It's really difficult to teach something as subtle as “gentle” to a two-year-old. Last year I had a kid who thought that “gentle” meant he was supposed to give a hug! Pressure is a difficult concept, particularly when children are still learning what their little bodies can do. And let’s face it, in preschool we’re always trying to get them to more, not less, so it’s easy to understand why asking for less of something would be confusing.
I like to use gak to let children experience pressure. I’ve talked about gak before, once with a picture and once without. It’s a substance that’s fluid when you allow it to move slowly and more solid when you interact quickly with it.
We made gak as a class last week. This week I set it out on little trays (more about the trays in a sec). The trick with gak and markers is that the markers only make a nice mark if you use a gentle hand with almost no pressure. Once you poke it in the marker gets gunked up and doesn’t do much of anything other than make a hole (which is a fine experiment all on its own). After your gak gets colorful you can fold it or flip it to write some more.
Gak will get to a strange purple-y color after awhile when you’re writing on it. That’s ok. Before all the colors mush together you can extend the learning a little bit by folding the gak like you would pastry dough each time you want a clean slate. Then you can cut into the gak to see all the layers of color you’ve made. If you’re really on top of it you can have some examples of rocks with layers for comparison.
You will have children who either can’t or won’t press lightly. If the child in question is frustrated, don’t push it. Just suggest another activity. If that child is frustrated but still trying to figure it out, offer assistance but don’t do it for him or her without asking. With permission, take his or her arm in your hand and demonstrate what it feels like to use very little pressure. For the ones who insist on poking, give them their own gak (it’s hard to write on bumpy gak) and make sure they have markers that are already dead or something else you can clean off easily.
When I pulled out my gak this time I couldn’t find my handy mini crate from the last time but I found something in the supply room that was almost as good: a dishwasher basket! It was so fun. Our gak was a little on the firm side so it didn’t flow as fast, but it was still cool.
Oh yeah, about the trays. The trays we use for stuff like this come in two different sizes and are FREE. We live in a town with several biotech firms. One of them uses these trays to store sterilized parts for medical devices before they are assembled. Then they leave stacks of these trays at the recycle center. They are so clean I really would eat off of them without washing them first (I do wash for the children at school though!). We use the trays to contain a lot of messy things and for drying artwork. We tend to use them until they are totally gross and can’t be cleaned out anymore and then we recycle them. I scored some totally new ones for these photos. They are so slick to the touch it makes me happy. Yes, I’m weird.