In the next month, I will be doing two conference presentations. Because it takes me a long time to finish an original post, I will repost a few posts over the next few weeks that I wrote more than two years ago after another early childhood professional asked me the question: Why do I build? I revisit them because they will also help me prepare for the second conference, which is a keynote presentation for the 15th Annual Launching into Literacy and Math Conference in Madison, Wisconsin at Madison College(MATC Truax) on February 7th. This second repost makes the case for children's operations that emerge at the sensory table that must be actualized by the children.
Last week I started to answer the following question another early childhood professional posed to me: Why do I build apparatus for the sand and water table? I gave two reasons in that post. One was, when a bucket was serendipitously placed next to the table, children demonstrated their need to transport and to do it constructively by appropriating the bucket for their own purposes. The second reason was, by appropriating the bucket for their own purposes, they demonstrated their ability to manage their own behavior with minimal guidance or participation on my part.
The picture below illustrates both points well. First, the children are transporting the water into the bucket. Second, they are filling the bucket as full as they can without spilling.
Another reason to build surfaced from reflections on a book I read this summer: a child's work; the IMPORTANCE of FANTASY PLAY by Vivian Gussin Paley. In the book, Paley talks about fantasy play as the children's agenda that spontaneously emerges between all the teacher-planned activities and projects. She goes so far as to say fantasy play must come out. Her first teacher told the undergraduates that children in the nursery school where they were observing were the only age group that was constantly busy making their own work assignments. Because Paley provides the time and space and respect for children's fantasy play, she sees the children creating and recreating dramatic themes that span human history and that are reflected in the great works of literature and drama. She says: "Words, words, words, where do they all come from? It sounds like the poetry of a child's soul, nothing less, but the children are imagining vivid drama that must be acted out." (p. 32)
After reading the book, I began to construct a parallel between fantasy play and sand and water play. All the operations the children recreate in and around the sensory table span human history. I have often wondered why children dig, pour, fill and transport as soon as they they get to the sand and water table. Maybe the children are recreating those operations from a time when they were important to our very survival as a species. Not only are they recreating those primary operations, but they are using contemporary implements to create new and novel operations. Those elemental operations must come out. (Additionally, those operations around the sensory table often lead to a good deal of fantasy play, especially with the older children.)
Below is just a sampling of those operations. Some operations involve just the hands and arms, and others use various implements. Some are straight forward and simple, and some are more complex.