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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, October 20, 2011

Water Ramp

Over twenty years ago, I made a water ramp for the sensory table.  It looked like this:

(Please excuse the poor quality of the picture.  It is a digital picture of an old picture.)

This is a 1" x  8" board with 1" x  4" boards attached to the sides to make the ramp.  The small pieces of dowels screwed into the ramp are pieces of old broom handles I cut to form obstacles for the water to flow over and around.  For a more recent version, I used a narrower 1" x 6" board and 2" x  4"s for the side. I still used pieces of old broom handles to make the obstacles.

I have set the water ramp at different inclines. The first picture shows a steep incline between two tubs.  The water rushes down this incline.  The second picture shows a more moderate incline.  This inlcine comes from taping the ramp to a tray that sets it above the lip of the table so the water flows more slowly down the ramp and into a tub at the end of the table..  Because I want the children to see how the water is diverted by the dowels, I have stuck with the more moderate incline over the past few years.

This apparatus was my attempt to duplicate a fountain in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.  This is the fountain.

What was intriguing about this fountain was how the water flowed down.  It bubbled out of the top and dropped down the sides.  As you can see, the bricks are staggered and some stick out so when the water flows over them on the way down, it splashes and jumps as if  rollicking over rocks.  I wanted to create something similar for the children to experience.  Here it is in action.

In this clip the child pours the water down the ramp.  He pours it gently so there is a nice, gentle sound of water flowing down the water ramp almost like the water flowing down a little babbling brook. That is exactly the effect I was looking for.  You can also see how the water is diverted around the obstacles.

Of course, if you pour more water faster, then it splashes and jumps over the wooden pieces and creates a different sound that carries with it more energy.  Consequently, that energy transforms the play. That energy is transformed into force, a force that may even knock down a little duplo guy standing on the bottom rung of the ramp.

I really appreciate the experimenting that goes on at the sensory table.  Some of that experimentation comes from bringing things from other parts of the room to the table.  For instance, I do not know how the duplo figures got from the other end of the room to the sensory table.  Not only were they good figures to see if the force of the water could knock them over and down, but they were also good for other things such as figures floating down the ramp through the obstacles.

Think about what this child is doing.  He is guiding the figures in the cup down the ramp around the obstacles, like people in a boat down a river.  The cup is the right size so he can maneuver it nicely around the wooden dowels.  As he traverses the board---almost like a slalom---he is making sense of this physical world.

As adults, we can think or imagine in our mind how the cup would traverse the board.  We do not have to experience it.   A child has to physically do it. Their thinking and doing are one.  If you are ever wondering what they are thinking, just watch them.


  1. Just popping over from "exploring the outdoor classroom". Wow, Tom, you really DO take sensory and water tables to the next level! Your apparatuses (is that a word?) are amazing! Your children are very fortunate to spend their days in such a creative environment!

  2. Thanks, Jackie. Funny, I always think I am the lucky one to be able to share my creative outlet with children, the great experimenters. Apparatuses is a word, or apparatus is its own plural, too. Tom

  3. In addition to Monday Kid Corner Weekly Linky Party, this week's theme is WATER. Brush off those archives and link them up at http://thejennyevolution.com/category/linky-parties/monday-kid-corner/ See you there! Jennifer