I am in a 2-3 year old room. Like most settings we have a sand and water table and naturally enough I’ve seen sand and water constantly and deliberate get dumped on the floor. Any early learning person knows what I am talking about. No amount of asking a young child to keep it in the floor is going to do any good. They need more space to really explore the properties of the sand and water and our little sensory tables just won’t cut it. I finally bought some fairly large rubber buckets to put near our sand and water tables so they could have a place to properly dump the sand or water. I see this as a compromise between their perfectly natural and appropriate exploratory urges and my apparent need for the room to not be a total mess at the end of the day. If we don’t want sand or water on the floor, it’s on us to give them a decent place to put it. Lisa Murphy’s mantra of “control the environment, not the children” is in my head every day. This is supposed to be “their” space after all and their need to learn through play should not be trumped by our wanting less of a mess to clean up. If there are age-appropriate behaviours – dumping sand, throwing toys, running, climbing, pushing things over etc – we can’t deal with, it’s on us to give them environments and outlets for them to do so in a way we can accept. It’s also on us to learn what is age appropriate behaviour and to work on being able to Get Over It! This of course is a process for most of us.
I suppose most people don’t see the depth of investigation and learning happening when one girl is carefully scooping and pouring water from the table into the bucket and then enjoying running her hands through the water. I know I am supposed to work in this field because it’s made me happy and proud to see how she and others have played with these two buckets this past week. Happy to see the many ways they play with them and proud that I finally got around to taking another baby step towards embracing more child-led learning in my work.
To be quite honest, my “growing edge” is letting the 2 and 3 year olds in my room “cross-pollinate” the toys around the room. Take the home area toys to the book area, take the books to the home area and so on and so on. I know it’s the right thing to do but my old school ways kick in constantly throughout the day. I’ve gotten so much better about it, and let them take most things anywhere but the last hold out in my brain is the truly messy stuff – sand and play dough. I am working on it and I will get there. It’s something I need to talk to my room coworkers more about as I truly think some would hate the idea. Of course we are never given time to discuss or reflect as a team on our practice, it’s all we can do to get through the basic stuff each day.
It does make me wonder though how much time and energy we could possibly conserve if we were willing to give up more control over the room and the children’s play. Instead of being nursery cops we could focus on just being present with them and all the important work that goes along with that.
I know one real fear, that I completely and entirely share, about letting children transport toys, sand, play dough and more where ever they like is that there will be just too much to clean up at the end of the day. I can’t help but think that the children would be much more willing to understand the need for some parts of the room to be “closed” to be tidied up in the final part of the day if they had the time, freedom and power to truly control their play and learning the other 90% of the day. There are other logistical problems and ideas I am thinking of in my setting but I need to get to sleep!
Any other early learning people, especially teachers of 2-3 year olds, further along the road than me reading this? What ideas or advice would you have for a child-led learning newbie like me?