Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday SOL What about imagination?

It is Tuesday and this is a "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers.  Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.

I am fascinated by what makes children think "outside the box."  What makes them imagine?

For me, working with found objects and recyclables are often the catalyst...an inexpensive and fun way for them to unleash their wonder.

We've been delighted by these in recent weeks. 

Everyone collected 10 or so small, inconsequential, extra items from their homes. At morning gathering, everyone dumped out their objects and we studied them. 

(Well, almost everyone dumped out their objects...preschoolers are fickle beings, new to sharing. Several children were very sad about having to share these treasures with others, and I suggested that they return their objects to their backpacks, until they felt ready to share. Learning to share can be very difficult - even leftover, small "extras" from home.  Children get attached to small things, even things that seem ‘without purpose’ to us adults.)

We discussed what we saw. The children were very interested in all the different materials, textures, purposes. With these materials in hand, the children began discussing the purposes of objects, how things work, what they might be used for, what was similar about our items, what was different...and, also, imagining new uses for things. 

After gathering, I moved to a table and worked with a small group - six students at a time - continuing our exploration of found objects, but allowing the children to be more focused in their observations.  We had set out the found objects on trays and the children took whatever they wanted, exploring these in the smaller space at the table.

From this one small group activity, I gained so much insight about children's different approaches to learning (and understanding about how to engage them in the future) -

I saw lots of "logic" - children creating categories of objects, sets, lines of materials...often putting “like” items together. One little girl was fascinated by keys, searching through the trays for all the keys.

Many seemed fascinated by touching the objects, perhaps enjoying the sensory sensation...

one played with a ribbon strip, stroking it over and over, rubbing it onto other objects, totally engrossed,
another lined up a collection of objects and then, discovering a small brush in the mix, stroked each item, one by one,
one child delved into the pile of objects and seemed to select items simply by touch or feeling; "I love this pom pom!" she told me.

Several children told stories, picking up the items and inventing different make-believe purposes -

"The dragonfly takes off and look what happens - he flies! Hold onto the rope, ready! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...I need the butterfly because it saves the bad guys...it doesn't live in this town."
Another..."I'm making an enchanted forest."
And another had endless imaginative ideas, unable to settle - "I building a ship's tower, no a castle tower. No, I'm making a fish design. Now it is a trap!"

Still others were fascinated by how things work, manipulating the materials in different ways -

one child with a piece of foil, rolling it up, unrolling it, wrapping things in it, unrolling it again;
another student, full of questions - "What are you using that for? How does this work?";
still another, laying out pieces, connecting objects inserting a ribbon through holes in the objects, and
one other, putting objects inside one another, as if to create a container.

Certainly, some children had only a fleeting interest in the objects - landing momentarily at the table, then running to the dress-ups or elsewhere for a bit (but they often returned to inspect the materials again).

Overall, however, I was delighted by the children's concentration -
one child created a large design using a variety of objects, and not saying a single word - seemingly following a plan that I could not see;
another child worked for some forty minutes at the table, holding pieces up individually and studying, adding a "Look, Ms. Ingram!" every now and again and then laying the pieces down as if solving a puzzle...

Over the next several days, we spent some time dividing the found objects by color, in a variety of clear glass and plastic containers. We created jars of red, yellow, blue, green, gold/brown, silver/gray, purple, black and white materials. So much fun!

Last week, I read the story Regards to the Man in the Moon by Ezra Jack Keats. Here, Louis is being ridiculed by peers because his father runs a junkyard...his Dad insists that it isn't junk - all one needs is imagination...and the next thing you know, Louis and pals create spaceships and head to the moon. My challenge to my preschoolers - can you build a toy or something fun out of our recyclables and found objects? Then, they blasted off!

This story was great for our first engineering effort. The children were allowed to build whatever they wanted. Everyone drew a plan [or ‘blueprint’] first, before starting to create with the recyclables and tape. We had many varied creations, including:

The tallest tower in the world,
a wiggly thing,
a boat,

a beach,
a mountain,
a police car,
a helicopter,
a spaceship,
a book.

Here are a few things I've overheard, as they explore the objects and create - 

"need to make something!!
Look - I found a blue thing...I know where it goes!
This one is bendy.
I’m trying to hook this.
What is this? I don’t know what it is!
I don’t think they use this anymore.
Ms. Ingram, I’m making a little helicopter...I’m making a helicopter cable that hangs down.
What is this?!
I’m making a rollercoaster.
I’m making a parade – see!
This is bendy, bendy, bendy.
How to get this thing out of here?
Hey, I got these apart.
La, la, la, squish, squish, squish.
This is hard – listen [taps it on side of containers].
Look, I catch the tiger! (using ribbons, necklace to create a lasso around a toy animal)

And, in the midst of building, an enthusiastic  - "I need to go get some more!" [recyclables] 

Hoping to instigate on-going exploration with these materials, I expanded our science area to include the found objects and simple recyclables, plus tape. My hope is for the children to dare to touch, explore, consider, create. Thus far, the children are mesmerized.  We are having fun with our imaginations!


  1. I know I've said this before, but can I send my daughter to your preschool class, Maureen? The exploration and discovery you do is just amazing and inspirational.

  2. Wow, Maureen! This is amazing! I love that you honor and celebrate and encourage and support and nurture their imaginations! Sometimes, I swear, my students have never developed a sense of imagination. You have given me a great space to think about how I can help students LEARN to be curious and creative, and how I can provide students with SPACE to grow and honor their imaginations! Thank you!!

  3. Always, always love what you do! Thanks for the book idea, too! All our students do this, 4-14! Thank you, Maureen!