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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.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


If you give children holes that they can pour stuff into, they will do so with absolutely no prompting.

To do that with this apparatus, though, a child first has to scoop the sand from the table .  In the process, he is developing large muscle skills to coordinate reaching down, scooping and lifting up.  And since he really wants to get it in the hole,  he is laying down the muscle memory to do it with some degree of accuracy.  When you add a little stool, as seen on the right, you are adding balance to the skills the child is working on.  Who says children don't work in an early childhood classroom?

For some children, it is at least a two-stage process.  First they scoop it into a container before they will pour it into a hole.

The video shows a very simple scheme, but some schemes get more involved with more steps.  And as they go through this process, you start see they have worked out a plan of what works for their purposes.

They will use scoops, cups, spoons  or whatever.  If children want to pour, they will make almost anything functional for that purpose.  They are true inventors.

They all pour differently, too. Some will pour with gusto and some will pour with great deliberation.  The act of pouring is so natural for children that it feels like a need.  By accommodating that need, they get to express themselves motorically, all the while working on their large and small muscle development.

Of course, if you put something in a hole, you HAVE to see where it goes.

With this apparatus, funnels foster even more play and exploration.

I always have funnels close at hand at the sensory table.  Some of them fit nicely over the holes of this apparatus. When a child pours sand into a funnel, what happens?  It no longer disappears immediately, but the narrowing of the funnel regulates the flow so it gradually disappears.

And if you look closely enough, it gradually disappears from the center.  With a coarser sand, the flow may stop altogether.  Then you have to figure out how to get it moving again.
Do you wiggle the funnel or do you poke something down the hole?

If you have a sand with a fine grain, you will not have to worry about the flow.  If fact, you can use a smaller funnel.  If you want, you can experiment with the flow of a smaller funnel into a larger funnel placed over two other funnels over one of the holes in the apparatus.  That's a whole lot of fun...nels!

Part of the exploration with this apparatus happens on one of the levels mentioned here.  The level in this case is the space under the apparatus.  Take a look.

There are a couple amazing things happening here.  One, the boy pouring the sand into the funnel knows it comes out at the bottom.  He pours it and then immediately squats down to watch the flow.  He seems to be fascinated by the stream of sand emptying through the bottom hole.  You have to understand that the sand flows in a stream because of how the funnel is positioned in the tube.  If the funnel is a little crooked in the tube, the sand will not flow in such a nice stream.  Instead, it will disperse as it hits the side of the tube.  Does he know that?  Has he experimented? Maybe his focus on the stream is a spacial thing: the narrow stream flows from the middle of the much larger hole at the bottom.  Maybe it is the pure enjoyment of observing an even stream of sand.   In any case, he is focused and quite purposeful.

The second amazing thing is that it does not bother him that another boy on the other side is inserting himself into the action.  Or from the reverse side, look how effortlessly the other boy places a second metal cup to catch the streaming sand. They know each other is present in the activity and both have made some decisions about their actions to accommodate the other.  This is not sharing. Two children are operating in the same space with different agendas.  This may not be so amazing if they were hard-and-fast friends in the classroom, but I would have to characterize this as a spontaneous encounter between  two children who play together only now and then.  I must say, they handled the activity with a grace many of us can envy.

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