Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Building The New Sensory Table

Yesterday was the first day of our summer session, the urban outdoor school we started two years ago, a successful community undertaking that gave us the knowledge and confidence (which always go hand-in-hand) to launch the new 5's program we're kicking off in the fall. It works a lot like our regular school, a long period of station-based free play, a couple community meetings during which we sing songs, read stories, and discuss pressing issues, and smaller group activities, again freely chosen by the kids, all within a loose framework the adults provide for them.

The first day, as it is with most things, is really all about getting comfortable with one another and our surroundings, especially since we sort of toss the game board up in the air for the summer, mixing ages (2-6), and adding families who either only participate with us in the summer or who are joining us for the first time. That in mind, we try to keep things simple: easel painting, watering plants, digging for worms, playing with the cast iron water pump, but it's also nice to come up with some sort of project that gets everyone working together.

Luckily for me, our new unassembled outdoor sensory table arrived during our 2 week break, a perfect project for a couple dozen children. 

The kids arrived to find a couple of large, sealed boxes on the work bench. My suggestions for Lauren's mom Valerie, the parent-teacher responsible for the project, were to keep track of the instructions and all the little parts, but to otherwise help the children do as much of the assembly as they possibly could on their own, to give the children an opportunity to figure out what tools they might need, and that there was no deadline for getting it assembled. If it took two or three days, so be it.

I called a few kids over to check out the big boxes, then said, "We need to get these boxes opened and figure out what we have," then moved on to my main task of the day which was to help kids get settled in to the new environment.

I knew things were going well when about 10 minutes later, Rex ran up to let me know, "It's a new water table!"

"Right on! We could use one of those!"

Valerie did a brilliant job of working with the kids figuring out how the thing went together, then installing the legs with the nuts and bolts provided. It's hard for us larger people sometimes to not just take things in hand, driven by a desire for accomplishment, but she seemed to balance the act perfectly, lending a hand when needed, providing vocabulary, and generally remembering that everything we do is about the process. We did need her superior strength to finish tightening everything, but the kids (mostly 3-4 year olds) did the rest.

There had been a core group of a half dozen or so who did most of the work, with others rotating through for a few turns of the wrench, including a couple who really just wanted to play with the boxes. Once the frame was built, I put out a call for "strong people" who could help lift it from the workbench and set it on the ground. Quite a few kids who hadn't heretofore been involved turned out for this, increasing the number who will be able to say they helped build it.

Once on the ground, several of them crawled under it and into the frame that was still lacking the basins for holding stuff.

Rex let us know the basins were in another box and after some fiddling around we got those installed as well. Sensory table tubs have drains in the bottom that are sealed up with plugs. I'd made sure to squirrel these away earlier, having learned from experience that it's kind of a bummer to lose them.

I said, "Now we can put stuff in there."

While several of the kids raced off to find buckets and other containers to fill at the cast iron water pump, Rex, who had made himself the resident expert on the project without, I don't think, having once picked up a tool, pointed to the holes in the basins, looking at me meaningfully.

"Oh yeah," I said, "What are going to do about that?"

He went directly to where I'd earlier "hidden" the plugs. Nothing gets by that guy.

As the sensory table slowly filled bucket-by-bucket with water, then rocks, then chalk, the children continued making it their own, a perfect way to start summer.

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Katy said...

Where did you get that (and what brand)? That is such a cool table--love the clear sinks!

Teacher Tom said...

Katy, I think we bought this one:

Mrs. West said...

What a brilliant idea to get the children involved in building new resources! I'm a Nursery (Kindergarden) teacher in the UK, and I strive to get my children involved in their own learning and experiences as much as possible. The format for Nursery Education is much like your progressive approach where the children lead the learning experiences within an open free-flow environment. I love reading your blog. Very inspiring.