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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, September 29, 2012

SENSORY APPARATUS PART IV

I was asked last spring by another early childhood professional why do I build apparatus for the sensory table. That questions was a lot more thought-provoking than I had anticipated.  I have been mulling over my answer here and here and here.  In the first post, I said that early in my career children demonstrated their need to transport any medium out of the sensory table.  I began to build apparatus so children could continue to find ways to constructively transport.  An added benefit was that the children, given the chance to work constructively, demonstrated an ability to regulate their own behavior.  In the second post, I said that children recreated operations such as digging and collecting that harken back to a time when our survival depended on such operations. Those fundamental/primal operations are in our DNA and need to be expressed.  I build apparatus so children can recreate the ancient operations both in old and new ways and even create new variations of those operations.  In the third post, I stated that children create a dialogue with spaces.   It follows that if I can offer the children intriguing spaces by way of building new apparatus, they will create intriguing dialogues with those spaces.

This summer I read---and reread---a monograph entitled: Children's right to play.  It was written by Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell for the Bernard van Leer Foundation in December 2010.  Their starting point is Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child.  In that article, they specifically cite the right of the child to engage in play. For them it is a necessity of life for children.  It is not a vehicle adults use to teach children about the world, nor is it a way to make academics palatable to children.  It is an activity undertaken for its own sake that is wholly owned by the children.

They go so far as to cite research that children need to engage in play for their very survival and well-being.  They say: "Children's play can be seen as a self-protecting process that offers the possibilities to enhance adaptive capabilities and resilience. ... Play acts across several adaptive systems to contribute to health, well-being and resilience.  These include: pleasure and enjoyment; emotion regulation; stress response systems; attachments; and learning and creativity."

At one point in the paper, they reference a comment by Brian Sutton-Smith.  The comment states: "Play prepares you for more play, and more play offers a greater satisfaction in being alive."

Take a look at the following pictures from the sensory table to see if the children exude that "greater satisfaction in being alive."






According to the authors, the role of an adult is to provide for the space and time for children to play---not to direct it or manage it.  Building apparatus for the sensory table is a way to create that space and time in my classroom for the children to play.  Watch the video below.  It is poor in quality, but rich in what it communicates.  What they are doing is not nearly as important as how they are doing it.  


Here were seven children ages 2 to 5 creating an activity of their own choosing that has an immediate meaning for them. There are no adults directing or managing this activity; they are simply not around.  The adult role in the activity was to set up the space and time for them to pursue their own exploration or to create their own wholly owned activity.  Notice, even though there are no adults around, they are still working feverishly to complete a task that takes a whole lot of agreement and a whole lot of accommodation and a whole lot of negotiation and a whole lot of cooperation.   In other words, they are playing---which they have a right to do.

(p.s. I am done mulling over the question for the time being and will go back to playing next week. Thank you for your indulgence.)

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