When, just one month ago, Nathan and I proposed that we "build a poem" with the After School Tinkerers, I don't think that either of us really knew what that meant.
During our own planning phases, we searched for writings that illustrated vivid pictures and evoked sounds, or smells, or actions that might allow some exciting creativity and out of the box desigining. Over text message, we exchanged photos of our own beloved childhood poems. We tried to imagine what it would be like to step back from leading a singular, concrete, After School project, and allow one to unfold naturally, line-by-line, over the course of only a few short weeks. And, more importantly, is it possible (crazy) to ask 6 year olds to do literary analysis in a class that usually teaches the culture and safety of woodshop?
Let's just try it, and we'll see what happens, Nathan and I told one another.
Well, a lot happened!
The poem was an easy sell, and asking these super imaginative small humans to design and actualize the imagery was a cake walk. They knew what worms, and ants, and spider webs looked like. They knew how to draw them, and roughly how to translate that 2D information into 3D sculpture. They were psyched about painting, and using alternative materials to creatively construct weird, functional, playful props.
Teaching the shop tools was easy. They understood drills, and screws, and the chop saw. Hinges. Rope. Knots. Hot glue guns, and the many, many other tools and materials, and funky functional things hanging out around the shop.
But, admittedly, the only challenging sell, that came up over and over during the course of this 4-week experiment, was found in the first line of the poem that we used:
"If you were only one inch tall, you'd ride a worm to school."
As soon as I read that line on the second day, for the very first time, after asking that group of super imaginative Tinkerers to close their eyes and picture everything I said, I knew we pitching to a tough crowd.
"If YOU were only one inch tall, YOU'D ride a worm to school."
How could we ever convince these energetic young folks to make a human analogue to ride and play on these amazing props we would later construct? How dare Nathan or I ever suggest that they wouldn't actually be riding a worm, or swinging on a spider web, or surfing (skateboarding) across the shop? Even after we constructed the person that would ride/swing/surf on these amazing things, the question came up again and again.
"But why?" the retort was, each session, as we started a new component of the poem. "Why can't WE ride on it?"
"Because we made that person to do it!" or "Because we don't have enough time to make it safe for people to try out!" or "Because..." Well, because once building and teamwork and learning become full on play, then it's usually all over. While we appreciate, enjoy, and encourage play, 8 sessions of 90 short minutes and an 18-line poem is just too much and too little all at once! Our time is best spent working all together on the project.
Whatever the answer, it never satisfied their curiosity and excitement.
Insofar as during the second to last session, Senya and I were having a discussion about the color of the "stick of gum." She insisted on blue, and when I asked her why, she answered plainly, "because gum is blue." I asked her how she knew that, because it didn't say so in the poem. To that, she responded, "well, the poem also says that WE are riding the worm."
You're absolutely right.
Literary analysis with early elementary aged Tinkerers? No problem. No problem at all!
Be sure to check out the Flickr Photo Album of the entire session, as well as the video below.