Video 31: Pulleys and Zip Wires!

What do you do when you’re 20 feet up in a tree and you lose your shoe, and your foot starts getting cold?

We now have a construction site – an ‘almost’ finished tree house. When the first floor was installed (about 6″ above ground level), climbing up and down brought much excitement. The platform provided a great location for testing out gravity – our own version of the leaning tower of Pisa. The boys’ pictures, stories and sculptures were suddenly flooded with representations of tree houses.

Well, over the course of hundreds of visits to the ‘first floor’ a shoe would occasionally fall – as you can see in the video, the walls are not up yet. One day something interesting happened: as one of the boys was climbing up to the crow’s nest (14 feet above the ground, 2 ladders to climb), he (again) lost a shoe. Tired from climbing up and down all day, he just didn’t feel like going all the way down again to pick up one shoe. But then his foot started to get cold and he really wanted his shoe back.

A line had been set up for sending things down but the idea of bringing something all the way up was a challenge. It started with a simple line and a hook at the tip bringing things up. Well, after a few tries, the line broke and they found themselves back at square one.

The process of ‘discovering’ a pulley took quite a while – they used the time they needed to keep their gears going. Both boys problem solved for days until they had developed a basic idea of how a pulley works. When I introduced the actual pulley, the look on their faces said “you knew about this all along, and you never said anything?” The reality is that I didn’t want to give them the easy way out, but to encourage them to stretch their thinking while searching for a solution. Later on, they made many interesting connections as they pondered about how elevators, escalators and cranes work. We had great conversations after so much trial and error and the kids felt more confident about using pulleys and zip wires and choosing ways to use them. They are now planning a whole “pulley system” and want to install it after we put the walls up – it’s all in the blueprint!

At the end of the process, I wondered if they could understand how a pulley works and asked them if they would share their ideas with me on paper. One preferred to document that learning in writing and the other in a drawing.

Two years ago, I was involved in a project that brought me to interview a wonderful early childhood science teacher and researcher named Karen Worth. The work that she has done in her career has influenced many, many teachers and parents and I vividly remember her excitement when she talked about the importance of children documenting their discoveries, thinking and learning over time. Here is what Karen said in her interview:

          “I consider [documentation] to be children’s movement. Documentation is not only writing words on a page. Documentation of children’s work is extremely important and it comes in many forms. I consider children’s movement to be a representation of experience. Drawing and painting and using materials is a form of documentation. It forces you to look more closely. If you have to draw a block structure that you’ve just done, you really have to look more closely. You have to even perhaps count those blocks tat you put on top of the other which you didn’t when you made it, because if you are little, you do a lot by trial and error. […] [Documentation] helps children to go back and look at what they’ve done, particularly the young ones who are relatively immediate in their thinking. They may do an exploration over a few days, but they don’t remember what they started with; so it makes the process visible as well.”

And it’s in the process of learning something new while overcoming challenges mixed with new discoveries that children develop a strong sense of competence –  confidence that will always be there to help them succeed in school and at home.

There is much food for thought here and a lot more possibilities for children’s learning process especially when we give them space to explore their ideas in several scenarios over a period of time! What’s the rush?

Set-Up for Episode #31:

  • String
  • Pulley (you can find them at your local hardware store)
  • Pens, markers, pencils, etc.
  • Paper
  • Hooks
  • Tape
The hook got stuck and André decided to lift the string to see what would happen:
A lot of things traveled down the zip wire:
The writing tools were great for their messaging system!
Both kids had a wonderful time sending and getting notes from each other. It gave them a purpose to write.
Pulley system inside the house.
A new purpose for the pulley!
This idea came up after a discussion about necklaces (they made straw necklaces this summer):
Then, the race!
How zip wires work:
How pulleys work:
And… voilà!
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Have fun and Go Beyond The Classroom!


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