About Me

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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, September 17, 2016

Where do my ideas come from?

This is not a post about how I come up with ideas for building apparatus.  Rather, this is a post about the process of writing this blog and what I choose to write about.  It follows directly on the heals of my last post which asked the question: How do children express their ideas?  The inspiration for that blogpost came from the Family Time blog of the Huffington Post UK.  The title of the November 15, 2015 blogpost was: How art and play can work wonders for your child's development.  One sentence from the blogpost stood out to me when the author quoted Sarah Cressall, a person who promotes art and craft workshops.  The sentence reads: "If we only teach our children information, we are failing them.  We need to equip them with the skills to explore ideas, and to have the confidence to experiment, problem solve and work out their own solutions."

I actually latched on to only one phrase in that quote: "We need to equip them with the skills to explore ideas..."  My first reaction was that the children already have the skills to explore their own ideas, they just need the time, space and materials with which to explore---and express---their ideas.  I then asked the question: How do children express their ideas in the context of the sensory table?

At that point, I was not even sure what constituted the expression of an idea at the sensory table.  I have been in the field of early childhood long enough to know that so often what is valued as an expression of an idea is something that is representational, i.e., a drawing, a painting, a clay sculpture. In the act of exploration at the sensory table, though, how do children express their ideas?

I began to look over my documentation of a recent apparatus, the rocking chair waterfall.  In looking over the pictures and videos, the different ways the children used a watering can with a long neck caught my attention.  I was struck by they way they appropriated it for their own use mainly by asking nonverbal questions through their exploration of the watering can.  I thus equated the children asking questions to them expressing their ideas.  The expressions were truly in the fluid process of exploring, not in any product per se.

Since I found it fruitful to examine where my ideas came from, I wanted to further use the documentation to see if I could get some insight into where a child may have gotten just one idea.  The idea I decided to explore was the idea of using the watering can to plug the hole in the bottom of the brown planter tray.
The child on the right plugged the hole in the bottom of the tray with one of the maroon watering cans.  What could have possibly led to the idea of jamming the spout of the watering can through the hole of the planter tray?  Looking back on the pictures from that day, this is what I found.  The pictures are in sequence.

The child first explored pouring water from the watering can.  Interestingly, he used the hole in the top container of the rocking chair waterfall.  Of course, children by their very nature are compelled to put things in holes (Axiom #5 in the right hand column of the blog).
In the next picture, the boy had moved to the other end of the table and was closely examining how the water flowed out from the hole in the bottom of the planter tray.
In addition to examining how the water flowed out of the hole, he affected the flow by blocking the hole with his hand.
The next picture in the sequence had the child back exploring the watering can.  He took a funnel and placed it over the end of the spout of the watering can.  He then talked into the funnel to hear how this newly invented contraption changed the sound of his voice.  (Where did that idea come from?)
At this point, he again examined the water flowing through the bottom of the hole.  His careful examination of that hole allowed him to see the thin film of water created by surface tension.
The next picture in the sequence brings us right back to the one I started with, the one that prompted the question: For a child, where does the idea come from to plug the hole in the bottom of the brown planter tray?

Did I answer the question?  I think there can only be a partial answer.  I do think the pictures portray an irresistible narrative.  However, there are still too many things missing.  The sequence a pictures takes place over a span of 30 minutes.  Those snapshots can only capture moments.  Maybe there were more compelling actions in between the moments that I missed because my attentions still had to be on the whole classroom.  An example of a moment that was missed was the point at which he picked up the watering can and inserted it into the hole. Was the action an effort to poke a hole in the surface tension tension of the water covering the hole?  Even more intriguing are unknown factors that contributed to his disposition to examine and explore  Also, since the classroom and the sensory table encompass a social milieu, how did others nurture his quest to cultivate new ideas with the materials?

Thank you for indulging me as I played with these ideas.  I see playing with the ideas analogous to children playing with the objects and the setup and with each other.  Which leads me back to the end of the quote that inspired me in the first place.  None of this happens without "...the time, space and materials in which to explore ideas, and to have the confidence to experiment, problem solve and work out their own solutions."  In addition and more importantly, I am beginning to see the process of exploration and all that it entails as meaning making through our actions, either in our head or in our physical operations.


  1. Hi, Tom! Thank you for posting your reflections of the students' work at the sensory table. I am inspired to take my sensory table beyond simply changing the materials within it. I did have one observation about this little boy's thoughts. You mentioned and showed a couple of pictures of how he observed from above how the water flowed down through the hole in the planter box. I am thinking that in the final picture, he possibly was trying to figure out how to make the water come up out of the hole, fountain-style, by poking the watering can up through it? What are your thoughts on this?

    1. That is an interesting theory. In fact, that may have been his original intention. If you look at the previous week's post, you will see that he eventually did use the spout of the water can as a plug so they could fill the tray with water. Check out the previous week's post and see what you think. Thanks for paying attention and offering your theory. We need to do more of that if we are to understand children's thinking.