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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, July 11, 2015

MAKING SENSE OF AN APPARATUS

The last two weeks I have written about the same apparatus: Piggyback Inclines.  Here is the apparatus.

This is what you need to know about this apparatus.  Children can pour corn into the apparatus into 8 different holes: #1 goes into a gutter tube that is woven between the two inclines; #2 empties straight into the top incline; #3 leads to the white cardboard tube that goes through the top incline and ends up in a second table; #4 is the open end of the top incline; #5 is the open end of the bottom incline; #6 is a window cut in the top incline; #7 is another window cut in the top incline; #8---which you don't see---is a third window cut in the top incline on the other side.

On the other hand, the corn exits the apparatus in only three places: #1 is the white cardboard tube that empties into the adjacent table; #2 is the open end of the bottom incline box; and #3 is the end of the guttering which is woven through the two incline boxes.

How do the children make sense of this apparatus?  How do they make sense of the space created by the apparatus?  How do they make sense of the materials such as the cardboard, corn and containers?  How does interacting with the apparatus inform the child about him or herself?  

Children make sense of the apparatus in dialogue with the apparatus.  Some might call this exploration or experimentation, but it is more complex and intimate than simple exploration or experimentation.   The apparatus invites children to use their whole body to join with it to make it come alive.  In return, the apparatus offers unique challenges both physically and cognitively back to the children.  Think of it this way: If there is no child, the apparatus has no actuality.  That also means, that the dialogue will change depending on which child or children take up the invitation.

One of the ways they make sense of the space is to explore all the spaces offered by the apparatus. Some of those spaces are not so evident at first glance. For instance, there is a big space right underneath the incline and there is a more constricted space under the base of the apparatus.  
There is even a space that would escape most of us, but not a child.  It is the space between the catchment boxes.  The child pictured below is using that space to hold his pot for his particular operation.

Their are even tangential spaces that the children appropriate for their operations.  Two such spaces are the shelves that hold the containers and implements and the five-gallon bucket ensconced next to the table.
Since the materials are many and varied with this apparatus, let's just look at how children make sense out of a set a materials, in this case, containers for holding or transporting the corn.

They will fill containers that are different in size and have different size openings. They also fill them differently, one with the fingers and the other with another container.  Also, one container is plastic and the other is metal.
The children will also use different size containers for pouring.  The child on the left used his left hand when he turned his container over so he could let all the corn go at once.  The boys on the right were physically challenged to simply dump the big bucket into the apparatus.
How does interacting with the apparatus inform the child about him or herself?  For one thing, a child becomes the agent of his own actions.  By pouring corn in a particular hole, he comes to see that he can transport the corn into another table with his actions.

Not only does he see himself as an agent of his actions, but he also sees how physically competent he is as he gets up and personal with the apparatus.  You have seen it time and time again in the pictures with the children climbing on the lip of the table and balancing their bodies---often times leaning up against the apparatus---to complete their operations.  Let me offer one more picture showing the physically competent child checking out where the corn goes when poured into the top incline.  This child is straddling both tables at once using the narrow lip of the small table and the cardboard tube to balance.  Oh, and he seems to be hovering over another child.

There is at least one important question I have left out of this post: How does interacting with the apparatus inform the child about his or her relationship with others?  I will not try to tackle that in this post.  However, it is an important question because school is, after all, a social milieu in which the possibilities for making sense of an apparatus like this are multiplied exponentially.  As more and different people enter--and exit--the dialogue with each other and the apparatus, new ways and forms of knowing are invented and created.  With that understanding, making sense of the apparatus has so many variables that it is important at times to stop analyzing and to relax and savor the journey.



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