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 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).
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.