Come Fly With Me…

By Parul Chandra, Head Teacher 

The “Fly With Me” project began in winter quarter when children at the design table used paper, yarn, tape, feathers, pipe cleaners, recycled and other materials to create kites that ranged quite broadly in size, shape and color. Children delved into their imaginations for what a kite might look like: Some kites had tails and some didn’t, some were large and some small. The one thing that all the kites had in common was that they were intended to fly. Once children finished their kites, they would grab their creations and run up the hill and down with their flying objects. They were really trying to figure out the mechanics of flying. Questions arose: How do things fly? How can I make my project fly? Why do I have to run to make it fly? Soon they were designing rocket ships too. 

Children are resilient and enjoy exploring possibilities, especially when faced with challenges. Teachers saw this happen over and over again during this project. Children would go out to test their flying objects, and most would return to the design table to modify or to make repairs to their work. It was interesting to watch and listen to how they talked to each other and offered suggestions to help fix their peers’ creations. A shared interest in flying objects was rapidly evolving in our class; there was a buzz about flying. 

Over time, the project went from a small group of children interested in building kites and rocket ships to a classroom full of children investigating and learning about a multitude of flying objects and the mechanics of flight. The project grew to include extensive pretend play involving flying objects, woodworking to build a wide selection of flying objects, listening to readings about flying, observing and drawing model planes, a chance to see a drone in action and hearing from two visiting parent experts who answered detailed questions at a very stimulating story time. 

This is a rocket ship going to treasure. By Corrine B., 3 years 7 months

One goal of Bing teachers is to create an environment that will foster children’s learning. Two of the many ways this is achieved are by having a rich trove of resources available to children and by giving children the time to use these resources. Given the interest in flying, teachers collected a variety of new materials such as paper towel rolls, cardboard and silver metallic paint and placed them throughout the classroom, indoors and outdoors. These materials served as provocations to spark children’s interest, and teachers watched as they excitedly collected materials from different areas, brought them to their own work stations and assembled them using tools like staplers, tape and glue. Some children modeled the use of these materials for those who were still developing skills. Children were motivated to tear tape and cut yarn and needed no encouragement because they were thrilled to build a flying object to take out and test. In this environment, children’s excitement around finding novel ways to use materials kept rekindling the spark in this project. 

Wood was the most popular material used to make their machines. Children employed different shapes of wood, connecting them using hammers, nails and small pieces of peg board. A wide variety of airplanes, helicopters and rocket ships emerged. After some problem-solving and collaboration, children requested propellers and tails to add to their vehicles. With the help of our in-house woodworker, Gene Aiken, we drilled holes in wide craft sticks and glued them together to fulfill this request. Children designed, modified and decorated their flying machines at the woodworking table. Jordan shared, “When you spin it around the propeller, it flies. If it is broken it does not fly good. There is air in the jets and when it comes out, it blasts off. This is a button to blast off in space.” Leo announced, “It’s a spaceship and it flies to the galaxy in the months and the year, and when it shoots out candy and money and veggies and water and milk. And it flies in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 lift off.” 

This project highlighted the importance of providing ample class time for children to investigate and be inspired. When they ran outside to test their flying objects, they would return to the classroom with the intent of modifying their design but would be attracted by the set-ups, such as model planes, propellers, rocket ships, books about flying and paper airplanes. Children would incorporate this new information into their plan for modifying their design. Teachers witnessed children’s mental processing as they took the time to examine their creations and the materials available to them. 

It is an airplane. It is flying somewhere. It is going to Maine. By Leo Z., 5 years 1 month

Young children naturally increase their vocabulary and learn to articulate their thoughts. As they explored the concept of flying, the children enjoyed talking about it. They tested their theories, and they added to their ideas through discussions and trying out their flying objects. Children even asked why people couldn’t fly. Many attempts to take flight involved flapping arms and jumping off logs. Some children wrapped scarves around their arms to create wings! Stephen finally declared to his peers, “You can fly only if we have astronaut suits. First you get on a rocket. Then you can land on Mars. Then an astronaut bursts out into space.” Flying vocabulary, including words such as force field, cockpit, rudder, horizontal stabilizer, lift, thrust, wingspan, throttle, propellers and jets were used as they investigated further. They asked questions and created hypotheses just like scientists to test their theories about flight. Children told elaborate stories to accompany their work. Eventually, the children all agreed that wind, fire and wings are needed to fly. But not always. Will a plane with just a tail fly? Audrey commented on this, saying, “Only for a little bit—actually it won’t fly. You need a tail and wings. Rocket ships have fire in the bottom—blast off! They don’t have wings and tails.”

Models of airplanes, shuttles and a rocket ship sat at the art table and sparked children’s interest. They carefully observed the design of these machines and attempted to draw them. It was interesting to see the different details children chose to represent in their work. They explored the differences and similarities between rocket ships and airplanes and shared their theories on how rocket ships fly. Tadgh said, “It flies because there are two jets on the back. Electricity inside the ship makes it start and go up. The control sticks make it go up. … Curiosity [the NASA spacecraft] has a laser that shoots rocks to see what they’re made of. It went to Mars. Some go to other planets, and others go around the Earth.” Brody said, “It has fire coming out of the bottom, and they have special air inside. After that they have some special buttons.” Amelia got right to the point, “It sits on the ground and lifts up.”

During the project, children engaged in pretend play relating to airplane flight, which helped them make sense of their world and experiences. Hugo was at the nest swing with Calli and Jordan. He was pretending the nest swing was an airplane, and that they were “flying to Hawaii and other places.” When children didn’t want to swing quickly, Hugo said, “Then we’ll never get there”—so we talked about how the plane will get there eventually, just slower. Hugo was the pilot, and children took turns being the co-pilot and then passengers on the flight. We also had children pretending to communicate with air traffic control through walkie talkies, and we had the pilots make announcements over the imaginary loudspeaker. 

At the end of the quarter we invited two parents who are well versed in airplanes and flight to culminate our flying project. Both James’s mom Alice and Hugo’s dad Paul presented at story time and answered questions about the mechanics of flight: How does wind help airplanes fly? What makes them move? Can planes fly at night? If I have tiny wings, can I fly? Do rocket ships have computers? What can fly without wings? Are kites just wings? It was a rich and fulfilling experience for the children to get answers to questions they had been pondering throughout the past 10 weeks. Teachers were excited to see how focused and interactive these children were during the expert visitors’ presentations. 

In the several months following our visit from the flight experts, the children’s interest in planes continued, and their memories of earlier project events remained vivid—results we would expect from this type of intrinsically motivated learning. If we encourage children to engage with their own questions, their own theories about how things work and their own processes for making things happen, then we can bring about true motivation.