Toys and tools – and why to rotate them

I was just cleaning up the garage, putting things into a donation pile and organising other things into boxes for more efficient storage when miss 8 came to me asked if she could do some hot glueing.

The amazing easel! Photographed on a paint by numbers set that is next on the rotation list…

Moments later, she had found one of my easels and replicated it at a smaller scale using found materials. I only intervened to give her another box of sticks in case they could be useful, tuned back into my own happy organising and left her to it. The easel she made is really cool and entirely well-designed.

Later, while shuffling things further, I found a brain box electronics kit and put it inside on the table. Now, the kids are ‘discovering’ circuits again.

My reflection on this ‘easy engagement’ is that the reason could be because the tools are on rotation. The hot glue is not a daily activity nor is the electronics kit and the rotating of them into our play space could be the key.

When the kids were really little and I ran my own business from home I found that rotations of toys or tools kept them occupied. I even made ‘busy boxes’ that I used on deliberate rotation to keep afternoons ‘quietly busy’ so that the youngest could nap. The toys were rotated to avoid boredom and keep interest and discovery up. It was phenomenal how well it worked. Last week’s ‘boring blocks’ were suddenly exciting again.

If you look at early learning centers they, too, have tables of materials that are rotated and often changed after lunch. Playdough in the morning, finger painting in the afternoon. Letter shapes in the morning, collage with leaves in the afternoon. The kids can roam and explore each table at their own pace (or just play with something else). My open wondering today is how might this be best put into practice with digital tools?

Zoom fatigue is real. Google docs are ‘so last year’ (eyeroll, not really) and some teachers have reported that their kids are kahooted out (easily enough). So why not mix it up? If we focus on the purpose of the task design, then tools can be matched AND on rotation. There is more than one way to run a meeting and more than one way to collaborate on writing. Would it be useful to switch it up every now and then? Could a change of tool be like a change of toy and create more discovery opportunities/deep engagement opportunities for your students?

Students need to be digitally fluent and so do teachers. There is no one truth in the microsoft vs google vs other LMS for schools. If students understand the purpose of a task and can match the learning outcome fluently and confidently to an appropriate tool – then they can design their own activities and be the engineers of their own outcomes. Why do we need to stick to one tool if there is so much more potential for discovery?

What would happen if you parked today’s tools and tried something new? Could it be that the ‘easy engagement’ I’ve just witnessed in my garage is well within reach with a simple rotation solution?

Kids of the future need to be fluent in technology so that they can innovate with it, redesign it and transform it. If they only get one experience with one tool, have one tool and only one way to play with it, what might we be holding them back from?

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