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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 11, 2017

Sticks continued

Last week I wrote about how, over the years, there was a progression of sorts to how sticks were brought into the classroom and used at the sensory table.  At first, there were small sticks, rarely longer than 6 to 12 inches.  As time went on, I started bringing in big branches and even logs.  In the interest of safety, I would tape them down because I did not want them rolling off the table onto someone's foot.  Last week's post ended with the introduction of loose sticks that were tall and narrow and, more importantly, not tied down
For me that was a leap of faith because my mother drilled into me not to play with sticks because someone could get their eye poked out.  I have never stopped playing with sticks even though that dire warning has stayed with me to this day.

What I discovered was that the children handled the sticks with plenty of care and no one got hurt.  I was emboldened so I filled the table with sticks, branches and stumps---and none of them were taped down.  This is how the setup looked from one side...
And then from the other.

One of the things that changed was that the children started to examine the natural pieces of wood more carefully.





The sticks became tools with which to stir and pound.







Because they could move the sticks and branches, the children did.  They moved the wood around within the sensory table.

And outside the table.  This child took it upon himself to move every piece of wood he could lift out of the tables and onto the floor.  Why?  I suppose because he could.

Many of their operations with sticks, branches and stumps looked haphazard.  But were they?  The following video did show a child with some purpose.  He entered the video from the top with a wide branch.  He tentatively placed it on two branches that were already part of a balanced structure.  When he was sure his branch was balanced and would not fall, he stepped back and wiped his hands together like he has just done some hard work. 


Balancing branches from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Judging from his body language and without seeing his face, I think he was pretty pleased with what he had just accomplished.

For some children, the bigger branches and logs were used to test their strength.  In the video below the child lifted a big heavy maple log up onto the stump to roll it over the stump.  He first used the stump as a fulcrum to lift the log off the bottom of the table.  Then he lifted the log up every so slightly before balancing it on the stump.  The effort was palpable.  Once it was balanced on the stump, he re-positioned his hands so he could control the log as it rolled to the other side. 


Heavy lifting from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

I would say this child was on the border between controlling the log and loosing control of the log.  Early in his endeavor, I moved in to help because I thought he would drop it on his finger.  Though I was close, I ended up not helping at all.  Instead, he shifted his hands and his body weight to keep the piece of maple log under control.  After he rolled the log to the other side, he brushed his hands together again, intimating that that was hard work and now it was done.

Since I started the first post on sticks, I have been thinking a lot about how the children handled the sticks, branches, logs and stumps.  More specifically, I was wondering how the children managed the wood pieces so well in the closed-in area of the sand and water table.

Children are attracted to sticks.  I could forbid their use in the classroom by simply not bringing them into the classroom.  Or I could offer the sticks as play things to the children so they can learn to use them for constructive pursuits of their own making.   To do that, they need the time and the agency to explore the possibilities of sticks within the social and physical context of the classroom and, in this case, the sensory table. However, that does not mean anything goes because, as the teacher, I am part of that context and my role is to know the children well enough that I can intervene when something looks too dangerous.  That said, I do not remember intervening even once with the sticks.  Maybe we had already built a play culture in the sensory area that precluded the probability of dangerous play with sticks.  Is that possible?

Let me leave you with a picture of my grandson dragging a stick that is twice his size along the Mississippi River.  He is also holding a shorter stick in his other hand.
Sticks are important to children.  I do not know why.  I do know they do increase their imprint on the world: sticks allow children to reach farther and higher.  Since they are so important maybe we should not forbid them, but figure out a context in which the children learn to use them constructively---even inside.

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