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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 28, 2016

Ephemeral

I often tell people that so much of my work happens even before the children arrive at school.  For the sand and water table, that means setting up an invitation that I think will capture the children's imagination.  Sometimes that is an elaborate installation and sometimes it is a very simple construction.  Whether the construction is complex or simple, the apparatus is not complete until the area is provisioned with intriguing loose parts.

I wrote about a simple construction last week with Jurassic Sand and dinosaurs.  Along with the dinosaurs, I provided other natural elements such as rocks, sticks and tree cookies.
Whenever I equip the sand table, especially if it is a very simple setup, I have a choice: Do I leave it as a blank slate on which the children assemble their own creations or do I create an invitation using the loose parts myself?
I think you would agree that the Jurassic Sand makes a beautiful canvas.  More often than not, though, the children dump everything into the table.  
So much for a blank slate.   Because I also like to create, I often offer my own arrangement of loose parts on the blank canvas as an overture to children to rearrange or embellish.
Even then, what happens more often than not is that everything ends up in the table helter-skelter.
A busy helter-skelter to be sure with the children totally engaged in their individual and joint endeavors.

Every once in a while, though, something special happens.   One child used a half-log as a base for balancing tree cookies, sticks and rocks.  She also used other rocks, shells and pine cones to adorn the assemblage. 
 
The child who made this took great care in making it happen.  She started by earnestly examining the properties of the sand using a small scoop with a hole in the bottom.
From there, she moved around to the other side of the table and started to balance the tree cookies between the log and the table.
 
Then she brought the container of rocks over from the shelves and started balancing those between the lip of the table and the tree cookies.
At one point during the making, she even accepted an unsolicited offering of sand from another child.
She had a look of "what-are-you-doing?" surprise, but after a moment of reflection, she gladly incorporated his offering in her work.

What she ended up with was something ephemeral.  Something totally out of the ordinary using ordinary materials in a way only this particular child could on this particular day with those particular materials.  It is a piece that will never be repeated.  
 

When I look at her piece of nature art, I can't help but be reminded of the work of nature artist Andy Goldsworthy.  Though her piece may not have the symmetry of many of Goldsworthy's pieces, it has the same beauty built in an organic progression of adding one element of nature to another with a harmony of purpose, both consciously and unconsciously.






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