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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.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Last week when I was looking over my pictures for the Giant Sponge with Jewels, I came upon a set of pictures that gave me pause.  The set of pictures forms a series of actions at the sensory table between two children over the course of 10 minutes.  (The series covers a span of 10 minutes, but the play lasted much longer than that.)  When I saw the pictures, I began to wonder if the pictures captured how separate actions by children become one action.  In other words, how does "my" project and "your" project become "our" project?  And how does that impact the overall experience of the children?

Let's look at the sequence.  One girl is lifting a corner of the sponge to look for the jewels that are underneath. The other girl is watching her intently.

The first child is collecting the jewels she retrieved from under the sponge in a plastic juice can. The other girl is collecting suds in a pot.

The first child offers the second child a pink cup.  She has already filled her plastic juice container and seems to be encouraging the second child to put jewels in the pink cup.  Is this the initial offer for joint play?  This is certainly a physical overture with their arms crossing over into the space of the other. 

The second child takes the pink cup and fills it with jewels.  Are they now planning out a joint activity?  The second child has not moved, but the first child has moved to the second child's right side.  This is beginning to look like a social dance with a hint of anticipation and joy.

The second child has filled up the pink cup and now moves to her left. As she move, she has her eye on the silver bowl.

The second child places the pink cup into the silver bowl.  The first child has not moved, but is watching the actions of the second child.

The first child has now moved back around so she is again on the second child's left side.  The second child is still depositing jewels in the cup and it looks like the first child is about to pick up the pink cup. At this point, their actions really seem in sync.

After a gap in the series, we can see the empty pink cup on the sponge so one of the children must have emptied the jewels into the steel bowl in the corner of the table.  The second child is pouring jewels and suds from a copper pot into that same bowl.  The first child is waiting in the wings with a handful of jewels.

The first child deposits her jewels in the bowl.  The bowl is now full and the bubble cake is ready to bake.  (It was soup at one point, but it has just now become bubble cake.)

They could have easily continued on their path of collecting their own jewels and suds, but instead, they decided to work together to produce a bubble cake. What is it about the materials that help fosters the transition from a solitary play scenario to a shared play scenario?   What is it about how the children act on those materials that brings them together in a joint endeavor?  

For sure, the materials are open-ended.  There is no right or wrong way to use the sponge, implements, bubbles or gems.  For their part, the children are driven to research the materials in the their immediate world in an effort to build understanding of how the world works.  When it is done socially, the narrative changes from simply exploring how the physical world works to also exploring how the social world works.  So, does the physical narrative necessarily come before the social narrative?  Does the social narrative then take precedence over the physical?  

In this play scenario, does collecting suds and jewels separately necessarily precede collecting them together in one pot so the children can make bubble cake?  In other words, would there have been a bubble cake without first exploring the materials physically on their own?  Once the social narrative begins, does it usurp the exploration in such a way that the story they create becomes more important and fulfilling than exploring the physical properties of the materials?  What do you think?  


  1. Watching the series of still photos was almost like a movie. It was delightful to observe the expressive faces and body language on both of the girls. Tho older one takes on the role of nurturer and teacher and seems so genuinely curious and excited by her little friend's discoveries. The smaller girl's eyes are transfixed on the older one as she uncovers the jewels under the sponge, like aha, this is a most amazing discovery :)) It would appear that these children have a pretty solid relationship already as their bodies seem comfortable with each other and their joint attention to the work is so deep. Beautiful.

    1. I like your narrative. I agree about the pictures looking like a movie. That was one of the reasons the series gave me pause. I take a lot of pictures, but rarely do I get a series like this. One of the reasons I may have caught this series is because the reciprocity in play between two children that do not have a close relationship.