Things Were Flying in West
By Peckie Peters, Head Teacher
Things took flight in West AM during the winter quarter. It all began with a few children folding paper airplanes and building spaceships and then literally took off into an exploration of circuits, construction and flight.
Toward the end of fall quarter, we were surprised by unseasonably warm temperatures and sunny days, which drew children outside. Some were making butterfly wings out of found materials and floating them throughout the play yard. Others experimented to see if larger paper airplanes could fly farther than smaller ones. Interest prompted teachers to introduce “flying” books and materials into the environment. Wooden airplanes and helicopters were added to the block building area. Books on airplanes, birds, bugs, hot air balloons and space shuttles were displayed on the discovery table. A life-size photo of an airplane control panel was added to the patio to encourage dramatic play. Self-help materials were displayed to encourage children to build items with wings.
As teachers questioned children on their pre-existing knowledge about things that fly, there seemed to be a strong interest in airplanes, perhaps because most children had personal experience in this arena. Children shared stories about their airplane experiences, including whom they had seen, where they had traveled and any other interesting events that had taken place along the way. The patio area became the hub for children to act out these personal experiences. They took turns being pilots, flight attendants and passengers including some who periodically ejected from the plane with their parachutes in tow. One child commented that it would be easier if our paper control panel really worked and the next phase of our project emerged.
One teacher went with a small group of interested children to the library to generate a list of what a control panel would need. The list included everything from air conditioners, batteries, controls, levers, lights, steering gear, switches and wheels. Children indicated that they needed a reference book, to learn how to make a control panel, and, of course, they needed tape. The next step was to make a visual map containing all of these ideas. Children used large pieces of paper and drew the components as they wished them to appear on the control panel. This would then be transferred to a large surface of wood, which would serve as the actual control panel. Children estimated, measured and collaborated with each other to arrive at the dimensions they wanted.
Another teacher worked with a small group of children to figure out how they could make lights that would really work. Children experimented with battery packs, connectors and wires until they constructed components that could transmit electricity. They were surprised to find that the circuits could not only make lights work but that they could also generate the action needed to move a propeller or a helicopter!
At this point, children felt they were ready to construct. They measured the length of the boards they needed and gave these measurements to Wilhelm, our on-site carpenter. They realized they would need hinges to connect the pieces so the final product would be freestanding. The children used drills, screws and hinges with four holes to connect the panels. The team, comprised of three- and four-year-olds, both boys and girls, began by sanding the wood. They measured and drilled holes, using screws and screwdrivers to attach bridges that would connect boards. They used levels to make sure that everything was even — and they wore safety goggles to ensure that no one would get hurt. Finally, the control panel was ready for use and the play began.
Interest was high but an important component of the project was still lacking — a visit to a working airport. After contacting Palo Alto Municipal Airport, we scheduled two field trips to observe actual planes and check out the cockpit. Led by Dan Logan, a local flight instructor, children were given tours of the facility, opportunities to try on headphones like “real” pilots, stand on the runway as planes taxied, took off and landed, and climb into the cockpit. Logan explained how wind and wing design help a plane take off and land, as children nodded knowingly. They returned to school with new information and the confirmation that they were experts in the field.
As a final note, while many children were very invested in this aspect of the flying project, others were building kites, creating elaborate butterflies, examining flying bugs in the yards and experimenting with paper airplane designs. Still others were busy forging friendships or painting at the easels. Truly, Bing is the kind of place where all these events can take place at the same time.