This is a blog for early childhood teachers looking for ways to expand and enrich play and learning in and around their sand and water tables with easy-to-make, low-cost apparatus. It may also be of interest for anyone who appreciates children's messy play.
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.
You can well imagine what happens to those rocks on any given day. They all get dumped into the table.
But is there really anything wrong with dumping? That is surely an elemental operation for children and probably goes along with the need to transport objects in and out of the table (Axiom #1 in the righthand column of this blog).
How do children move beyond dumping? It seems that dumping for some children is their only modus operandi. However, the dumping may in fact lead to a whole host of other ventures, often unpredictable. To be sure, sometimes the rocks are just transported to another part of the table or onto the apparatus and left there with little or no purpose. However, the "just lying around" state of the loose rocks offers invitations for children to experiment. Does the rock fit in this container?
When the rocks are within easy access, they can be appropriated for ingredients or decorations in cooking such things as cakes.
Can you see the children's sense of aesthetics? They have arranged smaller rocks of similar size around the large rock in the center.
Some of the operations fostered by the invitation of rocks lying around involve a more complex set of actions. In the following video, watch how the child figures out how to catch the rock in her ceramic bowl after failing twice.
From her laugh, you can tell she is pleased with her endeavor even when it doesn't work the first two times. It looks so simple to us as adults, but what a great experiment in trajectory.
Here is a slightly more complicated experiment in trajectory using a rock. The child tries to lob one of those loose rocks into the long cardboard tube. He misses the first time, but is successful on the second try.
To me it looks like a form of target practice. The child has a rock and he wants to get it in a hole at a distance. Look at the amount of regulated motion it takes to get the rock in the white cardboard tube. Would you have let a child throw the rock in his attempt to get it in the tube?
In one child's hands, two loose rocks become a musical instrument; they are the percussion for his rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
He starts out with a fast tempo and it just accelerates from there. Do I dare call him a rock star?
Here is one final invitation to play fostered by the rocks just lying around. A child picks up two loose rocks from the table. She starts to smack the rocks together and to her surprise, she gets a light brown powder. She is cooking and the powder turns out to be a cinnamon topping.
What motivates this child to choose two rocks from the table and then to start smacking them together? I do not think she expects to get a powder. Once she gets the powder, though, there is no stopping her.
There is an interesting sequel to this child's discovery. A friend takes note of her actions and tries to get powder by picking up two rocks from the table and smashing them together. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot get powder from his rocks.
It would seem that there is a lot of potential in those loose rocks as the children try to realize their ideas. And in realizing their ideas, they are combining many other elements offered at the table such as the white sand, the apparatus, the pots and the actions of their friends.
If all these ventures started with dumping, then dumping must be like setting the table---a messy, chaotic, serendipitous table.