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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, August 20, 2016

Worm slide and social connections

Every year since I bought a "bucket of worms" on sale at a sporting goods store, I have set up a worm slide.  Each year it looked a little different, but the idea was always the same: the children would put the plastic worms (fishing lures without hooks) in pipes and pour water on them so they would go sliding down the pipes.  This was the 2016 version.
The trays and crates formed the base of the apparatus.  A flexible, plastic tube was threaded through the pink crate and emptied back into the blue table.  A white plastic chute ran from the top of the green crate to the brown planter tray on which the pink crate was anchored.  Finally, a narrow, PVC pipe ran through the green crate to empty into a tub next to the table.  This pipe had a slit down the entire length of the pipe.  In the picture, the child in the foreground was putting an orange worm into the slit.  If you want a detailed description of how I put this together, check out the act of building post from last week.

I have written several times over the years about how the children explored the worm slide. The post children's turn at the worm slide talked specifically about the many different operations the children came up with at this apparatus.  This year when I was looking through the pictures and videos I was struck by the breadth of social interactions and the varied moments of connection at the worm slide.

The first example is 8 seconds long.  A child was collecting worms in a bottle.  He reached for another worm from the pile in the white wooden tray.  Before he could grab one, the child next to him offered him a worm.  He accepted and put it in his bottle.


Have a worm from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I was struck by this simple gesture.  The child who offered the worm realized the other child was collecting worms.  He did not need to offer the worm he had in his hand, but he did.  Why?  The child who was collecting the worms in his bottle looked at the proffered worm and accepted it.  Why?  He could have simply turned down the offer.  The reciprocating gestures all unfolded without a word said.  These questions arose because these two children usually did not interact with each other.  It could be said that they tended to do their own thing.   What made this moment of connection possible?

Here is a second simple, but magnanimous gesture.  The child in the video had been collecting worms when she asked: "Do you want some of these, Teacher Tom?"  I asked for one and then asked which one could I have.  She tried to take one out, but her hand did not fit in far enough to get a worm.  When that didn't work, she said: "I'm thinking."  She tried one more time to reach in to retrieve a worm for me.  Her hand was still too small.  She took her hand out and said: "Maybe I should dump them out."  And she started to dump them out.


Would you like a worm? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Why did she offer me worms in the first place?  Was she simply trying to draw me into her play?  Did she think I was more likely to accept her offer?  Was it simply because I was the closest person to her?  I do not know.  I do know that she was being generous and engaged in some sophisticated problem solving to make good on her offer.  Again, what made this ingratiating connection possible?

Some social interactions are clearly planned and executed.  In the video below, two boys were working to complete an intentional operation.  One child placed a worm in the tube, filled his bottle with water and then poured the bottle of water into the tube to flush down the worm.  The child at the end of the tube was holding a pot to catch the worm as it shot out the tube.


Did you catch it? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What was so interesting in this social exchange was the different ways the two boys communicated with each other.  One child was quite verbal.  He said things like: "Did you catch it?" "Where did it go?"  The other child did not say a word.  That does not mean he did not communicate.  As the child approached saying "did you catch it," the child with the pot clearly looked at the child coming towards him.  He then looked at his pot as if to say look in here.  He even raised the pot slightly to show him that he caught it.  The child who poured looked in the pot and then gave the child a quick smile as if to say he understood.  The video ended with the child about to dump the water and the worm into the tub next to the table.  Was he communicating that he wanted to do it again?  Especially with differing communication styles, what made such a intentional connection possible?

Here is a final example of social interaction at the worm slide.  This play falls more on the side of dramatic or fantasy play.  The children in the video were sorting the the worms into "bad" ones and "good" ones.  The child in the striped shirt held up a worm and told the other child: "Oh, these aren't good.  You know why?"  He pointed to a feature on the worm and said: "Well, that can sting you."  Without saying a word, the girls seemed to agree judging from the face she made. 


This one's a bad one from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

A third child easily inserted himself into the play when he held up and worm and said: "This one is a bad one."  The boy in the striped shirt began to reach for the worm but quickly realized that the other child was collecting his own set of bad ones.  To keep the play on track, he quickly agreed: "Yeh.  OK."

What a wonderful little dance this was to keep the fantasy going.  Two children were sorting worms and there was still plenty of room for a third to easily slip into the play.  What made such a fluid connection possible? 

What made all these varied moments of connection possible?  In all four examples, the setup and the materials were all the same.  Even one of the operations across the four examples was similar, namely, collecting worms.  Why did those moments of connection looks so different?  Was it simply because there were different children in each example?  My guess is that it was even more complicated than that because the way these moments unfolded were also particular to all the factors coming together in the moment.  By implication, these moments will never be duplicated.

It is an intriguing puzzle to attempt to figure out what makes these moments of connection possible.  However, their real value lies in savoring the unfolding of the intricacies in each.  In other words, relish the gestalt of the moment because it is in the ever changing moments that the children are making sense of the world.


2 comments:

  1. The classroom is a different place with you gone. No more sticks, no more tape dispensers, no more gross motor area, and no more complicated sand and water tables.

    My guess is that the play will be much more linear and less creative because of the lack of open-ended options. I'm glad we had a chance to experience your creations last year.

    A stick can be anything but a piece of plastic pizza is just a piece of plastic pizza.

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    Replies
    1. Brandi, Thanks for you kind words. I do miss the kids just because a stick can be anything to and for them!

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