About Me

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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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Funnels and Clear Plastic Tubing - Experimenting

Experimentation with the Funnels and Clear Plastic Tubing always begins with children pouring water into the funnels.  Nobody tells them what to do or how to do it.  They just know to pour the water into the funnels. Why?  What is it about the apparatus that tells them immediately how to interface with it? Holes, for sure; they are just so inviting they have to pour the water into them. (See axiom five on the right panel.)

This boy has gone a step further and started to pour water from a bottle into a big plastic syringe that he has inserted into the funnel.

Before long, children try to figure out where the water goes when it is poured into a funnel.  That is not as easy as one might imagine.  Watch how this child tries to figure out where the water empties when he pour waters into one of the funnels.

Did you notice that when he pours the water he looks down and to his right to see where he thinks the water will come out.  Since the water did not come out where he expects, he tries to look down the funnel to see where the water went.  He just did a basic experiment.  He had a hypothesis about where the water will go.  He tested it.  He found out his theory was wrong.  And finally he tried to figure out why his hypothesis was incorrect.  Not bad for a young three-year-old.

This boy was a very good experimenter because he kept at it until he figured out where the water came out when he poured it into a certain funnel.

He moved to the other side of the table to continue his experimentation.  This video captures him redoing the experiment and confirming his hypothesis.  It sounds like one of the other children is pretty excited about the success of his experiment.  He is, too, but his excitement is more on the inside and verbal.

Children will often try to catch the water emptying out one of the tubes.  That is an interesting proposition when it is a sprinkler head, but it does accommodate more than one child at a time.

Children will also try to block or redirect the water emptying out of the tubes.  (That has just become the sixth axiom in the right hand column of this blog.)

This last spring I included basters with most of the different water apparatus that were set up. That held true with this apparatus, too.  Watch!

As the child squeezes the bulb of the baster, the water pulses out of the sprinkler head.  I can't help but think that when she has to study the action of the heart in a science class, she will have a good basis for understanding the whole process.  Or when she has to take a hydraulics class for environmental science, she will understand how to move water from one point to the next.  Or when she....

Of course, basters work well for plugging holes, too.  As you watch the video below, see if you can guess what this child is up to.

Did you guess right?  Now that is one happy child having figured out how to plug the hole so the water will gush out.  Just think about the steps he has figured out to reach that point.  He has figured out which funnel to pour the water into.  He has figured how to plug the hole with the baster.  He has figured out how much water to put in the funnel.  And he has figured out how to pull the plug to produce the gusher.  He has a lot to be happy about.

Of course, with any apparatus, some of the experimentation has nothing to do with the apparatus at all. For instance: How full can you fill the five gallon bucket that is next to the table and apparatus?

As you can see, pretty full.

How full can you fill the bucket...

And still be able to lift the bucket to empty it back into the tub?

Experiments are a lot of work.

And sometimes you get help even though you did not ask for it.

The boy in the video was working very hard at transporting water from the tub to the bucket and then emptying the bucket back into the tub.  The girl saw what he was doing and simply joined the activity.  These two are young three-year-olds so they have plenty of language, but somehow with very little language they do some nice work together.  If you watch closely, you can see the boy signal when it is time to empty the bucket.  This is what he does:  he stands up; empties one last cut into the bucket; drops the cup in the tub; puts his hands in a position ready grab the rim the bucket; waits for his friend to finish pouring her bottle into the bucket. At this point they really start to work together.  This is what they do: he puts his hands on the rim of the bucket almost the same time she does; both lift the bucket; tip the bucket by balancing the middle of the bucket on the lip of the tub; grab the bottom of the bucket and complete the transfer; and finally set the bucket back down.  If you are wondering, these two did not have history of searching each other out for play. They just happened to play together on this particular day.

My hypothesis: We can learn a lot from children about experimenting and working together.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Several years ago I discovered clear, flexible tubing at the hardware store.  I bought some, cut it into several pieces of various lengths, and attached funnels to the ends.  I then threaded the tubing through a crate so the ends opposite the funnels empty the water at different points around the table. What I ended up with was an apparatus that looks like this:

Funnels, tubes and a whole lot of duct tape holding it all together.  (If you look closely, I even incorporated a larger black tube, one that is not clear.)

One or two of the tubes empty into a large tub at one end of the table.

One or two of the tubes empty back into the table itself.

This is not a good picture showing the two tubes emptying back into the table.  One of the tubes is sandwiched in between duct tape and a drinkable yoghurt container so the water squirts away from the crate.  The second one has the red water about to come out.

And one of the tubes leads to a sprinkler head that empties back into the table.

