East PM’s Ball Machine
By Eric Stuart and Meghan Olsen, Assistant Teachers
During our Fall 2003 Set-up Week, the staff of Bing Nursery School reviewed the various applications of using basic materials such as paint, blocks, water, clay and sand with young children. Jeanne Lepper, director of Bing Nursery School, presented the staff with a few small round wooden balls and encouraged the staff to have them available in the block area. Experi-menting with these balls, the children in East PM found some unexpected ways of using them.
A few weeks into the fall quarter, Sarah Wright, head teacher in the East PM classroom, positioned a 10-foot-long plastic cylinder at the top of the hill in the play yard and placed a basket of balls nearby. The children’s natural inclination was to send balls through the tube and compare their speed as they rolled through the cylinder. Throughout the week, the children inventively added gutters and blocks, extending their explorations.
Two weeks later, the ball machine was revisited. One child, Nathaniel, was particularly instrumental in the process. He assembled the wooden balls and vinyl gutters on top of the hill. Other children, attracted to the collection of gutters, began to assist in the construction of a ball machine. These children quickly turned the gutters into a much more elaborate system.
Working together, the children began to collect materials from around the classroom. They used gutters from the sand area to transport the balls from the top to the bottom of the hill. The children also brought hollow wooden blocks from the patio area to elevate the gutters to create ramps. Along with the wooden balls, the children also used small and large Whiffle balls in the ball machine.
While some of the children stood at the top of the ball machine watching the balls roll down, others were interested in transporting the balls. Henry and Chet waited at the bottom of the hill to gather the balls, placing them in the lower portion of their shirts, which they had folded into pouches. Chet and Henry soon were carrying four or five balls each, transporting them for the other children.
Due to the simplicity and open-endedness of the materials used, the children began to alter the ball machine for different results. They manipulated the gutters and blocks to make the balls roll up, down, left and right.
This ball machine became the first of several versions that were built throughout the week. The first day the ball machine consisted of a cylinder, gutters and three types of balls. On the second day, Kieran described the ball machine as being “a roller coaster for balls.” The excitement continued throughout the week, but the third day brought an entirely new adventure.
The children in Center PM classroom had been noticing the ball machine in East. After some discussion between the children in the two classrooms, it was agreed that a ball machine connecting both classrooms would be built. The children in East collected more hollow blocks to boost up the gutter over the fence into Center. As this joint-classroom ball machine neared completion, Chet invited Julian, a child in Center, to be the first person to use this new ball machine. Julian placed the ball into the gutter as children from East and Center classrooms looked on with excitement. This new configuration extended the children’s collaboration beyond classroom boundaries and facilitated much communication between neighboring groups.
With the addition of the wooden balls and the ball machine, the children in East PM had a meaningful learning experience. They grew socially as they connected and shared ideas with children in their own room as well as with those in another room. Principles of physics were discovered as they manipulated the balls and ramps while constructing and deconstructing the ball machine. Their physical stamina was enhanced as they built the machine. The three-week experiment with balls and ramps was truly an example of the value of basic materials and how they can be deeply satisfying for young children.