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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.

Friday, July 31, 2015

THOUGHTS ON TANGENTIAL

Axiom #7 on the right-hand column of this blog states: Children will always devise new and novel activities and explorations with the materials presented that are tangential to the apparatus itself.  Why is that so important?  Because there is a whole universe of play that happens in the area around the apparatus that is not part of the apparatus itself.  If I were to focus only on what the children do with the apparatus, I would overlook important actions that expand my notion of what play means for children and the subsequent questions about such play.

With the Pegboard Platform there was plenty of engagement with the apparatus itself.  For instance, here is a short video of a child using the platform for making something special: "rock-sand-snow ice cream.

Rock, sand, snow ice cream from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Notice that the child in the video is responding to another child's inquiry about what she is making. Often as adults we ask that same question, but it seems more genuine coming from another child. Her response actually makes me wonder if she knew what she was making or she is making it up on the spot in response to his inquiry. In any case, she is quite animated when she responds as if to confer her blessing on her own creation.

What is not apparent from the video is that part of her creation began away from the table on the shelves that hold the play provisions for the sensory table.  It is there she carefully adds the rocks.

Is that tangential to the apparatus?  Probably not, but it does expand the play beyond the apparatus itself creating movement in her operations from the platform, to the shelves and back to the platform.  What does that tell me about the nature of her play?  How important is it to be able to move between areas for her play?

Here is an example of an operation that is tangential to the platform apparatus.  This child has appropriated the floor space between the sensory table and the shelves for her operations.  She has three containers of different sizes and shapes.  She is very intent about transferring the sand between the containers.
It's true, she has acquired the sand from the table, but she definitely does not need the apparatus for what she is doing.  Given all that is going on around her and the apparatus in the table, why does she choose the floor for her play?  What would happen if there were no table and just a reservoir of sand and all types of containers?  What would that play look like? How do the boundaries created by the table and the shelves help define her play?

Here is another example of tangential play.  After transporting a lot of sand into the Five-gallon Pail, this boy decides to see if he can lift it.  Why?   
A child testing his own strength is not part of the apparatus.  It is, however, important for the development of his muscles and joints. The appeal of his particular physical challenge is that he is its author; it is authentic.  It is also contagious.
Where does the quest for a physical challenge come from and why is it necessary?  What makes it contagious?

Here is one final example of tangential play.  There are always stools for the children to use around the sensory table.  Ostensibly, they are there for the children to step up to extend their reach.  For some reason, one of those stools was turned upside down when a child with a plastic teapot full of sand happened upon it. The upside-down stool offered an invitation for this child to pour sand into all the little squares on the underside of the stool.
  
As far as tangential play goes, this one is off the charts.  Who could have planned this set of joint circumstances: a stool turned upside down exposing open squares and a child experimenting with the flow of sand from a plastic tea pot?  Did the pattern of the squares pique his interest? Did the flow of the sand in a stream create the opportunity to target his pouring so he could fill individual squares?   What was this child thinking?

I am left with questions: Does tangential play by its very nature house one of the universes of play that is spontaneous, serendipitous and creative?  If so, how do we provide the space and time for it? If so, how do we give it its due?  With any given setup, how do we shift our focus from "what the children should do" to "what they can and will do"?  How does it differ from the play of a child with a plan?  Do the two types of play coexist?  Can and do they feed off of each other?




2 comments:

  1. Your questions are so interesting. They make me think of the game where one person starts a story and then you go around giving each person in the group a chance to add a line or two to further the story. The fun part of the game is that you have no idea which direction it's going and what the end will be like or if there even is an end.
    In your set-ups, it's so intriguing to children because there is a "hint" of what can be done, so there is a starting point. From there, they make it their own. Just as the orchestrator of the set-up can't and should not have a set goal in mind, I think the children often make it up as they go along. Then, if something intrigues them, they delve deeper until the questions they have are satisfied, then they move on to the next area of interest. And children are so open with each other. If one has a "plan", often, others will intently watch to join in, or use it expand their own ideas Makes me think of Vigotsky's zone of proximal development, how children gently push each other to the next level. So inspiring as always. Thank you.
    Eileen

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    1. Thanks Eileen, I like your analogy both to the game and to the musical conductor in relation to how the children interact with the set-up and each other. I just might have to use it. Tom

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