How many 4-year-olds does it take to build a motorcycle?
If asked that question a few months ago, I wouldn’t have known that 15 fascinated young students, one dedicated teacher and several generous donations from community parents and local hardware suppliers would be the answer.
Jena Carter, a preschool teacher in a More at Four classroom at Primary Colors Early Learning Center on Dixon Road, held a class meeting in early March that engaged students around one question: What would you build if you had a hammer, nails, wood, and measuring tape? Creative ideas bounced around the room, but the top two suggestions were a tree house and a motorcycle.
“When I plan, I try to always stem from an interest the kids have, and see how I can tie in our goals and objectives to what the kids are already eager to learn about,” Carter explained. “It makes learning engaging, interesting, and fun. The kids stay more involved if their learning is personal and comes from their interests.”
Carter uses the Project Approach as a teaching strategy in her More at Four classroom. This style of project-based learning enables teachers to guide the students through in-depth studies of real-world topics while allowing students to find success and fulfillment in their work. For Carter’s class the real-world topic was building – motorcycles to be exact.
“This project began with an interest in the block center, where the kids were constantly building basically anything you could imagine,” Carter said. “I wanted to give them a hands-on experience to extend this building with real materials.” Recycled tires, scrap wood, and other supplies were donated by parents and hardware stores and were pulled together after the student’s planning process, which jumped off with in-depth research to compare and contrast various motorcycles and flesh out on paper a vision for the classroom motorcycle.
Before bike building commenced, the children were given the opportunity to manipulate the materials and practice safe technique using the wood, hammer and nails. Initial attempts at building certainly heightened curiosity and creativity for the students, but resulted in a bike that lacked any shape or structure beyond that of a pile of wood. Further brainstorming and officially drawn plans helped get a structure going – and the project took off.
“This became just another center for us, where four or five kids would come out and help at a time,” Carter said. “The kids did all the nailing, they helped hold the wood in place for each other, and they did all the painting. We also had a parent that helped sand it before painting.”
So, what were the challenges?
“Throughout the 7-week process our biggest discussions were probably about the wheels,” Carter explained. “The kids were pretty stuck on the idea that a motorcycle only has two wheels, however, I knew that in order for our bike to stand with the materials we had, we would need at least three wheels.” After some intense research online, Carter revealed pictures to the children of some 3-wheeled bikes, most of which looked pretty “cool” and therefore acceptable for the tough, 4-year-old crowd. Crisis averted.
According to Carter, the planning of the project came easily because of the children’s level of interest.
“Just like any other center, disagreements arise…but this is part of the learning process – how to communicate effectively with peers to solve problems,” Carter said. “After reflecting on the process and the product, the kids only regret that our bike doesn’t have real jets and a motor for us to put gas in.”
The final product – to which the children honorably assigned the name ‘King Rumble’ – does indeed lack a real motor. For the children, hearing the growl of a live motorcycle would be icing on the cake.
Durham’s Partnership for Children, the local agency that administers Durham County’s More at Four program, contacted Officer Chris Fisher with the Durham Police Department to organize a visit from the motorcycle unit to the preschool classroom.
Law enforcement leaders have long supported high-quality early childhood education, recognizing the value of investing in our children early as a critical strategy to reduce crime, lower prison costs and save taxpayers money. Much evidence, particularly results from a long-term study of Michigan’s Perry Preschool, shows that at-risk children who do not participate in high-quality programs are five times more likely to be chronic offenders by age 27 than children who do attend. From the remediation perspective, it is far less costly to get kids on track early and significantly reduce the likelihood that they will commit crimes. Making that connection is priceless.
And so was the look on the children’s faces as they saw a uniformed officer riding – quite loudly – onto the preschool grounds on a sunny Friday morning, truly bringing their project to completion.
“The City of Durham and the Durham Police Department recognize the importance of early education programs like More at Four and the impact these programs have on a young person’s success in life,” said Kammie Michael, spokeswoman for the Durham Police Department. “High-quality preschool programs are one of the most fundamental crime prevention tools available. According to several studies, high school graduates are less likely to become involved in crime and more likely to become productive citizens.”
At the rate these young students are going, they might just leave us behind in their dust. And to be honest, that is all we ever wanted.