Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Transforming the Sensory Table

The sensory table is an important part of every early childhood classroom.  It offers a place to explore materials and experiment with new ideas.  There are SO many great sensory ideas available online.  In Pre-K we've had leaves, shells, rocks and sand in the sensory table, as well as snow (fake and real), water and boats, and themed ideas (like hibernating animals, magnetic snowmen and more).  For some reason, none of these sensory explorations has truly held the attention of the children in my class to get them to the point of true exploration and individualized learning.

It was time to take action!  I decided that I wanted open-ended materials for the sensory table that would support science and nature-focused learning.  I found some great sand and water products on the Kodo Kids website.  Through the Lesley University New Teacher Community Mini-Grant program, I was able to obtain a funnel stand, a sensory table accessory kit and some amazing sand called Jurassic Sand.  Thanks Lesley!

My goal with these materials was to introduce them casually and see where the children took them.  First, I added the Jurassic Sand and the funnel stand to the sensory table.  The children were SO excited to see the new equipment in the sensory table.  They immediately started tinkering with the funnel stand (which spins for even more excitement).  They were (and continue to be) fascinated with the simple act of pouring the sand through the funnels and catching it with another object (like a cup or scoop) from below.  I also include recycled individual-serve yogurt cups for more scooping and pouring action.  

After the children got acclimated with the funnel stand, I introduced the sensory table accessory kit, along with corn kernels.  This kit allows the children to sift the sand through two different screens.  The addition of the accessory kit has led to even more discussions and team work as the children work to move the sand and corn from the funnel stand to the sifters.  

The initial sensory table transformation was three weeks ago, and I still have kids clamoring for time at the sensory table.  I enjoy watching them and listening to their discussions around the table.  There is a lot of collaborative play taking place.  And nearly every child in the class is at the sensory table at some point in the day.  Before the transformation, we'd typically see the same children revisiting the sensory table and then getting bored and moving on quickly.  Now, they are spending time, talking, discovering and learning.  Yay!!

Here are some pictures of our transformed sensory table in action:

In the picture above, the children were serving "coffee" from the sensory table.

These children enjoyed pouring and catching the sand from the bottom of the funnel.

The time honored tradition of simply digging is shown in the picture above.  The sand is very silky and not dirty, so the children enjoy the feel of it.

Here a child looks on as another child pours a large cup of sand through the funnel stand.  The children also enjoyed spinning the funnel stand to make designs in the sand.

The addition of the accessory kit and the corn kernels led to more team work.  Here two children are working together to sift out the corn kernels and return them to the sand, while another child is pouring sand through the funnel into his hand.  The sifting screens are easy to move around and put back in place.

Finally, experimenting to see if the corn kernels will go through the funnel.  They do!  And come out the other end into the child's hand.  What a great learning experience!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ramps and Pathways (Day 1)

Ramps and Pathways...

We started our exploration of ramps and pathways in Pre-K today by reading Roll, Slope and Slide: A Book About Ramps by Michael Dahl.  The book (click here to see it on Amazon) is a great introduction in simple terms to ramps and planes.  The book generated a lot of discussion about where we see ramps around us.  The class was excited to learn that slides are ramps and we have two on our playground, as well as many children having one at home.  Bathtubs have inclined planes so the water will drain...and we all have tubbies, baths or showers to check out at home.

Most important we discussed that each of these ramps has one high point and a low point so things can travel up or down more easily.  Then we checked out a model ramp that was built in our classroom.  We tested it out by seeing if a green rod, marble or wooden ball would roll down our ramp.  We discovered that the green rod would go down the ramp, but not very fast (and it got stuck in our tunnel).  The marble and wooden ball both flew down the ramp and crashed into the stopper at the end.  It was so much fun to watch it go!

Here's our model ramp:

Now it was onto the block area to explore ramps first hand!!

We worked in small groups to ensure we all had ample opportunity to build and explore.  Here's what we built.

Some of us built long tracks.  To get the balls and marbles to move, we had to push them along the track.  While this wasn't the most effective way to move the balls and marbles, these children spent a lot of time working on the tracks and enjoyed watching all of the balls and marbles roll along the track.  

And some of us created working ramps.

The child above spent time adjusting the height of his ramps with blocks at the top.  He wanted his ball to go really fast and wanted to make sure it stopped at the end. After experimenting with the angle, he also pushed smaller, square blocks down the ramp by placing the wooden ball behind the block.

Each of these ramps is very different.  And each worked!!  I loved watching the process each child went through to create their ramps.  The material selection was very important for all of them and they each had a goal in mind for their design.  Most of these ramps have some similar design elements to the model ramp.  Our next building exploration will be without a model.  It will be interesting to see where they go after this initial exploration.  

We also had a chance to document the ramps we built.  Clipboards and crayons were placed in the block area and the builders could stop and record whenever they wanted too.

Here are some of the completed drawings that illustrate the ramps that were built today.