless, not one hole left to patch. Dolores told a story of playing with Origami boats in her youth, were her pals would float boats down a stream as they watch them get caught inside a current in a culvert.

Afterwards I read two books. One book about a families need to buy or build another bed as their offspring began to over populate the parents comfort of a good night rest (imagine that). And the other book was about a sleeping Gecko who would not stop talking.

And then the highlight of the day proceeded into the drizzling rain as we ventured to Castle Park. However, the interest in the elaborate playground system was quickly won over by a small grouping of trees. Within minutes all 15 for the day, were in “climbing trees.” (As I thought to myself, where were those trees 24 hours ago when the shit was hitting the fan in the classroom?) Standing on guard next to the trees I executed to myself, a plan if one broke a limb (preferable a tree), watching as they ducked and weaved around the lofty Cedar branches to position their climbing route. Observing as they tested out the strength of the branches – stepping on tree limbs and stumbling just in time to catch their balance. All the while hearing their bursting interjection of comments: “I need more space; I need a private tree; It’s to crowded in here; You need to get down, so I can climb around; Your stepping on my hand.” And I stood there peering into a frenzy of fun, chuckling under my breath and thinking of my youthful days of climbing trees. Remembering a time when a neighbor once threatened to call the fire department for climbing their tree to high. (My… how we are protective of those “private trees.”) And I stood there observing the mastery of a tree; what lessons a tree can teach, with all the pliable branches, the oozing sap, it’s coarse bark, those knobby limbs, while offering a carrying capacity to support a whole class of kids, with private spaces and Great new perspectives. In between our courageous climbs we laid in the grass, as the clouds made room for the sun.

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Risky Physics Lessons For Preschoolers and Kindergartners


In these past weeks we have been learning about physics in the Pre-K and kindergarten class and we been putting bodies and tires to the test. Our supplies are simple; we hand over two ropes each about 25 feet in length, some wooden beams, and several car tires.

Through the use of these materials kids are able to experiment outside with knots, slopes, angles, ideas, and different ways of balancing. After setting up what I referred to as an “obstacle course,” and the kids coined as a “playground,” others in the class soon join in. Adjustments are made as they learned to counter measure each step they take, calculating each move and setting up their physics experiments in accordance to their visual perceptions. Occasional someone tumbles and quickly bounces up, to try again, shifting a step or grip or readjusting their positioning to make the movement possible.

Outside with the ropes they make up their own knots or wrap them around various objects (play structure, stumps, trees, poles, etc.) to test out the friction and resistance as they either pull, climb, stretch, or wrap their bodies around the rope. They also attached a rope across the upper part of the slide using to supportive beams as anchors – then used the rope to pull them selves up the slide as a group. Jimmy, a five year old set up a pulley like system to around a pole to drag a stump. As a facilitator I occasionally would set up a tight rope for the challenge of walking on or a tire swing. But most of the physics experiments were conducted through the ingenuity of play with rather simple materials.

In another schoolyard are a bunch of wooden beams and car tires.
These random objects laid out on the play-yard entice them to experiment. Their testing out their balance and coordination by propping wooden beams against the fence and climbing to the highest point – to then slide down – always trying again and with a new angle.

The other day someone had the idea to lay two of the beams side by side on a table outside, along with another two that butted right up against the two on the table, which sloped to the ground. They then were taking turns carrying and passing tires to each other – rolling the tires down a slight gap they kept in the between the two boards and watched in awe and excitement as the tires rolled down the slope they created. Their creation was ingenious certainly nothing I thought of using the materials for, as a teacher who simple just decided to casually leave them in a heap in the middle of our school yard, one afternoon.

But can these self-imposed or cooperate physics games or play occur without some degree of risk? Yes, we had one bump on the head and several falls, but certainly no blood shed. And this is a rather physical group, as most four and five year olds are.

Movement is critical at this particular age group and their always wanting to test new heights, either through scaling furniture, fences, adult legs, playground structures and it is our duty to provide safe ways for this need for movement to occur. And it begins by introducing the materials and also letting go of some adult anxieties.

Adults have a habit of placing reservations about what a child or child cannot do in their world of exploration – and these self imposed expectations, can inhibit what could other wise be a moment for growth and new insight. In other words, as an adult it is easy to impose restrictions on play based on a general concern for safety without fully rethinking what can be gained from taking the actual risk.

The simple response most teachers would mutter, who don’t rethink the distinction between what is risky and what is unsafe typically sounds like this: “please stop that because it is unsafe.” Of course, we want to rule out those unsafe measures, but in an environment where play is a commonly accepted and an appropriately integrated into the curriculum, rarely have I experienced a child perform a activity or take a risk that had me concerned for their safety and the safety of others. For instance, if a child is picking up a five pound rock, as I have commonly observed in the playground to test their strength and to have a sensory experience with the rawness of the earth – I can never just spew out of my mouth that what their doing is unsafe. Yes, this may possible lead to an unsafe situations, but their intentions in a loving supportive school community is not to bash in the head of another, but to simply have that innate experience of gripping the rock and feeling the power of releasing it – and hearing the sound of it collide with the ground. In this case, redirecting the rock being thrown with an impromptu: “I’m noticing you like throwing that rock, however would you mind throwing it in the garden area – away from other people,” would clearly address the obvious safety concern without crushing their empowering sensation of throwing a heavy rock.

Simply put, it’s easy to have knee jerk reactions to risky experiences in preschool, however as concerned adults who want to nurture self-reliance is it not worth looking closer at what it means for kids to be “safe?” And then we can start by asking ourselves, what sort of opportunities in their environment do we want to provide for children to optimally thrive? After all raising four and five year olds can be a risky business.

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