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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, April 14, 2011

Horizontal Channels and the Infectiousness of Play

Play throughout the classroom can be infectious at times.  Sometimes you can see clearly where it starts and how it quickly progresses.  Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and can be so subtle.  Here are two examples of the infectiousness of play at the channel apparatus.  Both examples are child-initiated.  The first one takes ten seconds and is like toppling dominoes.  The second one happens over the course of 15-20 minutes and is much more nuanced.

Here is the first.


The boy in the green starts the action.  It has as much to do with the vigorous action as it has to do with the making of loud sounds.  Next comes the boy in the stripes with his energetic back-and-forth in the channel.  The taller girl in pink follows with more circular motions that are no less spirited.  The two remaining children start almost simultaneously.  The boy in the blue shirt first makes a little space for himself with the dump truck in his right hand and then tumbles his other truck with his left hand.  Though he has made space to move his truck, the other girl moves right back into the space with her truck.  As the video ends, they crash.  The smaller girl in the foreground drives her little bulldozer in the sand.  Her channel is full of sand, so her vehicle doesn't make the sound of wheels on the cardboard.  For her, it is about the robust motion and her face tells it all.

You can see how quickly the activity spreads.  Did you notice there is very little eye contact?  The children see and hear the motion of the truck and then decide for themselves how they will replicate it.  Though there may be a little eye contact, like when there is the crash, they are all concentrating on joining the chorus of noise and motion.  You can't get much more infectious than that.

Now let's look at a more nuanced example of infectious play that takes longer and that seemingly has nothing to do with the apparatus itself.

I noticed Miriam was putting sand on her forearm.  I asked her what she was doing. She told me she was feeding the birds.  I then asked her how that works?   The video starts with her explaining how she feeds the birds. (Remember, the suggested YouTube videos have no connection with this blog.)


She says: "I dump it on there, and the birds come on, and they tweet at it, and they bring it home."  She knows exactly how it happens.  I ask her if the birds have eaten it yet and she proceeds to slowly tilt her arm so the sand flows into the spoon.  She even produces a faint tweeting sound.  I tell her I can hear the birds tweet and then ask if she is going to feed them again.  She does and this time the birds tweet more loudly.

Where in the world did her scenario of feeding the birds come from?  It certainly has no direct connection with the apparatus.  Nor was there anything in the classroom to suggest birds, let alone feeding the birds.

(By the way, did you notice she was shoulder-to-shoulder with two other children who are totally engaged in their own play.  In fact the girl on the right is actually crossing over into her space, but in the second channel.  That means they are playing in the same vector(a straight line to the camera) but on different points along the vector.  Without even knowing it, they are experiencing math in space and time.)

Shortly after Miriam feeds the birds, Luke feeds the birds.  Luke was the child on Miriam's left.  He has a little different take on feeding the birds.  Watch.


Luke is using a little cup and pouring the sand in his hand.  When he is done, he pauses, and then closes his hand quickly and says he caught them.  A new twist: feed them and catch them.

Ana, who was on Miriam's right, picks up the bird feeding theme next.   Watch how Ana feeds the birds.


She is filling a bird feeder.  Luke has moved over to help her.  Another new twist: filling a bird feeder to feed the birds.

Last to feed the birds is Hannah.  She is on the opposite side of the table from from all the bird feeding.  She is the youngest bird feeder and has clearly picked up on the activity.


I happened to notice Hannah's actions looked a lot like Miriam's original actions.  I asked her if she was feeding the birds.  Though she did not answer, her actions were clearly an imitation of Miriam's actions.  We have come full circle after about twenty minutes of play.

When I made this apparatus and added trucks and construction vehicles, there was no way I could have imagined a bird-feeding scenario.  This goes to show you that when an apparatus is open-ended and the play is not scripted, the scenarios are limited only by the children's imaginations---which are limitless.  Oh, yah, and they can also be quite infectious.

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