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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.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Juncture points

The building process for me often starts with a box and a quick idea about possibilities.  Recently, I was walking through my alley and I saw a large box that offered many possibilities for the building of an apparatus.  The box was 5 feet tall with a width and depth of 14" X 16".
The first thing I thought about with the box was orientation.  Do I set it up vertically, horizontally or on a slant?  I decided on a vertical orientation.  With a vertical orientation I could drop a tube down the box to exit into a tub next to the table. I could also embedded a cardboard channel horizontally through the box, again to empty into a tub next to the table.  Below is a crude drawing of my idea. 
The box sits inside my invisible sensory table.  Actually, drawing the table would have been too much of a stretch for me. The tub---tubs in my world have odd shapes---is on the floor next to the invisible table.

The box was too high for the sensory table, so I cut it in half.

At this early juncture, I decided to change the construction just a bit.  I decided that I wanted to embed a smaller box into one side of the big box.  To do that, I traced around the small box to make an outline for the hole I had to cut. 

Before I inserted the box in the hole, I trimmed the flaps of the small box so they would not hang over the edge of the big box.  I wanted to keep some part of each flap so I could securely tape the smaller box into the the larger box.

I eventually decided to embed two boxes of different sizes across from each other.  One was deeper than the other and one was longer than the other.
I made sure, though, that they were both embedded three inches from the top of the box because they were going to be the support for a piece of cardboard that was going to be the top of the apparatus.  The top I wanted to put on already had some holes.  It did not fit perfectly, but I could seal any unwanted holes in the corner with tape.
I did not tape the top down, however, because I knew I needed to cut holes in the box for the channels and the tube.  If I could still reach inside the box, that would make that so much easier.

At this juncture, I thought it might be easier to embed a cardboard tube horizontally through the big box.  In looking for a suitable tube, I changed my mind and thought that I could embed a planter tray instead.  I made sure I cut the hole for the tray 9" from the bottom because I wanted it to rest on the lip of the table.  That way I could tape it securely to the table.

I did not tape the planter into the box so I could drill holes in the end that would be over the tub.  I used a hole saw to drill two holes.
Another reason I did not tape the tray into the box was because it would be easier to transport if I could pull the tray out so the apparatus would fit in my small car.

At this juncture, I abandoned the idea of embedding a tube through the big box.  Instead, I found a plastic chute that I could embed that would empty into the planter tray.

I was able to embed the chute through the box between the two smaller boxes that were already embedded in the big box.  I embedded it in such a way that it would traverse the box under the top of the box.

Since I no longer needed to reach inside the box for building, I placed the top onto the small embedded boxes and taped it down.
The top of the apparatus was now three inches below the top of the box to help contain the mess.  Holes in the top of the apparatus were now set up to empty either into the plastic chute or the bottom of the box.

At this juncture---have I said that before?---I decided to cut windows in each of the smaller embedded boxes on the two sides of the apparatus across from each other.  The idea was to offer a opportunity for the children to dump whatever they wanted down some more holes.  It would also offer the children the possibility to play peek-a-boo through the windows across the apparatus.

Below is the apparatus actually installed in the sensory table.  I cut two large holes---one in the foreground and one in the back---at the bottom because pellets would fall through the top of the box into the bottom.  In addition, the holes offered another level and space that the children could use for their operaions.
Once the apparatus was in place, I taped the planter tray and the chute to the box.  I taped the bottom of the box to the bottom of the sensory table.  Now that the planter tray was taped to the box, I taped the tray to the lip of the table.  That really added stability to the whole apparatus.

Why did I not build what I had originally planned?  I only kept the vertical orientation while changing every other feature.  So why?  I think the operative phrase in the building process was: "at this juncture."  At this juncture always meant that at that point in the building process I had a choice.  Where did the choice come from?  The choice came from being faced with multiple possibilities.  Oh, I have a smaller box that I can embed into the the side of the larger box to create shelf that the children can use for their operations.  Oh, if I embed a box on each side, I can create support for the top of the box.  One decision led to another and at each juncture, there were many new possibilities.   I have only highlighted the main juncture points.  There were also a multitude of smaller juncture points.  Once I decided to use a planter tray, the questions arose: What size planter tray do I use and how far do I embed it in the box? 

For me, the building process is a dynamic process.  It is not unusual for an apparatus I build to look different from the original plan.  It is in the building, in handling the materials and constantly playing with possibilities that an idea takes physical form.  Children operate the same way.  As the children make an apparatus their own and explore the possibilities, there are always juncture points that offer them multiple possibilities.  One decision leads to another. It is within this dynamic process of constantly making choices that their play keeps shifting and taking multiple shapes, more often than not, unpredictable shapes.   And in that process, surprises and joy abound. 

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