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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


It Minnesota it is cold in the winter.  Things can get frozen in ice easily.  That may be where the idea came from to freeze things in ice and then see if the children would try to get them out.  Well, they do and they do so with very little prompting. This is one activity that works well with a tray.

Children are able to place  a chunk of ice with something frozen in it on the tray above the table so they can work on it more easily.

Of course that is only one level.  There is also a second level: the bottom of the table itself.

So what will the children use to try to extract the things frozen in ice?  In the top picture, the child is using tongs.  In the picture on the left, each of the three children is using something different: a hand, a spoon and a table knife.  Why do I allow children to use the table knives?  I think the children have the ability to regulate themselves to use the knives in a way that they do not hurt themselves.  If I thought I had a child who could not handle a knife, I would do the teacher thing and monitor the child closely and guide the child's explorations so he and the others were safe.  I have been doing this activity for more than fifteen years and I have not had a child who has needed overly intrusive supervision.  Some monitoring is required at the beginning no matter who is at the table, but with minimal direction the children quickly get to work.

Here are a couple of videos that show how the children use the knives to get things out of the ice.  They work hard and have to be persistent.  Those are good skills to work on.

These two children are chopping away on each side of the table with vigorous overhand strokes.  The goggles were added to the activity just last year and they are not a requirement for working at the table with this activity.

Unlike the first video, this video has three children and six sets of hands on one side---and there are a lot of different things happening in surprisingly fluid fashion. One of the boys has been trying to get the blue dinosaur out of the ice for several minutes.  He has managed to get it out of a bigger block of ice, but there is still some stuck between the legs.  He uses his hands to try to pry it out.  That is not working and it is cold so he picks up a knife and tries chipping the ice while holding it in with his hands.  In the meantime, the girl is chopping the ice off the little dogs in the tray in front of the boy in the middle.  That boy has been trying to get the dogs free of ice for awhile, too, but his hands are cold---they are red---so he is resting them on the sides of the trays.  The middle boy goes to pick up the dogs again even as the girl is still chopping.  As he picks them up, she steps back and waits for another opening.  Not a word is exchanged, but the girl has clearly gotten the message that he wants the dogs again.  The first boy has moved his dinosaur on to the tray and starts to chop it on the tray.  The girl see her chance and steps up to help him chop.  The boy in the middle puts down the dogs again---that's cold!  He again rests them on the sides of the tray. The girl now reaches over into the middle of the tray and gives the big block of ice some good jabs.  The first boy still hasn't freed the dinosaur, but he starts to inspect one of the dogs that is free of ice.  (Though you don't see it, he eventually frees the dinosaur.)  You can hear from the video that there is a whole other set of actions happening simultaneously on the other side of the table where one child talks about how the ice melts when the sun comes out.  Wow!  All that fluid action and all those hands around the chopping knives.  Can you believe it?  I guess it is a case of knowing the children and trusting their ability to handle the implement.

Here is one more technique for chopping the ice.  The child in this picture is using a clay hammer with the table knife.  That takes more eye-to-hand coordination.  It also takes longer.

Here is a word of caution.  Children like to drop/throw the ice chunks when they want to get things out of the ice more quickly because they realize chopping will take a long time.  When they start to do that, I always encourage them to drop/throw it in the large pail I always set next to the table.

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