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Early childhood education has been my life for over 40 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, June 24, 2017

More thinking

Last week I wrote that the sensory table is a rich space for thinking for both me and the children.  I used examples of my thinking and children's thinking around an apparatus that I made from of a large box that I installed over the sensory table in such a way as to form two wide inclines.  I installed a box tower in the middle to support the inclines and make them stable.

I had a hard time writing that post because I tried to capture the thinking process in expansive terms to make it seem rich.  However, in writing the post, I made it sound like there was a linear progression between my thinking and the children's thinking.  That was not the case because our thinking processes were more like a dance in which the steps were not coordinated but still connected. The connection points were junctures in which all of us, both individually and collectively, made decisions about what our next non-choreographed steps would be.  At each juncture, there were multiple possibilities. To try to make it sound like one thing led to another did not do justice to our thinking.

I would like to try again to illustrate that the sensory table is a rich thinking space, but this time in a less linear way.  The thinking revolves around a tool I made for another apparatus.  It is a homemade plunger that I made by screwing a cap from a jar onto an end of a dowel.  (Dowels are expensive, so I re-purposed a shovel handle.)

Since I wanted to offer the plungers to the children for play with this apparatus, I needed to create an invitation as part of the apparatus.  To that end, I embedded two horizontal tubes: a cardboard tube and a white PVC pipe.  This was one of those juncture points for me.  What tubes do I use?  How long should they be?   Where should I position them in the apparatus?  Each decision would have changed the decisions the children could have and would have made.  Since I wanted the children to explore the apparatus with the plungers, one decision was dictated to me; namely, the diameter of the tubes had to match or be slightly greater than the diameter of the plungers.  That way the children could push the sand through the tubes with the homemade plungers, which they did.

The new invitation now created a juncture point for the children: what would they do with the plungers besides using them to push sand through the tubes?

Here are a couple of things two children came up with while working on opposite sides of the PVC pipe.  The child with the red hair inserted his plunger into the pipe.  The child in the stripes was about to insert his plunger into the hole when he saw a plunger coming from the other side.  The child in the stripes reached up and grabbed the end of the plunger.  He pulled it out of the other child's hand and right out of the pipe.

Where did the plunger go? from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child with the red hair was quite baffled because he did not know what happened to his plunger.  He looked inside the pipe to see if it was there.  It was gone!  What was he going to do now?  He looked for his plunger on the other side of the table.  He found it almost immediately because the child in the stripes had already dropped it back into the table.  After retrieving his plunger, the redhead went back up on the stool to re-insert the plunger in the pipe.  This time he held it tight and slid it back and forth inside the pipe.  

Making noise with the homemade plunger from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Did he slide the plunger back and forth in the pipe because he thought it might disappear again?  I do not know, but he did seem to be pleased with the new noise (music?) he was making with his actions.  And that was reason enough to continue doing it.

At this point, I need to shift the focus to another feature of the apparatus.  I attached a long cardboard tube to the box tower.  That decision created another juncture point for me.  How long should the tube be?  How and where do I tape it down?  I made the decision to only attach the top of the cardboard tube and not the bottom.  I thought by attaching it only to the box tower on the top, the children would have license to direct the sand within the apparatus.

This invitation was juncture for the children.  My imagination is not good enough to guess all the possible operations the children could have come up with, but here are a couple of real ones.  The children found a cardboard chute that fit inside the cardboard tube.  They used it to fill a green plastic coffee can a child positioned over the bottom of the tube.

A chute in the tube filling the can from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

An interesting thing happened when the child tried to remove the coffee can from the tube.  Because he had to lift the tube up to remove the can from the bottom of the tube, he spilled sand onto the bottom of the apparatus.  The very act of spilling created another juncture point for two children who were standing around with the homemade plungers.  These two children saw this as an opportunity to jump into action.  They used the plungers to shovel the sand into the hole at the bottom of the apparatus.

How did we get back to the plungers?  In other words, how did the plungers go from being a tool to push sand through the tubes; to an obstruction to be removed from the pipe; to an instrument for making noise; and finally, to a shovel of sorts?  There is certainly no way to draw a straight line connecting those transformations.  Rather, it happened in the context in which I was able to realize my thoughts in my head and with my hands and the children were able to realize their thoughts through individual and group actions in real time.   What makes this a rich space for thinking is the multitude of possibilities for individual and collective agency that constantly emerge with each new action/thought.

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