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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.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Children's approaches to experiences

Let me begin with a quote from David Hawkins.  On page 139 of his book The Informed Vision, he states: "Because children differ in constitution and temperament, and also in the history of their previous learning, each child will assimilate experience and knowledge selectively from his environment, in accordance with his momentary readiness and his unique individual style."

I am in total agreement with his statement.  However, there would seem to be a necessary preamble to it.  And that would have to do with how children approach their experiences.  Although children may approach experiences similarly, those approaches will differ depending on the conditions Hawkins laid out in the opening quote.

For example, I went back into my archives to see the different ways children approached play and exploration around the pegboard platform.  I made the apparatus below using four cardboard tubes and a piece of pegboard.  I cut slits near the top of each tube and inserted the corners of the pegboard into the slits.  I also cut openings at the bottom of each tube so any sand poured into the tubes would empty back into the table. 
I taped each of the tubes to the lip of the table.  I was surprised that I did not need to do any more taping to make it stable.

How did the children approach the apparatus in their operations and in what way did those approaches differ?

Some children used the apparatus as a counter to pour, mix and cook.  The two pictures depict similar operations.  However, if you look at the children's focus, the children on the left approached the activity as individuals, while the children on the right approached their activity as a joint venture.

Another child used the apparatus as a platform but in a much different way.  The platform served as a base on which to construct small sculpture.  Basically, he propped sticks over an upside down stainless steel bowl.
He actually gave that sculpture kinetic form when he poured sand through the top of the sticks and watched how the sand fell onto the top of the bowl.  In addition, he observed how the sand dispersed after hitting the top of the bowl.

Another child took a totally different approach to using the platform.  Instead of using it as a counter or a base on which to build, she used the pegboard itself as a canvas to create a rather impressive pattern by methodically pouring sand over the entire top of it.

Creating a pattern from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The resulting pattern was not only impressive, but it was highly symmetrical, especially when compared with the previous stick and stainless steel sculpture.

Another way the children approached the apparatus was to focus their operations on the cardboard tubes.  In the picture below, three children did three different operations with the tubes.  The child on the left with the necklace dropped rocks into the tube.  The child reaching into the tube on the right removed rocks from the tube.  And finally, the child with the yellow scoop just finished pouring sand into his tube.

For one child, the tube was a container to fill with rocks.  However, when he tried to then fill the tube with sand, he noticed that most of the sand disappeared as it flowed through the rocks. 

Children not only approached the apparatus from the top, they also approached it from the bottom.  In the video below, the child worked very hard at taking all the rocks from the bottom of one tube.

Pulling out the rocks from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This is only a small---and I emphasize, small---sampling of how children approached one apparatus.  The only way to understand how children can approach an apparatus in so many different ways is to appreciate how children bring their differing temperaments,  readiness and unique styles to their encounter with the apparatus.  We can observe the different approaches, but we cannot know what experience and knowledge they will assimilate.  We can only offer a rich environment in which they can play and explore to build their repertoire of experiences that lay an ongoing and critical foundation for all their subsequent learning.   

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