Getting Comfortable With “Jumping Off Stools!”

In our classroom, we have a beautiful window. It’s quite large and lets in lots of light. The only problem is that it’s up high, and our students aren’t that tall. On Twitter and Instagram, I’ve seen many photographs and videos of “wonder windows,” and the amazing learning that can happen as students look outside. Our students can’t see outside though. When the year started, we didn’t do anything with this window, and then one day at the beginning of November, we noticed students moving chairs over to the window to look outside. What?! Standing on chairs? This must be unsafe. While I initially repeatedly asked students not to climb on the chairs, I then started listening to their conversations. They were talking about their observations. They were making connections. They were asking questions. Learning was happening thanks to this window, and we couldn’t continue to let the height of it stop this learning. As a result, I went to Home Depot and bought two of these stools.

Stools From Home Depot

Stools From Home Depot

Students could now safely look out the window. For about a month, this is what they did. Even recently, they’ve occasionally taken an interest in doing so (e.g., when the bus arrives at the end of the day). But overall, the window now isn’t as popular as it was at first.

In the last couple of weeks, we added a provocation on the window ledge to try and bring students back to the window. Many of our children love to build, so we put some wood pieces on the ledge, in addition to some soft blocks and cars. We thought that if students went up high to build, they might also talk about what they see through the window or this might even inspire their creations … and this worked. Oral language and vocabulary skills continued to develop. But then one day, students did something with the stools that I didn’t expect: they moved them.

Recently, a group of students have started to move the stools into the middle of the carpet, and set up an obstacle course. They’ve added two small step stools into the mix. They usually set up the course similarly, but sometimes they change things around (e.g., the other day, they added in two small foam blocks to stand on first before moving on to the other stools). I’ll admit that at first, I got the students to move the stools back. This wasn’t the purpose of them. This had to be unsafe. But then I started to see the potential in what the students were doing in …

  • developing gross motor skills.
  • measurement and counting skills.
  • learning about the use and safety in different equipment.
  • dramatic/role play (as they often direct each other to jump off the stool acting like various animals).
  • self-regulation.
  • personal and social development (particularly related to responsibility and even collaboration, as students tended to collaborate in order to create the course).

One Example Of This Obstacle Course

Now I’ve decided to keep a closer watch when the students are using the stools in this way, but not say, “no,” to the use.

I share this story because of some other happenings from last week. My partner created a couple of different activities for students — one related to math and one related to language — and left them out one day to see what the children would do. Within a few minutes, all of the materials were dumped, mixed with other ones, and used in various ways: none even remotely related to the intended use. We collected the activities and talked later about them. While we thought that maybe the students weren’t ready for them yet or maybe they needed to be modelled with a small group first, now I’m starting to wonder, is it okay that the items were used in different ways? Do students create uses for items based on what they need and/or are ready for, and will these uses change as skills/abilities change? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t model other uses. Who’s to say though that our intended use is the best option for all students? What do you think? Maybe this is just another case of getting comfortable with letting students “jump off stools.”


2 thoughts on “Getting Comfortable With “Jumping Off Stools!”

  1. Oh, how these questions resonate! That natural impulse to stop the activity that was not part of the original plan is so ingrained. As you say, “it may not be safe.” And yet, I have found more often than not that young children are often extremely astute judges of their physical capabilities. When they climb, jump, leap and roll, in my experience, they find their own level of challenge without much intervention. (I teach PE, PK-5th) And still, as the teacher, as the adult, I feel responsible for running the program, for getting them to adapt to my idea of what they (all) should be doing (almost at the same time).
    More and more I am trying to match my plans to my students’ needs to explore, create and self-determine. If I create an obstacle course and demonstrate it, I may have them do it a couple of times my way and then invite them to move through it in their own way a few times. When we work with balls or hoops or other equipment, I build in free time for them to use it according to their ideas and wishes. These are steps that are helping me to recognize their diversity, resourcefulness, and natural inclinations. So your post resonates in many ways. I love the obstacle course they created and how many children it attracts and how easily they are able to take turns and try it in their own ways.
    Outside of our hallowed pedagogical structures, our students are capable of amazing things if we can allow them to show us. Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Sherri! There are some great articles that I’ve read on the benefits of risky play, and your point about children basically taking the risks that they’re capable of taking, aligns with the points in these articles. This is what I noticed with the obstacle course too. It was even interesting to see which children bent down to steady themselves as they moved and which ones didn’t, and which students took each little step on the stools versus which ones took one big step from one stool to the next one. Even though I often have to silence my internal voice to “be safe,” I do notice that students do tend to make these safe choices.

      I love how you give children exploration opportunities in Phys-Ed. I find it so interesting that you are a Phys-Ed teacher commenting on this post, as I started to think about writing this post after talking with one of our amazing Phys-Ed teachers, Cindy. I have another post brewing in my head right now thanks to her (I think that I’ll write it soon). I do wonder how we can all become more comfortable with letting children take risks, and how do we know when/if to intervene?


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