About Me

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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, August 4, 2011

Fountain---or Leaky Pipes

Twenty odd years ago, my first attempt at real plumping was to replace old lead pipes in a house with new copper pipes.  When I turned on the water to check the plumbing, I had leaky pipes with water spraying all over the basement.  My first thought was: "Wow, I bet kids would love to play with leaky pipes."  Before I could do anything with that thought, though, I had to fix the leaky pipes.

When I finished fixing the new pipes, I built a fountain---or leaky pipe contraption.

So how does this apparatus work?

Children pour water into the funnels.
Then the water squirts out of the holes in the pipes. It's a fountain that the children have to make work.

The first fountain I built was made from pieces of copper left over from my plumbing project.  That apparatus lasted 18 years.  I would still be using it today, but I wanted to see if I could make a new one out of PVC pipe.  To that end, I cut 1/2 inch PVC pipe with a hack saw.

The pieces of pipe are connected by PVC elbows and T connectors.  To connect all the parts, I used PVC primer and PVC cement.

There are two important notes about this apparatus.  First, there are several sections and a cross piece, all to make the structure more sturdy.  Second, pipes leading down form the base and are plugged so water does not flow down into those pipes.  The idea is to have water flow only in the top level of pipes so there is enough pressure for the water to squirt out.

To plug the pipes at the connectors, I used plumbers putty.  (Sorry for the crude drawing.)

To produce the leak in the pipes, I drilled 1/8 inch holes in the top pipes.

I drilled eight holes in all.  If you drill too many holes, not enough pressure builds up to get a good leak.  If you drill too many, or in the wrong place or orientation, you can always cover the extra hole or two with duct tape.

The funnels, which vary in size, are set over the four ends of the pipes where water enters the fountain.

They are duct taped to the apparatus.  I also put in water-proof silicone in the funnel to make a tighter seal and fill in space so water does not leak out the bottom of the funnel.

To secure the fountain to the table, I used duct tape.  Note this is done before adding water so the duct tape will stick.

What do the children do with this apparatus?

They do a lot of pouring into the funnels.

They catch the water squirting out of the pipes.

And those who like a challenge, do both at the same time.

Imagine what the boy who is pictured above is experiencing.  He is pouring water into the funnel with one hand and catching the water with the other hand.  Sounds simple, right?  Not so fast.  First he has to have the coordination---muscle and eye-to-hand---to pour the water from the container into the funnel.  He also has to have the same coordination for catching the water at a different level.  Those are two different operations, but he is doing it at the same time which takes another kind of mind and body coordination.  In addition, he has made an astute observation: pouring the water in the funnel causes the water to squirt out the hole in the pipe. As he experiments, he sees that the height of the water squirting out of the hole diminishes as the water level in the funnel goes down.  If he wants to keep the water squirting, he has to pour more water in the funnel.  Not so simple, hey?

Besides pouring and catching, children can't resist that inner drive to stop the water from squirting out of the holes---or at least some of them.

Of course, who says you have to do anything with the water.  It can also be a novel building exercise.

This child is not interested in pouring, catching or stopping water.  He has the audacity to balance as many things as he can from the table using the large black funnel as a base.  The funnel is not a very stable base, but that does not deter him. He does not know that I did not set this up as a balancing or building activity.  I am sure glad this child did not understand my intentions.  His play is unique, idiosyncratic and totally wonderful. More power to him!


  1. Wonderful! Ive used PVC pipes at my school, but never thought to puncture holes in them for fountain making! Just wonderful.

  2. Yeh, I may not have thought of it either if I had done a better job of plumbing all those years ago.

  3. Tom,
    My husband and I were wondering what you put in the red funnel, with the water proof silicone?? It looks like a skinny tube of some sort, but not sure. We looking over your plans and hope to build one this weekend, but not sure what that is :)
    Michelle @ kozykidslc.blogspot.com

  4. Michelle, that is a 2 " piece of 1/2" PVC pipe. Depending on the size of the funnel, it either goes over the short PVC pipe or in it. What you see in the red funnel is that piece. The silicone caulk helps form a seal and give it more stability. In addition, I do duct tape around the outside of the funnel to make it as secure as I can. That 2" piece of pipe, in turn, is connected to an elbow, which is connected to a T by an another a 1" piece of 1/2 " pipe. Look closely at the picture of the boy both pouring and catching the water and imagine no duct tape. You have an elbow coming off of the T. The other part of the elbow points up and that is where the 2" piece goes. The funnel then goes over the section of the small pipe coming out of the elbow. One bit of advice: Put it all together before you start gluing. Email me directly if you have more questions. You can find my email in my profile. Good luck.

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  6. Those are kind words. Thank you.

  7. Looks fun!

    I don't think you need bother with plugging anything to stop water filling up the lower pipework: once it's filled up, and as long as it doesn't leak, it won't affect pressure available at the holes at the top to squirt water out.

    And for UK readers the materials available here are 21.5mm solvent-weld overflow pipe (not to be confused with the slightly smaller diameter plastic conduit used by electricians) and matching fittings: unfortunately there can be slight but significant differences in diameters between different makes so buy from the same supplier or make sure they all fit together snugly. They are readily available either in their shops or online from Screwfix and Toolstation as well as from proper Plumber's Merchants and (much more expensively) from the DIY "sheds" such as B&Q, Homebase and Wickes. Toolstation are better for mail-order as they do free delivery for orders over £10 whereas with Screwfix you have to buy about £50 worth for free delivery. With either of these suppliers you'll have to buy a pack of ten 3 metre lengths of the pipe but it's still cheap and perhaps there are other creative things you can find to do with the left-over lengths!

    Note that over here we don't have the reducing fittings (with a larger diameter as well as our main pipe diameter) which we can see in Tom's 7th picture. There are other fittings one can use to connect our overflow size pipe to larger diameters but many domestic funnel nozzles will fit into overflow pipe directly: if not a bit of improvisation is called for!

    Any PVC/ABS solvent cement will do to join these pipes, although you can often push pipe into fittings well enough to hold water, so you could for example have the sections with holes in free to rotate so you (or the children) can angle the jets up and down.

    You don't need to saw this pipe: apart from the "proper" (and expensive) cutting tools a sharp pair of by-pass secateurs will do: simply rotate the pipe a bit as you start cutting to get the blade to slice into the plastic and then you can quickly slice through the whole tube!

    1. Thanks for the detail info. John, if I want to follow your posts, how do I do that? Right now when I try to follow on bloodspot, I get an error message. Tom

    2. Hi Tom

      I don't actually have any blogs on blogspot: I just had to sign up in order to sign in to comment on your blog! My personal home page -- on which I write bloggy stuff -- is http://stumbles.org.uk/John. (And my rather prosaic plumbing site is http://yaph.co.uk/.)