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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, May 12, 2018

Box tower as balancing apparatus

Axiom #9 on the right hand column of this blog states that children will always create their own physical challenges as they explore an apparatus at the sensory table.  That is also true both throughout the classroom and outside.

One of the physical challenges children engage in all the time is balance.  A few years ago, I built a box tower that the children used to practice their balancing skills.   The tower consisted of three boxes on the bottom, two in the middle and one on top arranged pyramid style.  The structure rose vertically two and half feet out of the table.
I covered the top of each box with a found piece of cardboard that had been manufactured with nice symmetrical holes.

These holes played an important role in helping the children balance as they explored the apparatus.  Here are two simple examples.  Both children pictured grab a hole for balance, one as he bends down (left) and one as he reaches up (right).

Because this was a vertical structure, the apparatus encouraged children to go vertical.  As they went vertical, testing their balance became more of a challenge.  The video below starts out with the child in the red stating that the child in the green shirt was going to fall.  To which the child in the green shirt said: "I have my balance."  To prove it, he stepped up onto the lip of the table to pour some pellets into the farthest top hole.  After pouring the pellets, he spread his arms for just a second to further prove his ability to balance.  

You are going to fall from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

What allowed him to "have" his balance, except for the brief moment when he spread his arms, was the fact that this child established three points of contact at all times with the stable setup.  Even when he was stepping down from the lip of the table, he dropped his metal measuring cup so he could grab two of the bottom holes of the apparatus.  That allowed him to lift his right foot off the lip of the table and to step back onto the stool.

Here was an interesting study in balance at this same apparatus.   These two children were standing on the same small stool.  The child in the red shirt was more stable because his knees were up against the table and his hands were in contact with the box.  What about the child in grey?  He was not as stable because his feet were on the corner of the stool partially behind the boy in red.  Because he was not as stable, his actions seemed more measured and cautious. 
Though he seemed less stable, he still had several points of contact.   The finger of his left hand rested on the lip of the cardboard tube.  And the spoon, which was an extension of his hand, was also touching the lip of the cardboard tube.  Granted, those were light touches, but touches just the same.  His balance was also aided by his incidental contact with the child in red as he reached over his shoulder and leaned against him ever so slightly.  In their book The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee posit the following:  "Nothing stabilizes balance better than light touches and contact with the environment" (p. 31).  Like a said, a study in balance.

At a conference last year, one of the participants called me out for letting a child climb on the sensory table.  She asserted that it was just too dangerous.  It was true, there may have been an increased risk of falling.  However, that risk was mediated by the children's own sense of caution as they challenged themselves physically.  Why else would their movements have been slow and purposeful as they climbed up and climbed down? How did they know to have at least three points of contact---even if they were ever so slight---to keep their balance?

It is true that children do not need to climb on the sensory table to work on their balance.   But since almost everything they do in life depends on their sense of balance, they do have to have opportunities to grow their balance both at the sensory table and throughout the room.  And more often than not, the children will create their own balance challenges.  Our job is not to always shut them down in their balancing endeavors, but to make sure they are indeed measuring their own risk.

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