Taking Flight


Today, the children were creating paper airplanes, experimenting with different designs. The work started with two children making a classic dart plane, the type with a pointed nose and angled wings that is the symbol of a paper airplane. The work progressed with more intricate designs featuring wings of all shapes and sizes as other children joined the work. After each child built and preformed a test flight adjustments were made to the wings and the overall design to see if the plane would respond and fly differently from the first test. The work inspired many conversations among the children about what planes were flying better and the unique characteristics of different plane designs.

Children are frequently motivated to engage in an activity by first watching another child. The children who originate the activity often mentor the children that later join in. The connection formed through a common goal brings the children together in a relationship not based on control but cooperation. This type of cooperation is what builds trust and community within the school. The work is not about the work itself it is about working together to find common ground and build relationship. While the work looks simple to the observer it is complex and deep to the children who are trying to figure out the nuances of the work along with the social component to the developing relationship. It is not just paper and planes it is about community, helping others, and enjoying the world of play that offers so much more than play in itself.

Today, the children asked if we could revisit plane building from the day before. I asked if they wanted to make the same planes, or learn how to make new planes that I researched online. The children said, “both.” New children were interested in making planes as well, so they joined the work group from the first day.

Children are often inspired by their peers to try an activity that as first glance they think they may not enjoy or is too difficult for them to try. With the support and encouragement of other children new children will try a task they think is beyond their capabilities.

We started by creating two planes from the day before. The group worked together helping and sharing ideas with the newcomers as we made planes. When the planes they did not fly as expected we talked about the methods for adjusting the wings, made adjustments, and performed new test flights. After success in improving the flight of the original planes, the group wanted to make new plane designs and learn new challenging folding techniques. We all agreed on a plane and began the process of making.

The directions we used were not very clear, so it required a group effort of trial and error to create the first plane. During the test flight the plane did not fly, and one child said, “This plane is only for looks it does not even fly.” We all laughed at the way the plane hit the ground like a lead balloon. The group moved forward to find a design for another plane. The next plane design we chose looked complicated when finished, but the numerous folds were easier to understand and complete as a group. The new plane flew much better and the children were pleased at the amount of loft the plane carried during flight.

The children are so open to helping each other out when faced with a challenge. I am always encouraged by the caring and compassion children have for each other even though it appears a times they are in competition by they words they use with each other. When the children sense another child has a real need they always step in and help each other. I think this is because they can relate to the experience of not knowing and can feel what it is like to be unsure of themselves in certain work situations. I find that the child who is good at one thing or understands it more than another will help and then receive help from a child when they are struggling this is what a learning community is all about.

The children were tired of folding and started playing with their planes. The play lasted for the remainder of the day, with children running, throwing, and talking about their different designs. During this time I observed the children were keenly focused as they experimented with wing angles and take off points to achieve maximum flight time.

Paper planes are a classic activity for children. We have come along way in plane design from the classic dart to the modern craft of today. What has not changed is the connection the children create around an activity the love. Planes have been around since I was a child, and will be a staple of afterschool programs in the future. It is amazing how a simple sheet of paper full of possibilities can bring a group of people together in the learning community.

Do the children make planes in your program?

What activities bring the people in your school together?