Mystery Bricks – Providing Heavy Work for Children



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(This is typically a 2 person table, but most of the week we had 4+ students at a time hammering and chiseling away!)

As a teacher in a child-led classroom,  I’m always paying attention to the needs of my students.  Being present and aware and really paying attention is an every day priority (and alas, some days I fail miserably at this).  Meeting children where they are is more than just social and emotional.  It also means we are meeting their physical needs, and some of my students need me to notice this more than others.  There are children who have a harder time engaging in activities than others, so when I’m mindful enough to recognize how they are meeting their own interests and needs, I look for ways to build upon it.  It can be hard when students are struggling, so I’m always asking myself – how can I be better for this child?  what do I need to provide that I’m not currently providing?

Sometimes our students give us these answers.

One cold December day I observed a child sitting with a clay tool and a plaster Christmas tree.  He chipped away and bore through the plaster with the tool.  He was focused, engaged, and determined to make it to the other side (for over an hour).  The heavy work seemed to calm his body and brain.

How can I embrace this?

My idea was to provide more of the same, just with different shapes and perhaps colors.  I shared my story with RL and told her my plan, and she suggested I stick trinkets into the plaster!  What a fun element to add!


My first round we called “Mystery Cubes”, because I used perfectly square silicone molds to make them.    The second batch we called “Mystery Bricks” because I used small loaf pans to make them (as seen below).


- water

- plaster (you can get this at Walmart for $3)

- silicone molds

- trinkets/charms

- wooden mallets

- chisels


Follow the directions on the plaster box to mix the plaster.  You are going to work in layers….pour some plaster, add some charms, let it firm up a little, pour some more plaster, add another layer of charms, and so on.

IMG_6572 IMG_6574

The students used hammers, chisels, pumpkin carving saws, and even our classroom Dremel to chips, saw, and sand their way to the charms.  It was a huge hit, but here is what I learned….

It is some serious heavy work and most of the students wanted/needed help chipping away at the plaster.

My solution to the hard composition of the plaster was to create the next batch using air dry clay.  I did this at home with my boy (sorry, he said no to pictures), and it was much easier to manipulate.  I simply mashed clay into a loaf pan, added charms, mashed in more clay, added more charms.  You get the idea.


~ Ashley


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