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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 21, 2016

Jurassic Sand and dinosaurs

People always ask me what I use in my sensory table.   For the most part, I use either wood pellets, water or sand .  One of my favorite kinds of sand is the original Jurassic Sand.  This sand is expensive for filling a sand table, but well worth the investment.   The sand is soft and dustless and has a beautiful natural color.  I use it several times a year.  Most recently, I set it up with small dinosaurs and other natural elements such as sticks, tree cookies, rocks, pine cones and a half log.
I added a simple wooden tray as a bridge of sorts to connect the blue sand table with the smaller, clear sensory table.

As far as setups go, this is pretty simple.  However simple it is, though, it is still quite inviting.  The bridge offers a different level on which the children can do their operations.
For the twenty-month-old child in the picture above, it is an extremely comfortable level.  His arm and hand rest comfortably in and on the tray as he animates his dinosaurs.  Since the wooden tray is narrow, it creates a space in between the two tables that children step into.  That space makes it easy for a child to reach the other side or engage in play with another child on the other side.

I thought with all the natural elements, the children might build environments for the dinosaurs.  Nope.  They had other ideas and many of them had to do with pouring sand.  Below, a child buries a little pteranodon.

To bury the pteranodon, he uses a little scoop.  (The scoop is a measuring scoop from a baby formula can.  I am partial to hodgepodge and doohickies.)  Burying the dinosaur looks like intricate work for him; it takes him three scoops to cover the dinosaur with precision and care.  The first scoop covers most of the dinosaur.  The second scoop covers the feet and the third scoop covers the last speck of green from the wing.  When done, he declares: "OK, he's buried up."  He could have used a bigger scoop like the child next to him, but was he purposefully matching the tool to the job?  Or does the tool determine the job?

Here is one example of a child creating an environment for the dinosaurs, but only using the sand.  The child uses a long-handled kitchen spoon to carefully transport sand into the orange bucket next to the table.

Her pouring is very meticulous.  She carefully scoops sand from the table, not even filling her spoon.  And as she deposits the sand in the bucket, she sprinkles the sand so it falls just right into the bucket to make the place for the dinosaurs.   Was she making a nice, clean home for the dinosaurs like we would for a pet?

The third example of pouring using the dinosaurs is a collaborative effort by three children.  One holds the dinosaur; one holds a strainer; and the third child pours the sand into the strainer.

Referring to the dinosaur getting rained on by the sand, the child holding the strainer chuckles: "He's getting all covered.  Looking at the faces of the other two, they are all in on the fun.

I thought I was setting up the sensory table for children to create enthralling dinosaur dioramas.  Silly me.  Instead, they used the dinosaurs for elaborate pouring exercises of their own making.  It just goes to show, I can create what I think is a wonderful invitation to play but the children will do with it what they will.  More power to them.




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