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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 23, 2015


You know the feeling when you make something and it doesn't work the way you thought.  It may be something like: Why did I think that would work?  Or: It kind of works, but not the dramatic effect I was looking for.  No matter, it feels like a failure.

Here is a case in point.  I wanted to build a cardboard cascade so when the children poured sand down the apparatus, the sand would fall and flow over steps in such a way that it would look like a small bouncing waterfall.
You can already see part of the problem with the cascade.  The sand gets stuck on the steps, especially the steps on the right.

Let's take a look at the actual construction because it is not so straight forward.  The first thing to note is that there are two narrow boxes, one taped on top of the other.  The longest box is embedded through the rectangular box in the table.  The second box, the cascade box, is taped to the on top of the first box.  For all practical purposes, the children did not see two separate boxes, but saw one incline box. 

From the other side, you can see that the large rectangular box rests on a bin taped to the bottom of the table.  That was necessary for height to create a greater incline for the long, narrow box
I cut a large hole at the bottom of the box to create another space within the apparatus for the children's operations.

With a short video, let me show you why I think this was a failure.  In the video, two children are pouring sand down the cascade box.  As the child in the stripes says: "Put it down the chute." The focus for these children---and for almost all the children---was the sand going down the chute, not the cascade effect .  Watch and see if you agree.

To be honest, there really is something fetching about this video.  The child in the stripes placed a bucket in the tub at the bottom so when he pours sand down the chute, he fills his own bucket. And he lets his friend know by saying: "It's going in my bucket."

It is clear from the video that my perceived failure is not a failure for the children. They simply go about their business of discovering how the apparatus actually works.

I was pleased about a couple of other features of the apparatus that were not directly connected to the cascade. Both features included a bit of artifice.

When children poured sand into the top hole, the sand did not go down the cascade box. Rather it flowed through the bottom box all the way to the end. Inevitably, the children would pour in the top and look to see if it went down the cascade box. It took some serious investigation to figure out where the sand really came out.

The other subterfuge was the hole in the rectangular box just above the cascade box.  Where did that lead?  
Children would put sand and rocks in the hole, but the medium would just rest on a portion of the long narrow box embedded in the rectangular box.  If they would brush the sand or rocks to one side or the other, the medium would disappear.  Where did the medium go?  If you want to know, it went to the bottom of the big box.   
This child discovered the little stream of sand coming from a bottom corner of the box.  I don't think he troubled himself with where it came from.  Rather, he seemed to be fascinated by the tiny stream of sand coming out of the corner filling his scoop ever so slowly.

Cascade failure?  I guess I have to qualify the failure part.  I could not realize my idea of a cascade that I thought would capture the children's awe and attention.  I had a preconceived idea of how I thought it was suppose to work.  I am glad the children had no preconceived idea about how the apparatus should work because they ended up making more out of it than I could have imagined.   


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