I purposely thread the tubes in such a way that it is not obvious where the water comes out.  For instance, a funnel on one corner of the apparatus can empty on the exact opposite side of the crate.  That way, the children have to figure out where the water comes out when they pour water into one of the funnels.  There are a couple ways of doing that. One, you can pour the water into a funnel and listen to where the water comes out.  It can get a little tricky, though, because there is always a delay from pouring water into the funnel and water coming out, especially if the tube is one of the long ones.  And besides, if more than one child is pouring into the funnels, the water is coming out in more than one place at the same time.  A second way to figure the path of the water is to track it through the clear tubes. The children see the water better if it is colored.  Either way, you can literally see the children working out which funnel empties where.   When they do, it is a wonderful discovery.

I have made this apparatus several ways.  The very first time I made it, I set the crate right in the table.

I learned from this first version that the end of the tubes where the water comes out have to be lower than the top of the funnels.  If not, the water does not empty out of the tubes when you pour it in the funnels; the funnels just overflow.  I taped this apparatus to the bottom of the table and then to the sides.

Later, I set a crate on top of a crate and taped the crates together and then taped the two crates to the side of the table.  This gave me the height so water emptied from the tubes, but it used a lot of duct tape.

This year, I taped a tray in the table.

And then taped the crate to the tray.

That gave the funnels the needed height with less duct tape.  It also added another level to the play and exploration and an additional space in which to operate.  See below.

I have often been asked if I have the children help build an apparatus like this. The question causes me to pause and think because I see children as builders---both literally and figuratively---of meaning and knowledge.  One of the reasons I have not had the children help build is a bit selfish: it is one of my creative outlets.  Another reason is because it would change the nature of the activity. When the children work on the apparatus they are figuring out how it works and discovering some of the laws governing the natural world.  They are also discovering spaces and levels created by the apparatus.  In that whole process, they make it their own and take their play into new and uncharted realms.  However, you could still ask the question: Doesn't  allowing the children to build lead to the same processes?  I will indeed pause again and think about that a little more.

If you want to read how one teacher allows the children to build with a similar tube apparatus, check out Teacher Tom's (from Seattle) post called:  Picking Them Off the Ground.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Water Fountain---More Hydraulics

I consider my sensory table a science table.  The children are always exploring natural elements and experimenting with the physical laws of nature such as gravity and hydraulics.  In June, for example, I wrote about children figuring out the hydraulics of a large PVC pipe apparatus.  The water fountain, with its smaller PVC pipes, provides more opportunities to experiment with hydraulics.

Let me set the stage for the first video.  I started to video tape when I heard a Ike talk about what was happening when he poured water into the large black funnel.  He said that when you fill the large black funnel, it makes the smaller blue funnel on the other end overflow.  That is what I wanted to record.  Of course, it is never the same the second time around or when it is not spontaneous.  Watch, though, as I ask him to explain what is happening with the funnels.  He really does understand what is happening.

Ike starts out by pouring water into the big black funnel.  He checks the level and exclaims:  "Ah ha!  Look, mine got filled."

At this point I ask him to explain about the funnels.

He says: "Well, I pour it in there.  It goes along the trail. And then it goes up.  And then it goes back into the tub so it never runs out."  Nice observation.

I press him about what happens with the blue funnel.

He says: "First I need to put water in there and then the water goes up there[the blue funnel]."

I ask, "Why?"

He doesn't say anything, but instead decides to demonstrate what happens.  He has figured out that by filling the black funnel to the top, the blue funnel overflows.  He does not talk about the how the higher level of the water in the black funnel creates the water pressure to make the blue funnel overflow because its water level is lower.   He has, however, experienced it on an elemental level, so he knows it without knowing the scientific language.

There are a three things to note from the video.    The first is that there are three different sizes and shapes of funnels for the apparatus.  That is important because it allows for the different levels.

Second is how Ike's discovery is contagious and draws the other two children into his discovery with two different levels of involvement: 1) the second boy actively participates by emptying the funnel as it begins to overflow, and 2)  the girl comes over to get a closer look.  Can you feel that general excitement?

Third is that Ike has a plastic bag over his left arm.  He had a cast on it so it was not suppose to get wet.  Mom knew that and knew he would want to play in the sensory table so she figured out a way to keep it dry.  Win-win.

Here is another great little video of young, three-year-olds experimenting with the pipes.  Finn has figured out that he can stop the water squirting out of the water fountain by putting his finger in the hole of the funnel:

I had been watching Finn figure out how to stop and start the fountain.  In the video I am encouraging him to do it again so I can record his exploration.  He fills up the funnel again and asks his friend across the table if he is ready and then declares: "Hey, Put your finger in there." He says it to his friend, but he is really telling his friend what he is going to do.  (When I reflect a little more on his words, I realize he is also parroting my request to him to his put in there again.)   His other friend is helping by continuously pouring water into the funnel.

