I was struck by a couple play scenarios that emerged around this apparatus that question my role as a teacher. In the first scenario, there is one main player. He has filled the five-gallon pail with the gems, sticks, and rocks. He says it is very heavy, so I ask him to show me. He finishes emptying another cup of rocks and then demonstrates how heavy the bucket is.
At first he hams it up by demonstrating how heavy it with highly exaggerated motions. He pretends to pull really hard on the handle. As he pulls, he lets his hand slip off the handle and jumps backward and falls onto the ground. He does it again. I then challenge him on his effort by telling him he did not really try to lift the bucket. He took up the challenge and strained to lift the bucket. This effort had the same result with his hand coming off the handle and him falling backwards onto the ground. At the end, his sister comes into the picture and lifts up the handle of the bucket as if to try to lift it. The boy comes back to get his cup and sees his sister lifting up the handle. He grabs the handle, too, and gives it a good pull.
Shortly after this, I again record him putting more rocks into the bucket. As he is pouring the rocks he states: "Nobody can ever lift it up."
Was that his original intention or did he justify his actions because I challenged him? I know he was hamming it up when he first demonstrated how heavy the bucket was, so the act of questioning and video taping changed his behavour. But did my attempt to find reason in his assertion nudge him into an attempt to justify what he was doing? Did I subtley insert my agenda into his play agenda? As a teacher, do I always have to ask those questions that focus the child's attention onto learning something or explaining something? What would happen if I just stepped back to observe and enjoy the children's play and asked no questions.
That is actually what happens in another play scenario that emerged with this set up. The class began with a child having a separation issue. Because the child needed my immediate and complete attention, I was no where near the sensory table. When the child was settled, but still needed comforting, I noticed something was going on at the sensory table across the room. At that point, I began to video tape from a distance. Watch and see if you can figure out what is going on.
What you saw was 7 children ages 3 to 5 huddled around one end of the table. You can't see what they are doing and neither could I. What struck me was the focus on a common goal and the cooperation between all the children. At that point it did not matter what they were doing. What mattered was how they came to be engaged in this all-engrossing activity. Some of what it took was having the opportunity to negotiate and decide on a common goal and on roles of the individuals to reach that goal without an adult presence or intervention.
These two scenarios got me thinking: Is it heresy for me to question my role as "teacher" to feel the need to always come up with activities that teach something and to always ask questions that direct children's focus so they are learning something? Can I actually allow children in the classroom their own space and time for their own agenda?