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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, November 7, 2015


Why am I never satisfied with keeping an apparatus the same?  Part of the reason is because when I observe how children use an apparatus, their explorations yield new questions.  The Trash Bin apparatus is a good example.  Below is the first iteration.
Two trash bins are placed upside down in the sensory table.  One trash bin has a large hole in the middle and the other has black hoses woven through it.  Funnels are connected to the hoses at the top of the bin.  A clear plastic tube on a slant connects the two bins.

Two different observations of the children's play spawned two different questions .  The first observation actually came from play with a previous multiple tray apparatus, 
What I noticed from this apparatus is that children were attracted to water dropping from a height, in this case, the water falling out of the tube into the tray below.

The second observation was the seemingly lack of interest in the big hole in the middle of the one trash bin.  To me it looked so inviting, but the children were more interested in the funnels, hoses and tubes.

From those observations these two questions emerged.  1)What would happen to the children's play if I increased the height of the drop?  2)Would the hole be more inviting if I raised the elevation of the hole so it would be at eye level for the children?   To answer my questions, I disconnected the two trash bins by removing the clear plastic tube.  I turned the trash bin with the hole around and placed it on a planter tray that spanned the width of the table. 
I cut the clear tube in half and reinserted one half into the trash bin so it would empty---at height---into a tub next to the table.

There were changes made in the second trash bin, too.  The other half of the clear tube was inserted back into the bin so that the end emptied into a tub at the end of the table.  After the hoses exited the bin, they were wrapped around the trash bin itself.  They were held in place with zip ties looped around the hoses and tightened to the bin from the inside.
Here is a view from inside the bin.  You can see the clear plastic tube; the black hoses entering and exiting the bin; and three ends of the zip ties wrapped around the hoses on the outside of the bin holding them tightly in place.

 The result of the modification became Trash Bin Apparatus II

Did the modifications change the children's play?  Yes they did.  Play in the big hole increased, but not by much.  The big change in play and exploration happened with the clear tubes that extended beyond the table.  

One of the big attractions was to plug the tubes to see what happens.   In the video below, the child pours water into the tube that is plugged with a bottle.  The video starts with him pouring and then stepping back to see what he has done.  His smile is telling.  At first he has to concentrate to make sure he gets the water in the tube.  Before long, though, he can pour into the tube without looking so he can watch the water accumulate in the bottle and tube in real time.  Watch.

This is a good illustration of Axiom #6 in the right hand column of this blog, namely: Children will try to stop or redirect the flow of any medium in the table for any given apparatus.

That, of course, was stopping the flow of water.  Below is a very inventive---and wet---example of redirecting the flow.  This operation involves two children.  One child pours while the other redirects the flow of water using a long, narrow funnel.  As the one child pours and the water races down the tube, the other child gets doused because the water splashes against the funnel spraying the child holding the funnel.  As the child who is doing the pouring points out, though, some water does end up in a second tube via the funnel.  Watch. 

What did I learn from modifying the Trash Bin apparatus?  I learned that what I thought was the most salient feature of the apparatus---the big hole in the middle---was not the most salient for the children.   Rather, the children seemed to gravitate toward the features that allowed them to explore in such a way as to set things in motion and see the consequences of their actions.  


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