Monday, May 16, 2016

Let's Call It "An Inclined Plane," Not "A Slide"

For years I have felt like a renegade mom at the playground and it all comes down to what most people see as a "slide." In fact, I think of it as an inclined plane. It is something that offers so much physics learning that I can barely contain my excitement when I see kids playing with it.

Here are the three most common experiments I have seen on the inclined planes:

Sliding down. 
This is what most parents expect from children and it is awesome. However, I also have seen some creative thinking squandered in the name of "safety" - the common rules I see enforced are: 1) slide are for one human at a time and 2) slide on your bottom. Unfortunately for those parents I advocate that there is so much science to learn if we break those rules! I think the kids can and should experiment with:
- sliding on their bottoms, their bellies, their feet, and their backs.
- sliding alone and in a big messy pile.
- sending objects down the slide like balls, cars, trucks, sand, rocks, dolls, or playground floor-stuff (pebbles, woodchips, sand), etc...

Going up
This is a controversial subject on the inclined plane at the playground. So many people think that going up the ramp is bad. From my observations, the children figure out when there is a good time and when there is a bad time to try and go up the slide. And while they figure it out there is so much joy and learning that it just tickles me. Here are some of the experiments I've seen that involve going up the ramp:
- walking, crawling up the ramp in various amounts and types of dress. On their feet children learn the difference between walking barefoot, in socks, or in shoes. They figure out whether walking or crawling is more effective. And if crawling with atheltic pants is different from crawling with bare knees.
- sending objects up the ramp like rolling balls, trucks, or sliding dolls up.

Whether sliding down or going up an inclined plane children are learning all about force and motion...preschool playground physics.

Making music
I remember a parent telling me that she condoned her 10 year old son pushing my 4 year old down the stairs to "protect" himself and his sisters. What was my son doing? He was carrying woodchips up the stairs to put them down the slide, which the other children protested (despite not wanting to use the slide themselves). My son explained to me that he thought it would be beautiful to watch and listen as the woodchips went down the twirling slide. This is the story I recall every time my son puts the playground floor-stuff down a slide, and I feel grateful when I see other children experimenting the same way.

These are the ways I have watched children make music using slides:
- Sending handfuls of pebbles down a tunnel slide
- Sending sand down a metal slide
- banging on the sides of a tunnel slide
- shouting/singing/oooh-ing down a tunnel slide

I'm sure I'm missing a few noisy ways prechoolers study acoustics with the inclined plane but I think you get the gist.

The point is that the "slide" is not just a slide. It is an inclined plane, which makes it a versatile tool for doing playground physics, from studying force and motion to sound. It only takes a slight re-framing to see it for all it is worth.


Some words about safety. Don't get me wrong. I take safety seriously but I also take playful childhood development seriously, too. And so I continue the parental dance on the playground to let the children make decisions as much as possible and without too much intervention. Because I agree with Alfie Kohn: "Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions."

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