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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 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 8, 2014

THE BOX TOWER AS AN INVITATION TO PLAY

Last week's post was about how to build a Strong Box Tower.   This is a very simple apparatus that serves as an invitation for the children to play.

The invitation is not complete until other objects, tools and loose parts are provided through which the children can interface with the apparatus.  Farm animals with animal bedding inhabit this particular Box Tower.
In addition, there is the ever present pail; a wooden tray that serves as a bridge between the blue table and the smaller clear table; and the tub underneath the wooden tray for catching the falling animal bedding so not all of it ends up on the floor when the children are using the bridge for their play.

This a a very simple apparatus: a box inside a box with holes.  How do children make any meaning out of this invitation?  This is a question that spawns many others.

One of the ways to make meaning is to animate the holes.  The holes are places into which stuff is put to make things disappear and sometimes to see where they go.  Below is a video of two children putting something in the top hole.  The first child has a horse and she pretends the horse is galloping and then falls in the hole.  Watch her expression as she completes her actions.  Why is she so pleased with making the horse disappear?  Is this a good magic trick?  The second child steps up on the stool as the first child steps down.  He drops some animal bedding down the top hole.  He then checks the hole on the side to see where it went.  What makes him curious about the trajectory of the animal bedding?  One child is happy with a disappearance and another wants to know where something goes.  Why the difference?

Dropping things down the hole from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Another way the children make meaning out of this invitation is simply to explore and operate in all the spaces provided by the apparatus with the provisions.
When you look at the picture, you can see six different children on multiple levels in various spaces.  This is just a snapshot in time, so you have to imagine the children moving through time and space.  For instance, the child sweeping the floor will move around the child in the yellow dress to empty her dustpan.  The boy standing on a stool will soon drop the horse in the top hole while reaching over the other boy who bends down to gather some animal bedding from the bottom of the blue table.  Do they understand that they are working through time and space on the various levels in conjunction with others?  How do they think about that?

Some of the meaning is easier to surmise.  When a child sets up a feeding station for the horses, that is pretty evident.

Although feeding your horse can also be an experiment in how high can one stack the light and fluffy medium that is the feed for the horse. 
At what point did this change from feeding-the-horse to a pile-as-high-as-I-can activity?  What prompted the change in the direction of the activity?

When a child balances the animal bedding on a round rock, what is the purpose?  Is it enough to say he is experimenting with the properties of the materials and how they conform to each other?

How do children think to use the rocks to form a frame to hold the animal bedding to create a bed for the cow?  Whose idea was it and how did the others join the project?
Do I ask the children?  Or do I relish the elemental beauty and care the children take in their work?

An invitation is just an invitation until the children actually accept it.  Once they accept it, though, it takes on a life of its own depending on what each child individually and in concert with others brings to the play.  We can make some guesses as to the direction the play will take.  For instance, if there are  animals and animal bedding, the children will pretend to feed the animals.  

However, if apparatus and materials are open-ended and non-scripted, there will inevitably be questions of "What were they thinking?" 

Do we ask?  Or do we savor---and smile?


4 comments:

  1. Good question... and i have no answer right now... my initial response is a bit of both... but I need to reflect more on this...

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    1. Sometimes the ideas are so "pig headed," one can only laugh. I will always have questions about what the children do or think. I am beginning to wonder, though, if I always have to ask questions of the children.

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  2. Pig in a pan! No, I look at this and see the beginnings of true, hands-on one:one correspondence!

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    1. Thank you. I was so focused on the uniqueness of the image that I completely missed the the math concept the image reflected.

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