Being Resourceful

I’m still running on fumes, so please forgive the dearth of posts lately. Our new classroom is almost ready.

I’m fortunate that I’m at a school that gives its teachers an amount to spend on their kids and classroom. Still, it’s amazing how quickly supplies add up.

Living in Seattle, one has to prepare for “Rainy Day Recess” and one activity many of the children (and grown-ups) enjoy is playing with Lego.

A table like this one

Cost: $299.95

will cost close to $300. It’d be nice to make that money go further, especially since there are always curricular resources and supplies that need to be purchased as the year progresses.

Well, here’s what I did. I took two “Lack” tables at IKEA ($9.99 each). Built the first table as is, attached casters to the second table top (no legs), and then attached them with velcro (yes it really works). I already had 3 base plates, so I only had to purchase one more – ($6.99) and affixed it to the top of the table with contact paper and some double sided tape. Oh … I had some extra wire baskets that came with some of the new classroom furniture that was just lying around too.

Here is the result:

Table from IKEA with wire basket.

Second Ikea table (just the top used - casters were lying around in the tool box at home) - notice the velcro on the corners.

So, for less than $30 (10% of the cost of the table above, I was able to make my own. Our school’s mission statement’s values mention being respectful, responsible, and resourceful – I think this project qualifies for the latter –  perhaps more $$ can go to lego purchases. They are not a cheap toy.

And, when separated from each other you have a lovely side table and a nice dolly if you should need it.

A Reminder to Play

Pixar seems to have a way with storytelling. I have enjoyed every single one of their animation features. I just came back from Toy Story 3 and while not my favorite, I still found it very satisfying.One thing that struck me is the importance wonder and imagination that children have when it comes to play, whether it be a cardboard box, doll, or make believe fortress. The movie reminded me how important it was when teaching lower elementary kids that toys should be part of the classroom. Especially for those frequent rainy day recesses here in Seattle.

My favorite toy as a child has never been featured in the Toy Story trilogy. It’s a toy that includes imaginative play and one that also involves a lot of math (measurement, ratios, fractions, spatial reasoning, structural integrity, etc.). That toy is Lego. The little plastic brick toys have evolved since I was a kid, but it’s one of those toys that at some point, some grownups decide it’s ok to play with again. Here’s a funny TED video of someone who explains this hobby.

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

This afternoon on our local public radio station, KUOW, there was a piece on the disparity of recess time found among Seattle Public Schools. The reporters found that the schools with lower income families generally received less time for recess. Schools ranged from having one 15 minute recess a day to having an hour of recess a day. It’s clear from the callers that opinions about recess lie all over the map, yet several key themes emerged.

Kids Need to Move

This is consistent with John Medina’s Brain Rule #1: Exercise Boosts Brain Power. It is also important for health and related obesity issues that kids move around. Given that many schools also have reduced their PE times during the week, recess becomes very important for this reason. As for movement, that should also be part of the way kids learn inside the classroom, but it isn’t the same as recess.

Kids Need Unstructured Playtime

According to Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind, play is important for developing creative and innovative problem solving skills. It also fosters many of Medina’s Brain Rules: Exercise, Attention, Stress, Sensory Integration, and Exploration just to name a few. Click here for my earlier post on play. This unstructured playtime has a double edged sword. As talked about in the radio piece, recess can be stressful for many kids trying to negotiate what to do, or how to be included in an activity. As mentioned by one listener, it’s often in the line-up at the end of recess that children end up in conflicts.

Two things become important here: Adult Supervision and Social Skills. It isn’t good enough for the adult to take a post awaiting an emergency. Like a lifeguard, they need to scan the recess play area and act on things that don’t look right. While it is important for children to have unstructured playtime, I do believe that teachers need to teach social skills in the classroom and check in to see that all is going well. Of course there was this article in the NYTimes about two months ago about a school in Newark that went to a very structured recess.

There Isn’t Enough Time

Depending on the point of view, some thought cramming more math or reading in the school day was more important than recess. I think this is where we need to get creative with our schedules. I feel fortunate to work at a school that offers three recesses a day as well as PE everyday to kids. However, this past school year, I found it silly that the children would come back from PE to have a quick snack, only to return back outside for a 15 minute recess. We’re already looking at changes for next year.

We’re never going to please everybody all the time, but as long as we are mindful of why we do what we do rather than because it fits neatly into a box, kids will learn and grow.

Completely unrelated to this post, other than the title, here’s a video of the late 70s hit by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams.