A place to share ideas about play in a Prep classroom

Archive for the ‘Mastery’ Category

Our Tinkering Table

Throughout the year I have been fascinated to observe the intensity of thought that some of my preppies have put into their block constructions. One child in particular, carefully selects and considers the placement of each and every block he uses. His constructions and their exploration of balance, shape and complexity are astonishing.










Late last term he brought in some metal nuts, bolts and springs he had collected from the site where a bus had been repaired after breaking down. He asked if he could look at them on the light box and experimented with putting them together in interesting shapes and patterns. It was only whilst discussing these loose parts with him, and listening to his thinking about where they might have belonged on the bus, that I realised he was interested in, not just how things were constructed but also how they could be deconstructed and so our Tinkering Table was born!

I had seen a post on the wonderful blog Irresistable Ideas for Play Based about just such a table and immediately looked for a place in the classroom to add our own version of it. For now we are using the water trough because it stops the different parts and paraphernalia from falling to the floor but with summer fast approaching I will soon need to find an alternative.  

Our sound for the week was /v/ and so it seemed appropriate that the first object we should deconstruct was a vacuum cleaner. We added a set of screw drivers and waited to see what would happen.













At first the children explored the vacuum cleaner as a whole, opening and closing all the different compartments. They were excited to discover the cord could still be pulled out and retracted. An action they repeated over and over again. I was interested to observe that it was only after I posed the question “I wonder how that works?” that some of the children, including the child who had collected the nuts and bolts from the bus, chose to begin using the screw drivers and try to open it up.










Once they got started, the children demonstrated great persistence and concentration as they used the screw drivers and there was lots of celebrating when the first screw was finally undone. One down……… many, many more to go!










Mathematical understandings were enhanced as the children matched the size and type of screw driver required to the screws, learning during the process, the difference between flat headed and phillips head screws.










As one part was opened up another problem would arise, as the children worked together to think through what needed to be undone next. They discovered that there was a system to deconstruction, just as there is a method to construction.













The children have also discovered that deconstruction is not a quick process but when another part have been released from the screws holding it together, they are another step closer to finding out how it all works.










After 2 weeks of hard work the children have finally gotten through to the section of the vacuum that contains the motor and we are all really looking forward to this next stage of deconstruction.

Who would have thought that a simple everyday vacuum cleaner, a machine that can be found in almost every home would become such a long term and interesting project? Certainly not me….. but from now on I think that, just as construction with blocks and other materials is an everyday activity in our classroom, so too will be deconstruction at our very own Tinkering Table.


Time for Mastery

Over the last few weeks, one of the children in my class has been totally engrossed in using pippettes. Her interest was piqued when we were experimenting with milk, paint and detergent to create a Storm in a Saucer. Initially she had difficulty using the pippettes and needed lots of help.  After several days we ran out of milk and as  her interest was still very strong, I put out paper towels and water paint to give her further opportunities for practice and exploration. Each day she would sit for long periods of time dropping paint onto the paper, and with every day that passed she developed more and more control over the pippettes until  she was able to drop the paint skillfully wherever she wanted it on the paper.












As I observed her persistence and total engagement with the process, I was reminded of just how important it is to give children opportunities to practise and master skills.














Life at school can be very busy and in our haste to provide our children with lots of different learning opportunities and experiences I sometimes wonder if, in some respects, we are teaching children to become a jack of all trades and master of none. If I had stopped putting out the pippettes after the first experiment, would my young preppie have been disadvantaged in terms of fine motor development? Probably not. There are plenty of other opportunities for developing fine motor skills in our classroom. Would she have continued to explore colour? Probably, because this is a strong interest in our classroom at the moment and there are, again, lots of  opportunities for colour exploration and experimentation. Would she have gained a deep understanding of the science involved in using pippettes and the skill of controlling this tool, not just for art but for other learning areas as well? Probably not. Without this deep understanding would she be able to apply the knowledge she has gained, to create patterns and other imaginative representations? Probably not. Would her self esteem and personal learning skills have been enhanced without the opportunity to persist in using the pippettes? Probably not.

As a teacher I need to consider the bigger picture. By giving her time and plenty of opportunity to practice, this young child has learnt so much more that the original learning intention of the first experiment. She has mastered a useful tool, she has gained deep understandings about the science of pippettes through experimentation, trial and error, thinking and problem solving and is able to apply this knowledge to other situations. Her self esteem has been enhanced as she progressed from squirting the entire amount of paint out in 1 squeeze to being able to carefully control where and how much paint is dropped out. I loved watching her engagement in the process, her complete focus and intense concentration and whilst she would leave the activity to do other things she would continue to return and explore and experiment. She was setting her own challenges using her interests and thinking and problem solving whilst persisting to build her skill base. Something that I strive for when facilitating a child negotiated, play based curriculum.