Destruction or creation?

Loose parts are an essential part of any play environment for young children. The materials are open-ended so children can play with them in infinite ways. Nature provides plenty of loose parts outdoors: sticks, pinecones, leaves, rocks, etc. We also provide a few other loose parts on our playground such as planks, crates, and tree cookies.

picking apart a rotted log

Many of these materials can be used in the winter until they are covered in snow. Then snow becomes the main open-ended material on our playground. Children can scoop, sculpt, throw and eat the snow. We have a four-foot high berm that the children sled down.

This winter we haven’t had very much snow. The last two weeks have been very cold and the snow is packed hard on the ground or has turned to ice. We can still sled, but it has been hard to play with other materials. It’s hard to run or roughhouse when the ground is hard and slippery. It’s hard to use materials when your hands are encased in mittens.

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Last week we got hit with cold. We had several days where it never got above 0 Fahrenheit (-17 Celsius). I knew it was coming so I had used buckets and other containers to freeze water. I used different colors in the water. I even used some smaller ice chunks to add to larger molds to make a few multi-colored chunks. The process took a few days. I couldn’t wait to see what the children did with them.

 

 

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On Monday I had the ice chunks spread throughout the playground. A few children called them “magic crystals,” which they quickly collected in a crate. Lance found a large ice chunk about 6 inches across. I was curious what he would do with it. I followed him across the playground. Lance lifted the ice over his head, and threw it on a tree stump.

 

 

He spent the rest of our outside time trying to break the ice chunks. He tried throwing them against stumps, tree trunks and the ground. He tried hitting them with sticks and shovels. I hate to admit that my first reaction was to tell him not to break them. But I held my tongue and watched.

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I was curious why he was so determined to smash the ice. I wondered if it was some sort of destructive impulse. Then I realized that Lance never smashed toys. He understood that the ice could be broken. I think he was testing his strength. Could he break the ice?

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He ended up breaking several of the ice chunks into smaller pieces. The children have pretended the ice pieces were food, power crystals, and other items. They have been collected in various containers, arranged in several ways. It has now been two weeks since I introduced the ice chunks and the children are still finding new uses. Lance helped turn a handful of larger ice chunks into loose parts that all the children could use.  He wasn’t being destructive, he was creating.

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Curiosity, Observation and a Buick

My class just finished an investigation of a car, specifically a 2003 Buick Le Sabre Custom owned by one of my co-workers. It may sound funny to be so specific about what we were investigating, but it’s a very important part of the experience.

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Our investigations are in-depth studies of something the preschoolers in my classroom are interested in. Each investigation lasts about 6 weeks. We usually only spend about 10 minutes a day on the topic. But the children start applying their new knowledge throughout the day. Sometimes they incorporate this knowledge into their pretend play. Sometimes they notice things in their daily life that they usually don’t notice.

removing the headlamp assembly
removing the headlamp assembly

 

The investigation can go deeper if I focus on something specific. 10 years ago I did a “car investigation.” As I look back on my documentation, the kids focused on the various colors cars came in. They categorized cars into minivans and cars. They also focused on the steering wheel and radio.

 

The Le Sabre investigation involved looking at the whole car, inside and out. Early on we did observational drawings

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jacking up the car

where the kids drew details from the car. We checked and added oil. We added wiper fluid, and tested the wipers. We tested the lights and changed a bulb on the turn signal. We jacked up the car and took off a wheel.

 

We did another observational drawing at the end. One of the interesting changes that happened involved the dashboard. The first drawings had lots of circles for buttons scattered across a rectangle. The second drawing had a distinct radio, vents, controls for the air and the turn signal (with the control for the wipers). The children clearly had a broader knowledge of the car.

 

 

At the end of the investigation we made a Le Sabre out of cardboard. It was interesting to see the details that they chose to represent. We had the four wheels, but now the kids drew the hubcaps on the circles. They cut out yellow paper for headlights and red paper for the tail lights, and orange for the turn lights. Someone made a radio with buttons and lines (for the CD player). One child put a small box under the hood for the engine. The next day, another child drew squiggles on paper and then copied “10W 30” from the photos of us adding oil. She taped the drawing of “oil” on top of the engine.

Our Buick Le Sabre
Our Buick Le Sabre

My hope is that each investigation makes children take a closer look at something around them, something they see every day. During the investigation they look closer. They focus their attention, first on the subject of the investigation (the Le Sabre in this case), but then their attention focuses on their environment. They start noticing the control for the windshield wipers in their own car, for example. It starts with looking closely at one thing, but it allows them to see the whole world differently.

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