the Laws of physics

It’s a Tuesday so we have Helena’s friend over. They hadn’t seen each other for a while and the day before Helena had been so excited as had he but when they met they did the whole pretending they weren’t pleased thing. Where do they learn that? But it wasn’t long before they were revisiting their previous play successes and asking me for ways to earn money. After I grumped for a bit I came up with the perfect job…. perfect because it was something that had been hanging over my head waiting for a ’round tuit’ and it involved breaking stuff. I think of these money earning ideas as numeracy as when they get to the dairy they have long discussions on what to buy, how best to spend their money. The dairy conveniently sells individual sweets, bags of mixed sweets and even, when they eventually work out economies of scale, bigger bags which are way more expensive yet and would require pooled money to yield a bigger proportion of lolly to dollar. I hate lollies. They love lollies, the names, wrapping (I particularly hate the plastic), colour… etc. This task however was all physics. They had conversations about physics!! The job was to get all our old wood that was sitting around from pallet destruction into the car for a trip to the tip. The best way to break something into a car boot size according to them is by by jumping on it. No persevering with the slow ole saw….

There were several discussions on how best to arrange the sheets of rotting plywood. They put wooden bricks under them and jumped, noticing cracks, making decisions on where to put bricks in relation to where they jumped, how to exploit the cracks they got etc.

“You had to have all four corners with a thing under it for it to work” “so that our weight pulled….. ” I asked Helena if it would have helped to have the proper words. “No, how would it help with the jumping?” Then when I asked if she knew it was physics she replied that “of course it’s physics what else would it be, bananas… ” Hmmm I don’t think she wants to talk about it.

It is hard to know when to use the right words as if I was to give them the words while they were working I would become the expert and it would no longer be a joyous discovery of concepts/ideas that they are the owners of, and that they can enjoy the process of theorising about but it is actually just something adults know and can “teach” them. It’s not that I think the real words shouldn’t be given. At the holiday programme I make a lot of bows and usually I explain what I’m doing and why, like having a tight stretchy string… I would tell the kids it gave the arrow more “jush” or “oomph”, it would go further. Then we had a 17 year old (who is incidentally gifted in how he interacts with kids) who was doing physics at school so I asked him for the words. I like the words “elastic potential energy” they roll around and sound cool and I wanted them. I understand no more than I did before but can now have a different conversation with some other people, and can think a little differently in my head – extrapolate…. I used them with the kids for a bit just because I liked them but you could almost see the kids eyes roll back into their head so I’ve stopped. I leave books around for Helena to look in with the correct terms for her to adopt when she sees fit, or if she asks (I model not knowing the right word all the time!!) but it can all be on her own terms and secondary to the process of experimentation.

More important than the physics was the cooperation and the endless discussions feeding on each other ideas as those muscles are a better predictor of the success I want for my child.

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