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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, December 9, 2017

Horse play

Not every apparatus I install in the sensory table is complex.  Sometimes they are downright simple.  One of the earliest installations I created was also one of the simplest.  I bought two planter trays to see if they would fit in the table.  The body of the trays fit perfectly inside the table, while the lips of the trays rested on the sides of the table in such a way as to hold the trays above the bottom of the table.  Not only did that create another level for the children's operations, but it also created space between the bottom of the table and the bottom of the trays that was an "underneath" space for their explorations.

The trays fit snugly inside the table, but I still wanted to secure them to the table.  I used strips of duct tape to hold the trays down.  I reinforced those strips with more strips across on the lip of the table itself.

The trays were a simple way to add another level to the children's play and exploration (See axiom #3 on the right hand column of this blog).  However, it was not simply another level, but another level with depth.  What did that mean?  It meant that the children worked on different levels AND with different depths: the depth of the table and the depth of the trays.  That almost sounds like math.

Any simple apparatus can offer opportunities for very complex play.  With this particular setup, besides the usual scoops and containers, I added animal bedding and farm animals.  Children used the scoops to fill the containers so they could feed the animals.  In the picture below---even though it is hard to see---the children have filled containers to feed the horses.

Something special happened with this setup that made play especially profound for one class.  It started with one child whose eyes lit up when she walked in the room and saw the animals and the animal bedding.  I noticed her reaction, but had no idea why she was so taken by the setup.  I soon found out.  This child loved horses and knew a lot about horses.  She knew how to take care of them.  She knew what they ate. See even knew about Barbaro, a coveted race horse that broke its leg and how they tried to fix it.  In other words, she knew more about horses than anyone else in the room including me.  She is the child in the light blue below holding court with the others on the subject of horses and the care they need.

Something magical happened in that class on that particular day.  The child who knew about horses raised the level of play for those who joined her in horse play.  This child connected with the others in a way that was authentic and from the heart.  And the others responded in kind.

More importantly, the status of that child was forever changed in the group after that class.  She was the resident expert on horses.  That status carried over to other parts of the room with other children in other types of play.  Like I said, it was magical.

Watching this child act with confidence and enthusiasm, someone could have concluded that I had created this setup just for her.  That was not the case.  However, by offering this setup as a provocation for all the children, I found that this setup had special meaning for this child.  The setup offered her an opportunity to share her knowledge with others.  No amount of planning on my part could have duplicated the experience both for our resident expert and for those who joined her in play.  Not only was it magical, it was transformative.

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