Ever since I found out that I was going to be having class consisting entirely of boys, I have seen the inherent love of trucks that most boys have blossom. Looking back on the time I have spent selecting materials for the classroom, it seems silly to avoid things that I know they would love, but I had this wish that they might gravitate towards a non-boy gender stereotype involving our babies, scooping or cooking activities, or even dinosaurs. They do love these things, but all 5 of the boys in my care still are fascinated and in love with all things with wheels, so I took the last few weeks to observe the boys in their interactions and think about what it is that really draws them in to using trucks.
A favorite activity inside is finding a small truck, running around to the slide, climbing up, pushing the truck down, then sliding down after it. Some times the sliding happens while the child is sitting up, but more often it's "Superman" style, or arms out head first. I tried hard to capture it on film, but everyone was simply too quick. This activity often turns into a furious game where everyone who's playing hurries as fast as they can, yet also without knocking anyone down, or frustration. There is a constant cycle of activity where the truck-climb-push-slide cycle is repeated over and over. I saw many variations of this cycle over the last few weeks, and even a few hairy moments where two children were on the stairs at the same time, or one of our large pull wagons were brought to the top. I challenged myself to remain within safety's distance while giving them the chance to navigate through each other's space, and I found it to be a fluid dance every time. I saw one child hurrying up the stairs next to a slower child, and almost always the slower child moved to one side, while a truck was pushed past them and both children smiled with joy.
Outside similar motives of activity were present. Trucks and skate boards are carried and pushed a long our asphalt patch, carried up the hill and turned upside down to more closely inspect the wheels. Each child seemed to have their own favorite vehicle to scoot around on, and since the pieces are bigger gave them the opportunity to practice navigating more awkward movements. There was the constant squeals of joy as they pushed their favorite truck down the hill for the 10th time, or bumped into the fence as they coasted down the asphalt. These were contrasted by the inevitable moment where two children fell in love with the same thing and we worked together, using our phrases to negotiate through these interactions: "S is using it. I can tell, because he's holding on tight. You're holding on tight too. I wonder what our plan is?"
After watching all of this truck-ness with the intention of figuring out what the allure is especially for boys, I began to notice two things: it's all about wheels and movement. First the boys inside loved to mimic the movement that is unique to trucks: their ability to move quickly in a straight line. When the truck rolls down the slide it continues across the floor for a while. By the end of the two weeks, all of the boys were able to find a way to slide down the slide and also across the floor. It seems that the trucks motivated them to move in such a fashion, and it felt good! When the boys slowed down, trucks and skate boards or whatever with wheels was near by often was flipped over and the wheel mechanism is closely examined. They used their hands to roll the wheels, or even reached down inside to examine the axel and other smaller parts of the wheel. Sometimes they would lay low on their belly and push the truck back and forth across the floor, directly at eye level, seemingly memorizing how they move.
I found one great article online by Heather Turgeon, columnist for Babble.com about some of the science behind the gender of children and the affect it has on the activities they choose. She talks about her observation of her truck obesessed son, and some of the research that is done by Lise Eliot regarding gender of children and their brain. Though this is just the beginning of this type of research, it seems that perhaps children are more affected by their environment than the chemical make up. But it seems to me, as the mother of two boys and long time teacher of children under 6, that boys will always have this simple fascination with motion and things that go, even if they also nurse their baby dolls or love to play dress up. I find such joy in supporting all of the interests of the children in my care and some days are more about looking at the mechanism of a wheel and others are about reading as many books as possible.