Thursday, March 6, 2008

digging to the bottom of the sandbox: taking activities to their extremes

Today a child asked if I wanted to make something out of dominoes with him. I'd been thinking for a while now that a really fun activity would be try to make and something with all of the dominoes we have -- there's about 700 wooden dominoes, in a pretty hefty bin. He was totally psyched: "yeahhhh!"

I knew for a while that this suggestion of an activity -- make something with _all_ the dominoes -- would resonate really well and get things going. The building that came right after felt very inspired to me -- what do you with all these dominoes? How do multiple people work together on the same structure? should we make one structure or multiple and join them via a chain of dominoes?

A few weeks ago something similar happened in the backyard. We were rolling snowballs, and someone suggested (I can't remember if I seeded this or not) trying to make the snowball as big as possible. "Yeahhh!" Instantly enthralling. The snowball quickly got to be as big as the kids and needed all of them and an adult's help to roll it. It turned into a fun puzzle two days later -- the bottom of the 3'-diameter snowball had frozen to the ground, and now there was the question of how to free it. The kids experimented for a while with ways to dislodge it physically, and then decided on using boiling water to melt the ice. They never did see if that worked -- by the time the water was ready, they were all ready to have lunch and do something else.

While it's tempting to analyze why taking an ordinary activity to its extreme is so engrossing, it makes so much intuitive sense to me that I'm fine with just noting it for now. It certainly is a good thing to add to one's bag of tricks of making up fun activities as you go. I'm personally reminded of the epic adventures I would take in kindergarten with other kids to dig to the bottom of the sandbox. The bottom of the sandbox! If we kept digging, we'd get to China! I saw a 6 year old doing this at camp a few years ago, and personally marvelled at what a universal desire it is to dig to the bottom of the sandbox.

(As I think about this more, I'm reminded of events like National Novel Writing Month -- adult endeavors to do something amazing ... in a month! All you need to do is get started! A lofty goal that only requires a simple action, repetition of the action, and a lot of focused, dedicated effort to achieve has a very innate appeal to it.)