The end of the school year is rapidly approaching…only two more weeks here in my neck of the urban woods, and the natives are getting decidedly restless. My afternoon craft kids were practically climbing the walls. I remember what it was like when I was still working in the classroom. To all you teachers out there: Hang in there. It’s almost over. These last couple weeks are like the pushing before childbirth. It’s painful, but the relief and laughter will be here before you know it.
To help the kiddos channel some of that energy, I decided to make whirligigs with them. We themed the afternoon as “toys,” playing (pun intended) off the current fidget spinner craze. Interesting thing to note here. I have some parents at my programs who are ESL. One of them asked me this afternoon what “fidget” meant. It’s times like this when I think working in a library has to be the best job ever. Because not only did I get to help her learn a word that many of us just toss around, but I was able to do it without her feeling at all embarrassed. It also led to an eye-opening discussion of how some words (in this case fidget and physics) can basically register as homophones to non-native speakers. Fascinating.
But onto our program! We had a selection of toy-themed books available to the kids. The most popular choices were I Love My Toys, a Spanish-English bilingual board book that the tag-along siblings seemed to enjoy, everyone’s favorite monkey in Curious George Visits a Toy Store, the parental favorite Too Many Toys by the always hilarious David Shannon, and my personal favorite, because it was so unique and wacky, Leo Cockroach: Toy Tester by Kevin O’Malley. I mean, how could you not love a book with a title like that?
The craft was an easy one to make but a tough one to master, making it great for a variety of ages and skill levels. I gave them the basic template (link at the end of this post), which they got to decorate any way they desired. Cut it out, glue one circle to a scrap of cardboard, trim off the excess cardboard, glue the other circle on the back, and that’s about it.
I punched holes near the center where I had marked dots on the template and had the kids run a yard of baking twine in one hole and out the other. Tie the two ends together and it’s done. Easy, right?
This is where the fun begins. To get the whirligig moving, you have to hold the ends of the twine in your hands and swing the cardboard part in a circle until the twine gets all twisted. Then you let it spin, moving your hands in and out as it twists first one way and then the other. If you do it right, you can go on forever. But it took some serious practice on the part of the kids, and I ended up guiding their hands through the in-and-out process until their muscles learned how to move at the right tempo. It wasn’t easy for them.
One of the most exciting parts of this activity was watching them fail and fail and fail and then…succeed.
That…and talking about the physics behind the project. We talked about the Laws of Motion, potential vs. kinetic energy, and the effects of friction. I hadn’t actually intended this to be a STEM program, but it ended up being one nevertheless. And that was just fine with me. I was happy, the parents were happy, and the kids, well, I think this young man said it best:
Yep. This was awesome.