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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.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

GIANT SPONGE - NEW AXIOM

This is the time of year I bring out the Giant Sponge.  What is a giant sponge?  It is a piece of foam cut from a foam mattress to fit into the sensory table. 


I first wrote about the Giant Sponge here.  In that post, I wrote about where I first found a giant sponge and how the children played with it.  I followed up that post with a post on more activities that emerged around the Giant Sponge, things like science activities, role playing, and even an unexpected act of kindness.

Before I relate some of the play that emerged this year, let me take care of one housekeeping matter in relation to the sponge.  Every day after class, I prop up the sponge in the table so it drains.



That is important because I do not want water staying on the bottom of the sponge for sanitary reasons. Each day, I start with clean water on an almost dry sponge.  I always make sure the sponge is completely dry when I put it in storage.



In the very first post, I wrote about the physical properties of the sponge that allowed children to leave their hand prints on the sponge.



The handprints on the sponge have a beauty all their own even though they are fleeting.




Because the children can make impressions on the sponge, they can also use the utensils provided to make imprints.  In the video below, the girl is able to make imprints of a circle by using a stainless steel bowl.



This year for the first time the children started to use the surface of the Giant Sponge to draw things with their fingers.



In the video, the boy in the middle is drawing on the sponge.  The girl to his left tells him he is in her space.  He subsequently begins to poke and prod the sponge in the space directly in front of him.  The girl in the meantime is making marks on the sponge with her finger and quickly encroaches on his space.   He seems to pay it no mind and the girl retreats back to her space. The girl on the boy's right starts to draw a face on the sponge with her finger.  The boy quickly follows suit with a smaller version.  I really liked that the children discovered drawing on the sponge with their fingers.  What impresses me even more, though, is the give-and-take; the negotiation and appropriation of space for an activity; and the contagion of an activity---all done in the span of 12 seconds with no real conflict.

I always add smaller sponges to the mix of items I offer with the Giant sponge.  This year I added a couple of foam balls that I appropriated from the large muscle area in my room.  They are sponges after all.   Now watch two children vigorously smash the foam balls into the Giant Sponge. Can you guess where it will lead?  I sure did not.



So how does a child get from flattening the foam ball on the Giant Sponge to making a pizza? After he flattens the ball, he lifts it off the sponge and says something to indicate it is a pizza. He throws it up in the air and it just happens to land in the bowl.  First of all, has he seen a pizza maker toss pizza dough?  And second, how fortuitous that it landed in the bowl.  By landing in the bowl, he is able to continue his role play by swirling it in the bowl.  He then says it is time to cook and puts it in the water and makes a sizzling sound.  He takes it out of the water and says it is all cooked and offers it to me.  Yeah, right, that's exactly how I planned this activity.

Of course it makes perfect sense if you buy into axiom #7 in the right hand column of this blog: Children will always devise new and novel activities and explorations with the materials presented that are tangental to the apparatus.

Speaking of axioms, when I reviewed the documentation on this apparatus this year, I ran across a picture that got me thinking about the possibility of adding an eighth axiom.  Namely: Children will fill any and all containers with the medium or materials provided.  Here is the picture that got me thinking.


The girl is emptying her container of the water.  When I looked at the picture, I saw she had not only filled up the container with water, but she had also filled up the container with the small sponges.  This picture beautifully illustrates that filling is an important operation for children.   Likewise, it also illustrates an important corollary to the axiom: children need to empty any and all containers.

24 comments:

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    1. Thanks, Tom. Knowing the source, that is high praise.

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  2. All I can say is--wonderful, brilliant!

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    1. Thanks, Scott. Ditto what I replied to Teacher Tom

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  3. Great idea and concepts!! I have quite a few "giant sponges" not being used and taking up waaay too much space in the closet! NOW I know what to do with them! I Thank you and my co-teachers thank you! :)

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  4. Another "why didn't I think of this?" moment.... I can't wait to try this out!

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    1. Thanks, Amy - I have many of those moments, too.

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  5. Wow! I've only just found your blog due to a link to this post on Facebook, and I'm so glad I did!

    First it's nice to find another male working and blogging in ECE (we are a rare breed), and secondly your blog is so focused on learning through true open-ended free play.

    The range of set ups and ideas you have for sensory tables is astonishing! May I ask what the pellets you are using are?

    BTW, I have a post about using water play tables for exploring music on my own blog which I thought you might be interested in. http://childsplaymusic.com.au/2012/01/17/water-play-music-play-children-a-natural-combination/

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    1. Thanks, Alec - I have been following your blog ever since you were featured in another blog showing all kinds of homemade instruments. (I can't for the life of me remember which blog.) The pellets are wood pellets that are used in pellets stoves to heat houses in our cold northern hemisphere environs. I also used whole feed corn which has many of the same aural properties. I do remember you posting on water and music. Pellets, of course, will be conducive for some of the same musical activities. We are rare, but that makes us special :-)

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  6. LOVE IT! That's all I have to say ... love it!

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  7. Okay, Tom, you've inspired me yet again! I need to find a giant sponge now!!!! I shared this on my FB wall because I think others would be inspired, too.

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    1. Sheryl, I am getting an awful lot of hits on Facebook, so I also need to thank you.

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  8. can't wait to use this idea...thank you for sharing .

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    1. You are welcome. Sharing is what we do best.

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    2. Great idea can't wait to try it! Kids in my class will love it I'm sure. Thanks!

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  9. Love your work Tom! As always! I'm off to 'clark rubber' to buy a piece of foam! Cheers! :)

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    1. Thanks, Karen. I don't know what 'clark rubber' is, but good luck shopping.

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  10. wow...another example of an activity that the kids will just soak up!!! thanks for sharing!

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  11. Soooo awesome! Just so very sad that at our school my class is not allowed to have sand or water tables. I teach 4 year old prek students. I was told its toooo messy. Its ashame that my students are missing out on such great learning experiences.

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    1. Christi, I think that is really unfortunate. It is a messy place and the people I work with know it---and sometimes complain. But they also know that a sensory table is essential in an early childhood classroom and that it actually makes the room run better. Let me share with you a comment that was sent to me at the beginning of January. "I was fortunate enough to see your presentation at the WECA conference last fall and you have completely changed my approach to sensory tables! My sensory table (in a small space) now incorporates an elevated bin, a floor bin, and a five gallon bucket. I've started building outside of the table with boxes, tubes, and copious amounts of duct tape. It has drastically improved my classroom! I no longer limit the number of students playing there and it always works great with very little arguing and lots of teamwork." Isn't that worth a little mess?

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