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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 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.


  1. so- I just recently figured out that you have to buy PVC piping by asking for it and then going out the the yard of the home improvement store...I know, I know...took me a while to figure that one out! (I couldn't figure out for the life of me why all I could find was the connecting pieces :) Well, now that I know how to buy this...and perhaps can talk my husband into cutting it for me...I REALLY want to try making SOMETHING for our sensory table!!! I LOVE the videos of the turkey baster and water squirting! I am determined to get at least ONE simple apparatus for our table!!!! Keep posting ideas! I need motivation and inspiration!

  2. Pam, cutting the PVC is easy with a hacksaw. You may also want to check comments from last week's post. Michelle also wants to build the fountain and she had some questions. One important bit of advice is to put it together first before you do any gluing. You can always contact met via email with questions, too.

  3. Pam, Just to let you know, the new two sets of posts will have apparatus that will be easier to build and just as fun.

  4. hmm...I think I should just learn to cut this myself. I really like the idea of the holes drilled in it to allow the water to fountain up and out. The children would be fascinated with this- I'm sure! I'll check the other post and will be back for the next few. In the meantime maybe I'll get brave and attempt something small!

  5. Pam, the only way to learn is to try. Isn't that what we tell the kids.

  6. You can also buy a small cutter for a couple of bucks that you twist around the pipe :). That's what I use to cut ours. I'm definitely going to have to build one of these set ups! This looks amazingly fun!

  7. Thanks, Amy. You are right. Those pipe cutters that twist around the pipe for cutting are slick.

  8. We tried this out today! Super easy and we had EVERYTHING on hand!!!! http://www.childcentralstation.com/2011/08/experimenting-with-hydraulics.html

    Thank you so much for such a wonderful idea! I know that this is only the beginning of some great explorations to come!

  9. Amy, I checked it out and I am thoroughly impressed. You took an idea and made your own. It is so cool how the kids are already thinking up blueprints for new ideas with the pipe apparatus.