Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Holding The Hose Together

Last week we did that mad scientist thing we like to do involving free form play with powders and liquids.

It's science in it's purest form: flour, corn starch, and baking soda; water, white vinegar, liquid dish soap, and liquid water color. Let's see what happens when we mix them.

Many of the kids have done this before, so a lot of the effort at first is to determine which is the baking soda and which is the vinegar. Young children aren't known for taking things systematically, so it usually takes a few minutes before someone has their eureka! moment.

But it comes for each of them in due time, some get there by asking their neighbor who's been there before, but most just keep right on going until it suddenly begins to rise before them: "Look at mine! Look at mine!"

And like any good lab, when the explosions are done, there's a mess.

We were using our magnificent sensory table, which contained most of our overflow, creating a nice thick mud of flour, corn starch and soap (I'm assuming most of the baking soda and vinegar effervesced away). 

There was rain in the forecast for the weekend, a lot of it. I'm an essentially lazy person, at least in the sense that I don't see the point in doing work (meaning any of that stuff that is unpleasant) until and unless I absolutely must, and I tend to assume that others are like me, so I let everyone off the hook for cleaning out the sensory table, declaring that we would leave it to Mother Nature.

I'm not complaining, mind you, but I returned this week to find she had done a rather incomplete job even though we'd left the table right out in the open, on a slope, with both plugs pulled. There still remained a goopy film over the galvanized steel, into which was fixed the fossilized remains of leaves and insects.

My next thought, after realizing the work really will need to get done, is typically to try to figure out how I can get the kids to do it in the guise of having fun. So yesterday I tried to sell it as a dino play set, adventure land sort of thing. They didn't buy it at first, but over the course of the morning, we got a few tentative takers.

Then I announced that we needed to "hose it out," a ploy that worked as I'd hoped. "The hose!" "I want to use the hose!" I had at least 8 kids fired up for my plan. Excellent!

"But first," I said, "The hose is up there, so we have to get this sensory table to the top of the hill." I then left the scene to deposit my phone with its built-in camera in a place safe from water, which explains why there are no photos of this stage of operations.

The sensory table probably weighs close to 100 lbs. It's on casters, but that doesn't really help on our uneven, wood chip bestrewn outdoor play surface. When I returned, Elana said, "Watch this, Teacher Tom," and together the kids lifted the table off the ground. "That's a heavy table!" I said. Liam then had the idea of tying a rope around one of the legs to help with the hauling, so we secured it. And then, all together, we began to pull and push and wrangle that table, up the hill, through the swing set and to the edge of the sand pit where the hose resides in it's normal capacity of refilling the cistern under our cast iron pump.

We turned the whole thing on its side before I realized we had a potential pinch point that might make for trouble. By now we probably had a dozen kids and each of them would want a turn with the single hose. I left the hose in the charge of Elana, one of our oldest kids and the one who had taken on the leadership mantel, while I went across the outdoor classroom to turn it on. As I did, I was working through in my mind how I was going to manage the turn taking.

By the time I was back with the children, I'd settled on counting, but the kids had already figured it out. "Look, Teacher Tom, all three of us are holding the hose together!" And sure enough it was true. Then Matty said, "And when they're through me and Makaila and Liam are going to have a turn together." And that's how we got it clean.

Having turned off the hose, the kids then helped return the table onto its legs. Hose in one hand and an empty sensory table in front of him, Matty said, "Let's make a swimming pool!"

So that's what we did, all of us taking turns holding the hose together.

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Carrie said...

I love the way the children explored the materials. What a wonderful adventure.

Is your water table homemade, and does it have metal tubs?

Jeanne Zuech said...

I am all for child labor disguised as fun and educational...well done, as usual, Tom :)

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

Hahaha I loved the part of waiting for nature to clean up your mess! Great story. Did you give the kids any directions or were they free to pour and mix in any amount or sequence? Looks like a great time, even despite the clean up conundrum.

Teacher Tom said...

@Marla . . . Our mad scientist mixing is totally free form. Many years ago, someone donated a huge supply small, disposable specimen cups. I just tell the parent-teacher in charge that her job is to just keep filling those cups with powders and liquids. The kids then have larger containers and plastic spoons for mixing. At first all the white powders and clear liquids look more or less the same to them, but as they experiment they become more discerning, using their other senses to tell them apart. After while they start asking for substances by name or descriptors like "thick stuff" or "stinky stuff."