There is a beautiful Japanese Maple tree in the front of the school that serves as the center piece aesthetically and plays a large part of our Fall curriculum. The children have enjoyed climbing into it’s web of branches, testing their climbing skills and feeling empowered once they have ascended as high as the teachers will allow them to go. This is a large motor skill that utilizes many areas of the brain.
As the tree grew taller, the children found it more difficult to get into the lower level of the tree to start their exploring. They decided they needed a ladder. They came to me (Teacher Tom) because I am the one responsible for building everything. They told me they needed a ladder to get into the tree and asked if I could build them one. I said I would help but I wanted them to be the ones to
direct me in how we would build it.
There were only a few children (boys) at first who were involved. As the process grew, all of the children became involved. I asked “what’s the first thing we need to know before we start making our ladder”? “What to make it out of; who gets to use it; how big it should be; to make sure it won’t break”; were just a few of the answers. “Those are all good answers but I think there’s one that will help us the most. Does anyone know which one that is”?
After some discussion they determined that the ladder had to be strong so the kids wouldn’t fall down. Wood, steel, clay, mud, and rope were a few of the suggestions on materials we could use. I told them I had some two by four wood that would probably work and suggested we give it a try.
After cutting the boards I laid them on the ground and asked “what do we do now”? “Put the boards together so they make a ladder”. It took awhile but they finally laid the boards into a shape that looked like a ladder. “Now what” I asked? After some conversation and brainstorming they decided they needed something to hold the boards together. “OK, what will hold them together” I prodded? Glue and tape were the only two suggestions. We settled on tape and one of the children ran into the school and came back out with some tape. The children taped the boards together. When they thought it was enough I picked it up but it immediately fell apart. “Let’s try glue” they said. Another child ran back in and brought out some glue. They applied glue all over the ends of the boards but they wouldn’t even stay together while laying on the ground.
Rope was mentioned as a solution but then one child said we should use nails. They all agreed that nails might work best. I brought out some nails and and started the process by nailing them a little over half way. I then let the children take turns pounding them down all the way. After they finished, I checked the work to see if it was sturdy, carried it over to the tree and leaned it against base. The children formed a line and we spent the rest of our outdoor time climbing in and out of the tree.
We still use the ladder to this day.
This is a good example of learning by trial and error, group cooperation and participation, and staying with something even though it is hard.