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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 13, 2014


A Duplo Ramp is an apparatus that takes Duplo wall boards and attaches them to a frame.  The frame is supported and propped up on an incline by a wooden tray that spans the width of the table.

In the most recent setup, I added a planter tray inside the wooden tray to create a greater incline.

You can see how I made this apparatus here.  You can see how children set about exploring this apparatus here.

This year I added a hand pump to be used with the apparatus.  Before I show you how the children used the hand pump, I want to show you two other explorations the children came up with that are tangential to the play on the Duplo Ramp itself.  The first exploration has to do with the wooden tray and the second one has to do with a clear plastic tube, a loose part provisioned for play with this apparatus.

The view in the picture below is from underneath the Duplo Ramp.  What you see is a child who has discovered that there are small streams of water coming out of holes in the wooden tray.  In the foreground you can see one of the streams. The boy is on the other side of the table catching water in his bottle from the other stream.  (Without the holes, the water would overflow onto the floor because the tray extends beyond the table on each side.)
All the action is on top.  How did this child find these little streams?  It is one thing to see them, but it is another thing to incorporate them into play.  And you can see it is not so easy because the space he has to work in is small and cramped.  Children are masterful at finding these small spaces and features and adept at incorporating them in their operations.

In the second exploration, a child shows me what he has discovered.  He has figured out that if he drops a Duplo figure in the bottom of an open-ended clear tube, the figure rises to the top of the tube as the tube fills with water.  

Did you note the purpose is his actions?  He purposefully held the tube on a vertical keeping the bottom of the tube in the water so the Duplo figure stays in the tube.  He tells me: "So he [the Duplo figure] is like this."  That is his experimental set up.  Then he gradually submerges the tube so the water fills the tube from the bottom up carrying the Duplo figure along with it.  He states quite plainly: "The water went up." The experiment is complete and some new knowledge constructed.

I have been looking for a pump to use in the water table for years.  I found a hand pump in an unclaimed freight store.  I set it out as a loose part for the first time with the Duplo Ramp.  It was extremely inviting. For the most part, it took two people to operate.  One would do the pumping and one would direct where the water would go.  Watch.

How much more exciting can filling a friend's bottle be?   

The pump, in conjunction with the Duplo Ramp, fostered a lot of complex play scenarios.  One of the more intriguing scenarios unfolded as children experimented with directing the water that was being pumped.  Children did everything from fill various containers to directing water back down the Duplo Ramp. One thing they did not do is squirt each other.  In hindsight, I am surprised. Maybe there were enough constructive ways to direct the water that they did not think of squirting their friends.  (I highly doubt that, but it will have to do until a better theory emerges.)

This pump worked well, but at times the tubes would detach from the pump.  That created an opportunity for the children to "fix" it.  Watch the video to see how the children figure out that the pump is not working and how to make it work again.

As you saw at the end of the video, they were quite happy they fixed it and were able to squirt the water again.  

Whenever a new contraption is made available there is a lot of potential for conflict.  The pump is no exception.  For some reason, though, there was virtually no conflict over who got to use the pump.  The two videos you just saw are indicative of the children's interactions with each other and the pump.  In the last video, did you hear the child ask the child with the pump when was he going to get tired?  The reason he asked was because he was waiting for his turn.  Though the child responded that he was not going to get tired, he would eventually give the other boy a turn on the pump.

As a teacher, I do not use the term share and rarely regulate taking of turns. Rather, I see the children as generous and kind and willingly taking turns of their own accord.  How do they do that? One of the things I do do as a teacher is encourage the child who wants to use something to ask to use it when the child who has it is done. If a child knows another child is waiting, he will almost always pass it on when he decides he is done.  In this case, both children feel a sense of agency. More importantly, the child with the toy is given a chance to be generous and the child who wants the toy learns that by waiting, he can get it with little or no conflict.  

Oh, if we could only learn from the children.

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