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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, May 12, 2012


Last July I wrote about a Big Box Incline.  That post included a couple different versions of the apparatus.  It also emphasized the various focal points for play that were created by the apparatus.

This year, I added a new element: a cardboard tube.   The cardboard tube empties into a smaller sensory table, whereas the big box empties into a container at the end of the larger sensory table.

I originally thought I would anchor the tube to the side of the big box, but I could not figure out a good way to do that.  I began to wonder what would happen if the tube was actually embedded in the big box.  I decided to try it, to actually embed the tube in the Big Box Incline.

The addition of the embedded tube significantly changed the operation of pouring the pellets down the Big Box Incline.  How so?  When a child pours the pellets into the box from the top, pellets tumble down the box until they encounter the lip of the tube, at which point, the flow of pellets switches directions a 180 degrees.  Of course, not all pellets fall in the tube.  Some travel the length of the box and tumble out the bottom.

Watch how this works in real time.  

The child on the left pours pellets down the box incline.  He looks directly into the box and seems to be aiming the pellets so most of them hit the lip of the embedded cardboard tube.  He has figured out that if they are captured by the tube, the direction of the pellet flow is altered drastically.  The boy on the right is also pouring pellets down the box incline.  He has not, however, noticed that the flow of pellets is diverted when they fall into the tube.  Each time he pours, he looks for the pellets to come flying out the bottom of the box.   In the video, there are two boys basically doing the same operation (pouring pellets down the box) with very different results. 

In one of the classes, two boys brought over the little cars from the block area.  Watch how they roll them down the box in a purposeful way to see if they can get them to fall into the tube and change direction.

The video starts with the first boy hastily dropping a car down.  It misses the tube and falls out a side window.  The second boy comes in with an ambulance.  He seems to know without looking that the ambulance needs to be placed in the middle to fall into the tube.  Even before he lets go of the ambulance, he moves to the window on the side to watch the ambulance tumble into the tube.  As soon as the ambulance is on its way down the tube, he quickly turns to the small sensory table to retrieve his ambulance.  The first boy comes back and fills in the space almost immediately.  He first tries to position the car by taking a measure through the side window much like the second boy.  He is not satisfied with that, so he positions himself so he is looking down the box and aiming his car at the tube.  That works.  The second boy is right there again to drop his car down the box. He tries to take a measure through the side window like he did the first time. This time it misses. They seem to be in a fluid dance to perfect their hand, eye, and mind coordination.

When these two boys were done playing at the sensory table, I asked them to pick up the cars and put them back in the block area.  Taking advantage of their just-finished play, I showed them how to place the container at the end of the tube and roll the cars down the tube into the container. They picked up on this right away.  Watch and listen.

Did you hear the comments about this novel way of cleaning up?  One of the boys says: "What a good idea."  Another boy says: "Who would think we could have fun putting cars away."

The addition of the tube to the Big Box Incline literally propelled play in another direction.  The children were able to experiment with the physics of changing the direction of motion of objects on inclines. And not only did it change motion of objects down the box, it also changed the perception of cleanup for at least two of the children.

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