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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 25, 2011

Funnels and Clear Plastic Tubing - Experimenting

Experimentation with the Funnels and Clear Plastic Tubing always begins with children pouring water into the funnels.  Nobody tells them what to do or how to do it.  They just know to pour the water into the funnels. Why?  What is it about the apparatus that tells them immediately how to interface with it? Holes, for sure; they are just so inviting they have to pour the water into them. (See axiom five on the right panel.)

This boy has gone a step further and started to pour water from a bottle into a big plastic syringe that he has inserted into the funnel.

Before long, children try to figure out where the water goes when it is poured into a funnel.  That is not as easy as one might imagine.  Watch how this child tries to figure out where the water empties when he pour waters into one of the funnels.

Did you notice that when he pours the water he looks down and to his right to see where he thinks the water will come out.  Since the water did not come out where he expects, he tries to look down the funnel to see where the water went.  He just did a basic experiment.  He had a hypothesis about where the water will go.  He tested it.  He found out his theory was wrong.  And finally he tried to figure out why his hypothesis was incorrect.  Not bad for a young three-year-old.

This boy was a very good experimenter because he kept at it until he figured out where the water came out when he poured it into a certain funnel.

He moved to the other side of the table to continue his experimentation.  This video captures him redoing the experiment and confirming his hypothesis.  It sounds like one of the other children is pretty excited about the success of his experiment.  He is, too, but his excitement is more on the inside and verbal.

Children will often try to catch the water emptying out one of the tubes.  That is an interesting proposition when it is a sprinkler head, but it does accommodate more than one child at a time.

Children will also try to block or redirect the water emptying out of the tubes.  (That has just become the sixth axiom in the right hand column of this blog.)

This last spring I included basters with most of the different water apparatus that were set up. That held true with this apparatus, too.  Watch!

As the child squeezes the bulb of the baster, the water pulses out of the sprinkler head.  I can't help but think that when she has to study the action of the heart in a science class, she will have a good basis for understanding the whole process.  Or when she has to take a hydraulics class for environmental science, she will understand how to move water from one point to the next.  Or when she....

Of course, basters work well for plugging holes, too.  As you watch the video below, see if you can guess what this child is up to.

Did you guess right?  Now that is one happy child having figured out how to plug the hole so the water will gush out.  Just think about the steps he has figured out to reach that point.  He has figured out which funnel to pour the water into.  He has figured how to plug the hole with the baster.  He has figured out how much water to put in the funnel.  And he has figured out how to pull the plug to produce the gusher.  He has a lot to be happy about.

Of course, with any apparatus, some of the experimentation has nothing to do with the apparatus at all. For instance: How full can you fill the five gallon bucket that is next to the table and apparatus?

As you can see, pretty full.

How full can you fill the bucket...

And still be able to lift the bucket to empty it back into the tub?

Experiments are a lot of work.

And sometimes you get help even though you did not ask for it.

The boy in the video was working very hard at transporting water from the tub to the bucket and then emptying the bucket back into the tub.  The girl saw what he was doing and simply joined the activity.  These two are young three-year-olds so they have plenty of language, but somehow with very little language they do some nice work together.  If you watch closely, you can see the boy signal when it is time to empty the bucket.  This is what he does:  he stands up; empties one last cut into the bucket; drops the cup in the tub; puts his hands in a position ready grab the rim the bucket; waits for his friend to finish pouring her bottle into the bucket. At this point they really start to work together.  This is what they do: he puts his hands on the rim of the bucket almost the same time she does; both lift the bucket; tip the bucket by balancing the middle of the bucket on the lip of the tub; grab the bottom of the bucket and complete the transfer; and finally set the bucket back down.  If you are wondering, these two did not have history of searching each other out for play. They just happened to play together on this particular day.

My hypothesis: We can learn a lot from children about experimenting and working together.


  1. Your blog always makes me smile, Tom. Thanks for all you do for preschoolers (and preschool teachers!)

  2. Thanks, Scott. Over the last three years, I have focused more on the positive things and interaction with children. That, in turn, has changed what I document and what I see. And what I see is a lot of delight.

  3. Everything you do with these kids is so inspiring!

  4. Cave Momma, thanks. That's is very encouraging.

  5. I love the sprinkler head added to the tubing. Brilliant! I'm curious...do you get a lot of water on the floors? Whenever we do water at the sensory table, I have to add towels to catch the spills, but they invariably get scrunched up and tripped on. How do you manage spills at your sensory tub?

  6. Gina, thanks. My floor almost always gets wet. Just look at axiom 1 in the right hand column. I have vinyl mats on the floor and towels. I try to keep the towels under the table so the children don't trip. At the end of the day, I have to pull up the mats and drape them over furniture so they dry and the floor dries.