Sunday, February 24, 2013

Problem Solving with Loose Parts

On our playground we are gathering a wonderful collection of loose parts that the children can move around as they play.  This collection includes stumps, tires, boards, rocks, shells, sticks, bamboo pieces and more. 

This week I gave them a challenge.  They had to build something that allowed them to cross the large blacktop section of our playground from the area with the play structure to the sand box area without stepping on the blacktop.  

The children worked to figure out how to do this.  Sometimes they pressed on with their own ideas, and other times they worked together trying out and commenting as each part of the structure came to life.

Some attempts were failures, but they gathered information from those attempts and tried different solutions; giving more support, finding a lower stump, a wider board, etc.  

We were nearby commenting on what we could see, "I see you went and got a wider board to see if that would give you more support.", or encouraging them to think about improvements, "That board keeps slipping off that stump.  What can you do about that?"  Reminding them about safety, "As you test it, keep your arms out.  Be ready to fall."  

They did meet the challenge and were able to make it across that first morning.  Each time outside for an entire week, they would tweak the "course" adding to it or making it go in different directions.  More and more children became interested in this play as they wove their ideas into one.  

During this process there were many times I was tempted to step in and tell the children something was unsafe or wouldn't work, but that would have denied them the experience of testing limits and trying to solve problems on their own. (Of course, we were there to step in if something would have caused real danger)  Below is another example of this.

The boy wanted to step on the end of this long board and walk down it.  I knew that if he did that, the board would flip up and he would fall.  I could have told them to move the board and changed their entire idea.
Instead I showed them the different sizes of the board on each side of the stump. I asked them what they though would happen if he stepped on the end.  They also agreed it didn't have support and he'd probably fall.  So, then, back to them, "what can you do about that?"  
They decided to have one person stand on the end of the board while the other walked on it.  
With a reminder to "be ready to fall", I stood by to support them as they tried their idea.  

It worked!  Then without any teacher intervention they decided to switch places so the other child could try it.  They did this trading of places for quite a long time.  

Risk taking is an important part of learning new things.  Coming up with an idea and then testing it out, reworking it and trying it again, is a critical process to learn as one becomes a life long learner.  

That requires us as adults, to step back and allow risks to be be there for support, but to not take over... to say "yes",  when our inclination may be to stop them "just in case they might get hurt."

What kind of challenge can you pose outside today?  


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  2. We have been using plumbers pipe in the sandpit (with various connectors, lengths and diameters. Last Friday the group attached as many pieces together as possible to see if they could run water the length of the sandpit. They quickly worked out that the 'water didn't run anymore' when the fall wasn't right and we were able to assist them to come up with solutions that would enable the water to flow again. Eventually they placed a tiny little toy into the pipe and attempted to 'send him down' the pipe. Lastnight, I purchased some more lengths of pipe so that we can utilise them in our room, as the ones that we took inside yesterday were such a hodge podge of sizes that the children became a little frustrated at times. We sent matchbox cars down them and today I have ping pong (table tennis) balls to send down them. In a little while I will introduce golf balls but I want to make sure that they understand the limitations first :)