Where The Children Lead Us
By Amber Scheibel
As teachers, we often come up with great ideas, projects or units of learning that we want to introduce to the children. Sometimes those ideas fly and other times they don’t, so we just move on and try again. But sometimes it’s the children who come up with the ideas or inspiration.
Our exploration of ramps began with the children’s fascination with rolling down the hill outside. Every day, no matter what area of our outdoor space we visited, they would start by running to the top of the hill at our playground and rolling down. One day a few children discovered they could push logs up the hill and watch them roll down. Sometimes the logs rolled fast, and other times, if they were not positioned correctly on their sides, they got stuck. Another day they decided to try rolling UP the hill. This proved much more difficult and led to a discussion about ramps and inclines vs. declines. We recognized their enthusiasm and saw that this was a great way to introduce early mathematical concepts into their learning, so we decided to expand on their interest.
We explored the outdoors looking for more ramps in nature and things that we could roll down them. We found hills, a slide in the woods, old tubes, rain gutters, fallen trees, flat pieces of wood… there were ramps everywhere! We found objects of different sizes and shapes, different textures and weights, and we experimented by sliding them down ramps positioned at different angles. Did the weight affect how fast or slow it rolled or slid down? Did certain shapes roll faster than other shapes? Did the object or the ramp need to be adjusted so that the object would roll down? After our outdoor experiments, we took the learning into our classroom where my co-worker, Brigid, set up ramps for the children to find and test. This led to them to building their own. The students were learning problem solving, spatial reasoning, distance calculation and prediction, cause and effect… so many math and science concepts through activities inspired by their free play.
This was a fulfilling experience for everyone. We enjoyed searching for and setting up challenges, and the children loved the activities. But none of this would have happened if we had just stuck with our original, teacher-led plan. By remaining flexible and letting the kids drive the direction of the class, we were able to let the ideas blossom organically, follow their interests, and have a lot of fun, too.