One of the decisions with the first design was: What should be its incline? If the ramp is too steep, the water rushes down the ramp too quickly for the children to notice how the water is disbursed by the Duplo nubs. With less of an incline, it is harder for the children to scoop the water from the table because they have to reach under the overhanging ramp.
This year I was able to get the incline I wanted without the overhang by adding an additional small table between my blue table and the tub into which the water empties.
The additional table serves a second purpose, too. The ramp is not water tight so it collects the water that drips through the ramp. Also, children tend to transport water from the sensory table to the tub and the additional table serves as another catch basin.
I have been including clear plastic tubes as loose parts this year with a lot of the apparatus. With this apparatus, they worked especially well with the Duplo Window/Door Blocks.
There was a lot of experimenting with the tubes. One of the more unique results was a little water fountain. When you watch the following, you can hear the child's mother say: "Oh my goodness. Beautiful."
Water fountain from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
The three-year-old does not really understand the fluid dynamics he sets in motion (I don't either), but he does more than just pour water down the tube. He creates a fountain.
He does, however, understand what it means to share an activity with a friend. In the following clip, a friend has joined him. He pours the water down the tube and she feels the water flow through her fingers as she holds the other end of the tube. Watch.
Joint engagement from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
Why is a little episode worth noting? Because that joint engagement is essential for children to develop the ability to track the intentions of the other, a very important social skill. You can clearly see it in the clip when each child references what the other is doing.
With this apparatus, I decided to play myself. With the help of some of the children, I built a wall with the Duplos. The reason was to see if it was possible to damn the water. Here is the result.
The Duplo wall leaked, but we were able to pour water fast enough so it did reach the top of the wall and even began to flow over the wall.
That provocation led to a flurry of building and some serious water dumping. I did not do the building this time, but I helped lift the 5-gllon bucket to dump the water. As the clip starts, several children are pouring water into the bucket as I am lifting it with one hand. (My other hand is holding the camera. The strain of lifting makes the first couple seconds pretty jumpy.) As I lift it up to the edge of the incline, one of the children helps tip it so the water pours out and gushes down the ramp to meet the Duplo structure at the other end. On the other end, one of the children keeps pronouncing for all to here: "No way, no way!" Watch.
Flood from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
This joint engagement is more complex. Instead of all the children working on a common goal, one group is building and the opposing group is working frenetically to see if they can knock the building down with a flood of water. That means that instead of reading harmonious intentions, these two groups are actually reading antagonistic intentions. The beauty of this is that is all done in play. The play provides a safe way for the children to experience those feelings and learn to cope with them. By the way, the play never escalated to hostility. A bit of bedlam, yes; hostility, no.
In May I did a post on children's quest for physical challenges in relation to another apparatus. Well, when a person starts looking for things in one context, it often "spills" over into another. Watch and see what I mean.
Physical challenge from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
That was quite a physical feat. This child begins to lift his submerged container out of the water. He realizes it is too full, so he makes a minor adjustment by dumping some of the water out. It is truly minor because the container is still very full. He lifts it completely up and proceeds to walk around the table to the other side. There are two things to note at this point: 1) the container is not made for carrying water so it flexes as he walks requiring him to make constant adjustments in holding the container and 2) his walking motion is transferred to the water in the container again requiring him to make constant adjustments in his walking motion so not too much sloshes out onto the floor. He does surprising well on both counts. Once he reaches the end of the board incline, he lifts the container up and pours. That is no easy task either because it is heavy and he is lifting it up above his shoulders to pour. Not all of the water goes down the ramp, but an impressive amount does. He pauses a few seconds to watch the water flow down the ramp and then returns to the bottom of the ramp to catch some of the water he has just poured down the ramp.
There is such energy and focus in the pictures and videos. But are they learning? And what are they learning? For sure they are not being told what and how to think. Their play is self-directed driven by a quest to put their mind around how the physical and social and emotional world works. Maybe what is important is not what they are learning, but how they are learning.
P.S. I will be presenting six sessions at the annual CECA conference in Kansas City August 7 and 8. If you are in the area, you may want to check out the conference (www.CECAkc.org). If you are going to the conference, please stop by to chat.