Trying to figure out how to get the rocket to fly!

Looking for experiences to enrich the play at Abundant Life is one of my favorite past times.  The crew is my source of direction, then I go looking for experiences that might enrich their internal drive.  I blog-surf, I Amazon-surf, I email myself with ideas so I don’t forget them, and most recently, I “pin” the fantastic inspirations I read about.  (Who knew we needed another social networking platform? Turns out that a handy online organizational tool for all of the cool ideas I run across isn’t such a bad idea!)  But one of my favorite ways to be inspired is to pull out my books and page-surf: looking for the portions of the book that fall open from heavy use and reading, finding the sticky notes that have lost their stick but still manage to hold a spot in my books, and turning to the back where I have penned my ideas and shopping lists while I go.

This experience came from the books by Jeff Johnson (check out a link at the bottom of this page).   The basics involve anchoring an eye bolt in the ceiling and attaching a pulley, followed by hours of exploration.  And that is how it started.  Quickly, I must pause to credit my incredibly talented and supportive husband and partner-in-crime.  “Eye bolt mounted from the ceiling?  Of course, we can do that!  In fact, the one you found is a little too small to support much weight — we’ll need a bigger one.”  Ever the supportive visionary for this program!  Thanks, Ezra!

Watching the crew experiment with this system was amazing. Some had the intuitive sense to pull hand-over-hand on the rope to raise the empty milk jug to the ceiling. Others took hold of the end of the string and walked it backwards until the jug was as high as it could go.  Others stood perplexed with a hand on the jug trying to figure out how to lift it high enough to touch the ceiling.  We explored what would happen if you raised the jug as high as it would go and let it drop, the physics of raising the jug if the string was tied from both ends to the handle creating a kind of continuous loop (a curtain pulley situation), and we tested the science of swinging by pulling the jug back and letting it go.

The milk jug "rocket ship" -- empty and waiting for passengers.

Experimenting with different ways of hoisting the jug into the air.

Discovering a game of trying to catch the jug before it is above your head!

Testing what it is like to raise the ship from different places in the room. What I love about this picture is the different children present. One on top of the platform using the pulley, one underneath looking to see what is going on, one sliding down, and one trying to catch the rocket. So many different experiences at the same moment! You'll probably want to click on this photo to enlarge it in order to see all of the action.

More rocket-catching attempts. What a great way to develop skills of prediction and hand-eye coordination!

Cadence discovered that she could twist her body while holding the string in her hands, and the rocket would pull up to the ceiling.

Look at the intensity on his face - he is working so hard to get this rocket to launch! Experience is the best teacher.

Then, a game developed where one child would hold the jug and stand as far back from the pulley as possible, and let it swing.  Kids would lay on the ground and try to kick the swinging jug.  As I stood and watched, my brain began to assess the risk and I ran through my mental question set.  I like to imagine my one body as two, and then assess a situation through a kind of instantaneous give-and-take that could probably make for some good sketch comedy.  If you could have snatched up a stethoscope from our dramatic play area and put it up to my head, you might have overheard this internal dialogue (never mind the science behind the whole stethoscope-to-the-head):

Me 1: Is this a safe game?
Me 2: Probably not
.  [Continued observation]
Me 1: What is actually happening?
Me 2: Cadence is pretending to be a cat, and Tekoa, the owner, is entertaining her kitty with a toy.
Me 1: What risks are actually involved in this type of play?
Me 2: Someone might get hit in the head by a swinging milk jug, particularly the children who are not involved the kitty script.
Me 1: What benefits does the game hold for the players?
Me 2: Large motor coordination (swinging the jug towards a target, locating and accurately hitting a swinging target with feet); predicting skills (knowing where to swing the target and judging how quickly it would arrive at that location); social skills of perspective taking and empathy (dramatic play fosters perspective taking through role play, and empathy as the characters act in ways that enable the success of the other players in a dynamic script); and development of the executive functions (talk about growing the capacity for inhibitory control!  Have you ever tried to grab a swinging object too early and missed?  You have to inhibit your desire to reach out and grab the cat toy earlier than you should, or else it might miss your arms and hit you in the head.) 
Me 1:  Wow – there is a lot to be learned in this exchange.  Is there any way to mitigate the risk involved?
Me 2:  By alerting the non-participating children to the game, they can watch where they walk. 
Me 1: Sweet.

Joking aside, the issue of risk taking in early childhood settings is a critical one.  In this particular case, I judged the actual risk of a swinging jug minor and allowed the play to continue.  If head-jug contact did unfortunately take place, we wouldn’t be calling 911.  The damage inflicted by an empty milk jug would be minor enough that the risk was worth the payoff.  I alerted the non-players about where the “target zone” might be, and everyone went on their merry way.   Risk taking during the early years in a child’s life is critically important for their development.  I don’t subscribe to the “I did it when I was a kid!” philosophy towards risk.  Let’s face it…just because you rode helmet-less down a steep gravel hill on a unicycle while pulling a wagon full of your three closest friends and eating a jelly sandwich while your parents sat blissfully unaware at your house 5 miles away doesn’t mean that I should do it!  Still, I do think we have reason to be concerned about the societal bubble wrap of recent years that offers our children a scratch free experience.

Well, I promise more to come about acceptable risk in a future post.  In fact, it is the subject of a brand new workshop I am developing for a conference in Ottumwa, Iowa on April 14!  (Mark your calendars, friends!)   For now, a few pictures of the swinging cat toy in action.

Trying to kick the moving rocket.

Getting the timing right.

Getting the timing right.

If you are interested in some great books with play-based, child-directed experiences, check out Infant and Toddler Experiences by Fran Hast, Creative Resources for the Anti-Bias Classroom by Nadia Saderman Hall, and Do It Yourself Early Learning and Everyday Early Learning by Jeff and Tasha Johnson.

Happy exploring!