Thursday, July 8, 2010

On failing to make a solar-powered boat

Our days over the past week have been filled with boat building. It began in the river, with simple leaf-and-stick creations.

Back in the studio, I offered wood pieces, craft sticks, corks, and glue guns, and the children began to draw their ideas for more boats.

A quick lesson in the safe use of a glue gun, and they were off on what would become an extended boat-building project.


We're using a tub of water to test our creations for floatability before they're set afloat on the river.


The children return to their boats day after day, adding more and more: an anchor, some "guys," a treasure chest, a sail. But how to make them go? That's been quite the debate. With excited discussion, the children decided they should be solar powered, using tin foil and clear plastic to create the "solar system."

Here's the email I sent their parents today, talking about this struggle to create a working "solar system":

"We barely made it outside this morning, or paused to eat anything for snack, because the boat construction was just too compelling.

The children's work on these boats is so exciting and impressive and beautiful to watch. It's also a little painful. They have these fabulous plans to create a solar-powered vehicle, but only the vaguest idea of how to make that work. This happens all the time in children's creations. They want a car that really drives, a walkie-talkie that really sends messages, an airplane they can actually fly in. And as the adult, you want to talk them down from their lofty plans, so they don't get disappointed. Or make it work for them, so they'll be proud and satisfied. I can't answer the solar-power question (I don't understand it well enough myself). I could research it and offer books and explanations. I could buy a kit. But I don't really think that should be my role--because I don't think that's where the real learning comes in. If they assemble the solar-power kit, do they better understand how it works? Not much. But they will learn that the answers lie with someone else; that they can buy a solution; that they are not capable of finding a solution on their own. J. just asked me to set his boat out in the sun while he napped so it could "charge." What will he learn when he brings it back in? And what will he decide to do about it? I think in the process, he'll learn so much more than he would from my potential "lessons."

Conveniently, this wonderful post came along today, to support me as I briefly questioned my hands-off thinking.

What a thrilling project this has become! I can barely wait to take the boats to the river to sail. (Of course, that's my adult need for the "product" again. My best teacher intentions remind me to slow down and not rush the process, which is the most important part. We may be building for weeks before the boats have their inaugural voyage.) Wait. Watch. Support. Don't push. Don't solve it for them. Let them fail sometimes. It will come...and it will be rich and deep and meaningful and theirs."

I write to the families in my program daily--and attach documentation panels about the work the children are doing--and often, that's my best, most creative work. But somehow, it's felt odd to share it here. What do you think? Do you want to hear about it sometimes?

8 comments:

Erin said...

yes please!

gardenmama said...

I loved this post, keep them coming : )

Luisa said...

I just thought hey it's a great idea. Yes because it will could be really helpful :)

Julie said...

Your knowledge and insight about how children learn and what we can do as adults is so inspiring! Keep up the amazing posts:)

ashley said...

absolutely!!! from someone educated in early childhood education and also actively involved in unschooling, i KNOW I have tons to learn from you! definitely share more, please :-)

Deb said...

I, for one, like hearing what your students are up to. I want to create opportunities and space for my daughter to learn and grow and so seeing your ideas is very helpful to me.

Moment to Moment said...

I can so relate. My children are so very creative, as they all are, and creative all kinds of gidgets and gadgets, that to the adult eye may seems without purpose, yet to the children have meant hours of focused creativity.
I love it that you share.
Looking forward to look into your blog further..

watching kereru said...

Yay, This is great stuff. Another unschooling, reggio-inspired, food-growing, child-loving blog. Thanks for the link from Heather at A Handmade Life.