Thursday, March 07, 2013

Watching Water Drip And Ice Melt

This is going to sound curmudgeonly, but when I was a boy we had to rely on conversation to entertain ourselves while riding in the back seat of the car, and when that failed, we gazed out the window. One of the things I remember looking at were raindrops and how they traced their tracks on the outside of the windows. 

Last week our Pre-3 class took a turn using spray bottles to shoot diluted liquid watercolor onto easels, and like I'd done with the raindrops, much of the process was about observing the drips run down the paper. Squit-squirt, pause to watch. Squirt-squirt pause to watch

It's taken me a long time to find the right squirt bottles to do this job. The ones they sell specifically for children's use are, frankly, crap, often jamming or otherwise ceasing to function within the first couple uses. I really like the Ace Hardware store brand squirt bottles: ours have held up for several years and the triggers aren't too stiff. Plus they have measurement marks up the sides, which allows us to "perfect" our mixture of water and paint, or anything else we may chose to put in there.

If you're after fantastic finished products, well, you don't dilute the paint, but this, like most of what we do is about the process: learning to make those squirt bottles work, trying them out from far away, trying them out from up close, switching to a different color, attempting to target a certain white area, and, of course, watching the drips run down the paper, following those tracks with our eyes until they're dripping onto the floor. I start all the bottles on a "mist" setting, but there are always a few kids who figure out how to switch it to a "stream" which is better for targeting, if that's one of the things you're bent upon exploring.

It's true many of the kids spent the rest of the day wearing gloves, or even a mask, of party-colored freckles, usually self-inflicted.

We call it art and in the end there are even some rather attractive things for the children to take home, but it's really about the meditation on what happens to liquid on a flat, vertical surface.

Only a few steps away, in the sensory table, we were exploring water as it slowly transitioned from its solid form to its liquid form, using rock salt and yet more liquid water color to assist us. We didn't call this art, but it was every bit as beautiful as the stuff we made on the easels.

The rock salt, if you wait for it, will melt holes through the ice, into which it's fun to inject the liquid color with pipettes, another tool for us to learn about. This one is a bit more challenging than the squirt bottles and not all of the kids managed to figure them out, but that's okay for this day's meditation on liquid and gravity and color and cold and melting and tools.

I found it hard to talk on this day, instead just watching the children as they watched. I did reflect on the missed opportunity of children staring into screens in the backs of their cars, being distracted from the chance to watch raindrops track paths from top to bottom, or to angle across the window as the car moves through space, to practice the meditative patience required to do the most important things in life. I wrote a few days ago about my concerns about children and screens. Perhaps the thing I worry most about is how much these new technologies feed the plague of instant gratification. Certainly we lose a lot if we undermine our capacity for patience, for meditation, for just watching water drip and ice melt.

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Anonymous said...

I, too, remember watching raindrops on my window from the car and talking, singing and staring for hours on family trips. Such fond memories for me. I see your point about screens interfering with these "natural" entertainment methods and I am always inspired by your posts. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of the A.A. Milne poem called Waiting at the Window about a child watching two rain drops racing down a windowpane! I have to admit that as a child I enjoyed watching raindrops move down a window. I enjoyed looking at scenery when driving. I'm fairly sure my teen boys think scenery is boring with a capital B. So sad in my opinion.
I will pat myself on the back though for getting them outdoors a lot and having a giant sandbox where our favorite game was digging channels and then putting a hose in to create rivers. Our second favorite game was squirting bubbles with spray bottles.
I am going to look for those Ace hardware spray bottles for my art program this summer! Thanks for the heads up, because I've had issues with spray bottles!

Carrie said...

I have a teacher who uses the opposite approach for the melting ice... She freezes colored water then has the kids squirt with salt water to melt the ice out of the bowls. They will sit there and squirt for almost the whole time if they can. Once the ice starts to melt the colors come out and mix in the table. Not as beautiful as the rock salt (I've done that before too) but man does it work those fingers and science exploration skills.