Please excuse my laughter, but even now, I can sense the joy and merriment of play and discovery in this video.  And these are young three-year-olds!

This year for the first time I included turkey basters with this apparatus.  The thing about a baster is that the end fits perfectly into the hole at the bottom of the funnel.  The result in this case is: "Dueling Squirters."

Is the water going on the floor?  Sure!  Are children getting squirted?  Sure!

But Henry can tell you what they are experiencing quite clearly.

That is a boy who understands water pressure!

I started the post saying the sensory table is a science table.  Hopefully with the examples above I have convinced your.

The sensory table is so much more than a science table, though.  In the video below, Miriam is making a mixture to kill bugs.  She narrates what she is mixing: water, oil, and vinegar.  Then she pours it into the funnel for the mixture to come out the holes in the pipes to kill the bugs.

Miriam has added an element of pretend play.  Never underestimate the children's power of imagination.  Hey, isn't imaginative thinking necessary in science, too?

I guess you see why I think my sensory table is a science table.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fountain---or Leaky Pipes

Twenty odd years ago, my first attempt at real plumping was to replace old lead pipes in a house with new copper pipes.  When I turned on the water to check the plumbing, I had leaky pipes with water spraying all over the basement.  My first thought was: "Wow, I bet kids would love to play with leaky pipes."  Before I could do anything with that thought, though, I had to fix the leaky pipes.

When I finished fixing the new pipes, I built a fountain---or leaky pipe contraption.

So how does this apparatus work?

Children pour water into the funnels.
Then the water squirts out of the holes in the pipes. It's a fountain that the children have to make work.

The first fountain I built was made from pieces of copper left over from my plumbing project.  That apparatus lasted 18 years.  I would still be using it today, but I wanted to see if I could make a new one out of PVC pipe.  To that end, I cut 1/2 inch PVC pipe with a hack saw.

The pieces of pipe are connected by PVC elbows and T connectors.  To connect all the parts, I used PVC primer and PVC cement.

There are two important notes about this apparatus.  First, there are several sections and a cross piece, all to make the structure more sturdy.  Second, pipes leading down form the base and are plugged so water does not flow down into those pipes.  The idea is to have water flow only in the top level of pipes so there is enough pressure for the water to squirt out.

To plug the pipes at the connectors, I used plumbers putty.  (Sorry for the crude drawing.)

To produce the leak in the pipes, I drilled 1/8 inch holes in the top pipes.

I drilled eight holes in all.  If you drill too many holes, not enough pressure builds up to get a good leak.  If you drill too many, or in the wrong place or orientation, you can always cover the extra hole or two with duct tape.

The funnels, which vary in size, are set over the four ends of the pipes where water enters the fountain.

They are duct taped to the apparatus.  I also put in water-proof silicone in the funnel to make a tighter seal and fill in space so water does not leak out the bottom of the funnel.

To secure the fountain to the table, I used duct tape.  Note this is done before adding water so the duct tape will stick.

What do the children do with this apparatus?

They do a lot of pouring into the funnels.

They catch the water squirting out of the pipes.

And those who like a challenge, do both at the same time.

Imagine what the boy who is pictured above is experiencing.  He is pouring water into the funnel with one hand and catching the water with the other hand.  Sounds simple, right?  Not so fast.  First he has to have the coordination---muscle and eye-to-hand---to pour the water from the container into the funnel.  He also has to have the same coordination for catching the water at a different level.  Those are two different operations, but he is doing it at the same time which takes another kind of mind and body coordination.  In addition, he has made an astute observation: pouring the water in the funnel causes the water to squirt out the hole in the pipe. As he experiments, he sees that the height of the water squirting out of the hole diminishes as the water level in the funnel goes down.  If he wants to keep the water squirting, he has to pour more water in the funnel.  Not so simple, hey?

Besides pouring and catching, children can't resist that inner drive to stop the water from squirting out of the holes---or at least some of them.

Of course, who says you have to do anything with the water.  It can also be a novel building exercise.

This child is not interested in pouring, catching or stopping water.  He has the audacity to balance as many things as he can from the table using the large black funnel as a base.  The funnel is not a very stable base, but that does not deter him. He does not know that I did not set this up as a balancing or building activity.  I am sure glad this child did not understand my intentions.  His play is unique, idiosyncratic and totally wonderful. More power to him!