For the last couple weeks, the kindergarten kids have been learning about wood. The different types of wood, how to sand it, if it floats or sinks and what it's used for. The most anticipated part of this unit involves each kid constructing a "sculpture" out of wood scraps, using real hammers and actual nails. Yes, that's correct. Kindergartners (some with zero hand-eye coordination) swinging hammers. What in the hell had I gotten myself into.
The first kid I worked with picked three scraps of wood that were harder than marble and grabbed a nail the size of a cucumber. Ah, yes. This was going to go splendidly. In order to save time, and fingers, I decided that I would get each nail started before handing the weapon over. Well, I might as well have been trying to drive a nail with a hot dog bun. Even after several whacks, the nail wouldn't budge and when it finally did the wood split in two, sending a brittle chunk flying across the hallway. Perfect. I tried a smaller nail and noticed that while I was furiously hammering because there was no way in hell that I was going to fail at showing a 5-year old how to hammer a damn nail, and I certainly didn't need him going home and telling someone that "Zoe's mommy doesn't know how to hammer stuff together," the boy that I was "helping" was holding his hands over his ears and had a terrified look in his eye. I said "Here, do you want to try? It's really super fun." He just sat there shaking his head furiously, obviously trying to resist the urge to run away from the mayhem.
Since I seemed to be a magnet for every kid that was struggling with fine motor skills and had just suffered arm muscle atrophy, I stuck to the same script with each kid:
- Hi. We're going to build a sculpture. Grab three small pieces of wood. No, not that one, that's way too big. A small one. Smaller. SMALLER!
- I'll get the nails. Please don't touch the nails because I don't know where the Band-aids are. No, do not put the nail by your eye.
- OK. Sit here and watch me hammer.
- Now it's your turn. Hit the nail five times, and hit your finger zero times.
- OK. Let me finish hammering while you watch.
- Write your name on the back and go back to class.
Another mom noticed that I was finishing three sculptures in the time it took her to get through one and she said "Wow! You're lucky to be getting all of the strong kids! I can't believe how fast you're getting those sculptures done!" That's when I noticed that even though the kid she was working with wouldn't have left a dent in a marshmallow let alone drive a nail into a board, this woman patiently sat there and held the boards while zero-strength girl tap-tap-tapped for ten minutes. Maybe if I had shown up drunk and brought a flask I might have had enough patience for that but COME ON LADY! These kids are only in school for a little over two hours! If we let every kid swing a hammer for twenty minutes we'll never, EVER get out of here! And then we might be stuck here helping the afternoon classes!
With ten parents in a hallway trying to help ten kids not injure themselves with hammers, you can imagine the noise. And I'm not just talking noise. I mean NOISE! Within two minutes, doors to other classrooms and hallways were being slammed as the kids wailed away on these boards and the parents, and some grandparents, were yelling (we had to yell, in order to be heard over the pounding) enthusiastic words of encouragement, along with the occasional "Ow! OUCH! God da...I mean gosh darnett that hurt!"
Since this was technically supposed to be an educational experience and not just a lesson in physical pain, I was told to reinforce some wood-related vocabulary words while the kids were hammering, such as "bent, claw, hammer, drive" and "nail." I made an attempt to use these words and apply them to the project, but I included them in sentences like:
- You need to aim for the nail, not the floor. No, I said the nail, not your foot.
- These nails are junky. They must be from Menards.
- Please don't drive the nail into my thumb.
- Give me the hammer before you impale yourself with the claw.
- No, you can't take the extra nails home.
- Again, that is my thumb. The nail is over there.
- Seriously, give me the hammer. Now. NOW! GIVE ME THE HAMMER!
I think the kids learned a lot from me, and if you're wondering if I'm still feeling generous with my time and going back next week to help with the staining of the wood sculptures -- the answer is no, especially since I gave up inhaling paint fumes a long time ago and have moved on to other things. Like rubber cement.