We can get an idea of what this means by looking at the latest apparatus that was in the sensory table: Vertical Tubes in a Box.
Let's say a child wants to fill his container. If he is using the apparatus, he fills the container through one of the vertical tubes.
This child has placed a funnel on the top of one of the tubes and then placed his container underneath the tube. He has increased his chances of success by placing a funnel in the bottle right under the tube. Ingenious, no?
Another child fills this same bottle using the same funnel but does not use the apparatus. Instead, she fills the bottle on the shelf that holds the provisions for the table. Watch.
Filling the bottle from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
To be sure, she is filling the bottle to pour down one of the tubes in the apparatus, but she could also fill the bottle the same way without the apparatus being in the table. Thus her operation is tangential to the Vertical Tubes in a Box. Is it important? It does give us a idea of how this child understands the concept of full.
Look at the picture below. Here, it is even more clear that the action around the table has very little to do with the apparatus.
This child decided to sit in the five-gallon pail. Why? I think part of the reason is because he is using his body to measure his physical world. This child is finding out what his body can do, and in a way, he is measuring the volume of his body. There was one problem: he could not get out himself. A friend was near and knew exactly how to help: tip him over---gently.
Neither the child's initial exploration of the pail with his body, not the subsequent actions to help him get out had anything to do with the apparatus in the table. These actions were tangential to the Vertical Tubes in a Box. Is it important? It does give us an idea as to the extent a child will use his body to measure his world and how generous another child can be when help is needed.
Here is one final example. In the video below, a child finds a certain fascination with doodling in the the sand that has spilled onto the floor next to the sand table. In the process, she decides to trace her hand.
Floor doodling from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
I was astounded when I saw this. Never in a million years would I have thought that the sand spilled on the floor could be used as a doodling medium. Again, the actions of the child were tangential to the Vertical Tubes in a Box. Is it important? It does leave us with an fleeting image of a child leaving her mark on her world.
What is the significance of tangential? I think it has to do with the context as a whole in which the children operate. If we only pay attention to the explorations directly connected with the apparatus, there are important inquiries---some rather captivating---that escape our focus.
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