I have this one kid I work with who is an utter delight to witness inventing things. It’s a talent, seriously.
Whereas I often work with kids who don’t necessarily know how to direct play or how to play freely in complex ways, this kid has got it on lock. Given access to the stations in my room, he does absolutely none of them. He describes some incredible, imagined thing for me and asks me how we could make it. Before I even have time to formulate words, he comes up with five ideas about how to make it. I help him find the supplies we actually have*, and we go wild.
*Him: and then, what if we covered it in real melted gold?!!!?
Me: oooohhh! I don’t think I have any real melted gold…(long pause while I look around)….We could cover it in yellow paper or we could color some white paper with my gold paint pens!
Him: (mildly disappointed but regaining enthusiasm) okayyyyy…yeah! Real melted gold would be hard to keep in your room I guess because it has a melting point of two thousand degrees.
Me: (absolutely no knowledge in this area but also absolutely no doubt that he’s probably right) (and with a straight face) You’re right, I think that would probably be too dangerous for me to keep out.
Him: let’s use paint pens because at least they’re metallic.
So the other day we were making a time machine, as you do. He was looking around my room for something inspirational to use to actually be the time machine and he found this random square piece of wood I have that is divided into eight segments with colorful backgrounds. I think the piece may have been meant for a visual/tactile fidget wall, as it’s similar to pieces I have somewhere else, but it’s just been sitting in storage not doing anything, so when I found it I got it out with no immediate ideas of what to do with it.
He was incredibly suspicious of my claim that it’s not “for” anything in particular, because it looked so obviously like it must be for something. But he finally accepted my best attempts at explanation of the purpose of all the random junk I have lying around being mainly for creative people to make up creative things about and he decided this WAS the time machine.
“Whichever color you step on, you go to that time,” he told me.
That sounded very sensible to me. He began listing to me out loud what each color meant and what time it would send you to. I grabbed a piece of paper and began writing what he was telling me.
(Modeling the purpose of writing in a play-based way…since often the kids who come see me have little sense of why writing could or should ever be meaningful for them. It’s just something adults never seem to do for fun, but force them to do for some reason…)
We ended up with this list. These are the five locations to which you may time travel. Choose wisely.
Blue – Martin Luther King Jr’s birth
Orange – the Jurassic period
Green – before the universe
Gold or silver – the Farther Range, a location 1000 light years away. (He helpfully told me that I could write 1K because K means 1000 and is easier to write.)
Red – when the ocean was made.
The last piece we needed for our time travel was a hand scanner to put our hands up against so that it would scan them and know we were ready to go. He suggested the hand scanner should have a clock on it to represent the time machine. I made myself arbitrarily busy with something all of a sudden while he gathered a circular lid to trace to make the clock circle, traced it on paper, and then traced a hand over the top of it. (I made myself busy because I suspected that if I looked free and available, he’d ask me to do it for him, but if I looked busy or told him I could help in just a second, he would do it himself out of enthusiasm — I was right. 😊)
Then I helped him cut it out, since cutting is still very threatening and scary for him. He drew the numbers on the clock, with a little bit of my suggestion that he start with 12, 3, 6, 9 and then fill in the gaps (because otherwise his clock looked like it was going to have a lot of white space on the right).
So much writing, drawing, and tracing! All of it completely and totally steered by what he was imagining and creating! Some of it facilitated by me because of how much the perception of having to do an academic task makes him feel immediately threatened—because of his history in this area. But we continue to break it down, fraction by fraction, so that he succeeds in what he *does* attempt, and builds personal meaning out of all of it.
We ran out of time just as we finished the time machine (…ironically. I guess I didn’t feel like going back to MLKJ’s birth to give us more time to keep working on it.)
So we’ll have to give it a test run next week. If you start seeing posts from me dated 1929, you’ll know it was a success. 😁