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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.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Getting to know the properties of corn

Every space or setup in an early childhood classroom has an energy and rhythm.  How is it possible to examine that energy and rhythm?  One way is to look for ways in which children examine the properties of the materials in a chosen area with a particular setup. 

To do that, I choose the sensory table with a cardboard divider setup pictured below.  The setup is basically a long cardboard sheet that spans two sensory tables down the middle with smaller panels inserted horizontally to create multiple spaces in which the children can choose to work.
There are also multiple windows cut in the apparatus to facilitate cross-barrier play.  Below is another picture of the apparatus from a different angle that highlights how the apparatus divides the sensory table and creates multiple work spaces.

To focus my observations even more, I choose to look at how children in this space examine the properties of one very specific material in this space, namely, feed corn. 

One way the children examine the properties is to actually feel it with their hands.  And that can take on a different energy and rhythm.  The child below is using his hands in a back-and-forth motion to feel the corn both under and over his hands.
Besides feeling the corn, the child is also hearing the sounds the corn makes as it get pushed from side-to-side.  Feeling and hearing the corn in this way is never uniform.  Another child may come along and sweep the the corn more vigorously or more slowly.  Through the individual energy and rhythm of feeling the corn, the children will come to understand the corn differently.

A case in point: the video below shows two children basically doing the same operation with different energy and rhythm.  They are both transferring corn with their hands from their spot at the table into their respective five-gallon buckets.

Corn in the bucket from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The child in the blue transfers the corn into his bucket faster than the child in red.  And, whereas the child in blue throws the corn with force into his bucket, the child in red simply drops his corn into the bucket.  Again, this is a way to for children to make sense of the properties of the corn.  It can be dropped; it can be thrown; it makes a different sound when thrown than when it is dropped; and when the the corn is thrown it bounces, sometime even out of the bucket.

In the photo below, the child uses a tool to examine the properties of the corn.  First, the scoop allows her to gather certain amounts of corn.  Second, when she pours the corn from the scoop, she creates a corn flow, so to speak.  It also has a different sound and visual as it hits the side of the bucket.  
That flow will necessarily have a different energy and rhythm than the previous examples of the children throwing and dropping corn into the bucket.

The child below gets right up close and personal with the corn.  She uses the handle of a small red measuring cup to dislodge individual kernels of corn from a corn cob.

Dislodging the corn kernels from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

The energy and rhythm in this episode is markedly different.  There is a focus here in which the child discovers the relation between a kernel and the cob.  To do that, the child draws on her capacity to invent, concentrate and persist to dislodge each kernel with the handle of the measuring cup.  

The child below also gets up close and personal with the corn---with her feet!  Not only does she step into the bucket, but she maneuvers her feet so her boots begin to sink further into the bucket of corn.   There is certainly a different feel to the corn when a child uses her feet.  For instance, individual kernels drop down into her boot.  When she comes out, she feels those individual kernels pressing against the soles of her feet.  And what is her visual interpretation of seeing her boots/feet disappear down into the corn?
The energy and rhythm of this episode encompasses contagion, too, because after she steps out of the bucket another child steps into the bucket to experience the properties of the corn similarly.

How many ways are there to examine the properties of the corn?  I could not even hazard a guess.  Since the energy and rhythm are dependent on those examinations, they, too, will be many and varied.  

Why is that important?  That is important because there is no script.  No one needs to tell the children how to examine the properties of the corn.   That is also important, because depending on the energy the children bring to the exploration on any given day, they will create their own rhythm of play.  Through that energy and rhythm of the play, the children come to know the corn and its properties in so many different ways.

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