To make some sense of this question, I looked at the choices children made in their play around an apparatus I built in 2013 that I called tall cardboard tubes and ropes. I taped four tall cardboard tubes to each corner of the sensory table. I drilled multiple holes in each of the tubes and strung ropes through the holes.
His choice took on more meaning when he encountered and solved a problem around pouring pellets into the middle hole.
The child below made a meaningful choice to bring the dinosaurs from the block area to the sensory table to combine them with the tub and pail on the floor.
Believe it or not, one of the meaningful choices the children made was to climb on this apparatus. In the following video, two children climbed up onto the lip of the table so they could pour pellets down the top opening of the tubes. In the process, they used and created a lot of embodied knowledge, especially in their efforts to keep their balance as they climbed onto the narrow lip of the table. In fact, the child in the stripped shirt lost his balance on the first try and had to step back down onto the ground. On the second try, as he stepped onto the lip of the table, he shifted his weight over the table so he would not loose his balance. And both children knew to use their left hand to hold onto holes in the tubes for stability.
Climbing the apparatus from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
Up until this point, I have only talked about the children making meaningful choices. When the children started to climb the apparatus, I had to make more conscious choices: Should I let the children climb the apparatus? Was it safe? Did the children have the requisite physical ability---strength, balance, etc.---to climb? Did the children demonstrate they could assess their own risk? Those were all moment-by-moment decisions that I was making for each child. And those were meaningful choices because they were giving me information about myself: How do I feel about the children climbing? What am I learning about the children's need to physically challenge themselves? What are the children learning about themselves and their capabilities?
Even though it looked like the children had unfettered choices to explore this apparatus, there were limits. With this apparatus, I chose not to allow the children to climb into the table. Why? I am not sure, but I think it had to do with the children stepping on the pellets and grinding them to sawdust.
The children honored that boundary. One or two children did step into the table, but it was an accident and they immediately stepped out. That said, children are great limit testers. In the video below, the child arranged stools so she could traverse the corner of the sensory table without stepping into the table.
Making a path from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.
He body posture at the end told me that she was quite proud of herself because she was able to define the boundary with her path over and around the corner of the table without stepping into the table.
In all these examples, both the children and I were making meaningful choices because they were were not prescribed. We operated together in an flexible environment of rich possibilities. And because the choices were not prescribed, they were authentic. Those authentic choices opened up a myriad of other authentic choices that, in turn, created more meaning for all of us.