Friday, February 8, 2008

Playing IS Learning: WaterWays - Water Falls

Does your child delight in pulling the chain or using the handpump at the Water Falls table? Maybe she enjoys putting rubber duck after duck in the waterfall to see them each get pushed by the water’s flow. Or perhaps he likes to strategize how to best control the water flow and build a dam. For each way a child plays in the Water Falls exhibit, there are many opportunities for families to join in the fun and nurture the learning already taking place.

The following observations illustrate a few of the many ways children play and learn in the Water Falls exhibit:

If your child is….

* Motivated by movement

“Here it comes! Here it comes!” says a mother to her three-year-old son. They both wait for a rubber duck, sitting atop the exhibit, to fall down the waterfall. “Wee!” the mother says as it finally slides down and is carried by the water’s flow to the end of the exhibit. The child jumps up and down. He then follows the duck quickly to the end of the exhibit. “Where did the duck come from—water come from?” the mother asks. The child looks up at the top of the waterfall. The boy goes up the stairs to the top of the exhibit, looking up at the water tank. “Water!” the boy says looking down to his mother below. He then moves down the stairs, takes a duck from the water and again moves to the top of the falls. He reaches and places a duck in the tank and goes down the stairs near his mother. They look up at the top of the waterfall. “Let’s see if it will come down. I see it!” says the mother. “What’s up there?” says the mom. “Water,” says the child.

If your child seems to feed off of action or movement and enjoys physical play, here are some ways to support his exploration:

-Move along with your child! Look “up,” “over,” and “under” exhibits to check out the tubes, pipes, and pumps that help the exhibit function. Take a trip up the stairs in Water Falls to look at the water filter system and tank and see what’s inside.
-Talk about what your child sees and already knows. Ask your child if she has ever seen water flow like this before and have her describe where. Common examples might include: on a nature walk or at the Riverwalk, in the bathtub, maybe in the streets after it has rained.
-Model and discuss safety first! Children should be able to take the lead and move, explore and play to learn! However, the WaterWays exhibit can get slippery. Make sure to remind children to move at a safe speed to prevent falls.

* Creative and constructive

A young girl places a rubber duck near the bottom of the waterfall and watches it get carried to the end of the exhibit by the water's flow. She repeats this with a sandbag, but it moves only a short distance before sinking in the middle. The girl then retrieves the duck from the end of the table and holds it under the waterfall. With one tug on the chain beside her, the girl releases a large amount of water down the falls and the duck is pushed out of her other hand by the force. She watches the duck float down the table, over some sunken sandbags to the end of the falls. The girl then collects and lines up all of the ducks on the edge of the exhibit. She also places a sandbag on the edge and sits one of the ducks on top of it.

If your child explores and investigates the many uses for the materials found in Water Falls through experimentation or dramatic play, here are a few ideas on how to extend her learning even further:

-Follow your child's lead! Imitate how your child is using the materials (i.e. place another duck or toy in the water and watch it float down the exhibit).
-Offer your child some playful feedback on how she is using the materials! (i.e. "I see all of the rubber ducks are on the edge. Are they waiting to go into the water together?" or "What is the rubber duck sitting on? Do you think it will sink or float in the water?")
-Observe what is going on around you! Children often reference their peers to see how they are using the materials around them, and adults do the same. Even during the above mentioned observation, another mother watched how the child pulled on the chain to increase the water flow in the exhibit. She then in turn modeled this action for her child, who then joined in the water play.

* Goal-oriented and ready to go

A mother and her four-year-old boy watch as a Play Facilitator models how to prime the handpump in the exhibit. He uses a small cup to place water in the top of the pump and moves its lever up and down quickly to create a flow of water. Soon after the Play Facilitator leaves, the child approaches the pump and attempts to work it independently. He pumps up and down, but is unsuccessful. He then waves his mother over to assist him. She approaches the pump and models the procedure of the Play Facilitator. As she does so and the child watches, water begins to trickle from the pump. The child then puts his hands over his mother’s hands, and they pump the lever up and down together. The child lets go with one hand and puts it in the water flowing out of the pump. The mother says, “Feel the water?” The child then pushes away his mother’s hands from the pump. He looks and notices the water has stopped. Taking the hand pump’s lever, he pumps up and down on the lever independently. The water begins to trickle down and out of the pump. "I did it," the child says.

If your child approaches this exhibit with a plan (for example: successfully using the handpump, engineering a dam using the sandbags, etc.), here are some suggestions to extend the learning while also nurturing your child’s purposeful play:

-Talk about your child's plan. If you see your child working to achieve a certain goal, ask him questions like, "What would you like to happen?" and "What do you need to do to..." (i.e. get water to come out of the pump, stop the water flow, etc.).
-Provide problem-solving alternatives (i.e. "I like how you did....What would happen if you tried....").
-Suggest challenges and ask critical thinking questions! (i.e. "Where is the water coming from? Do you think it comes from the water we put in the top or somewhere else?")

Additional suggestions on how to facilitate scientific understanding in Water Falls include:

-Imitate your child's actions (i.e. if he puts his hands in the water and moves them back and forth, stir your hands in it as well).
-Model how to use materials in different ways (i.e. demonstrate using the handpump, pulling the chain, or piling sandbags).
-Offer feedback (i.e. "The water is pushing the ducks down the river." or "It looks like you've built a strong wall using the sandbags.").
-Provide problem-solving alternatives (i.e. "If you hold the duck, I will pull the chain." or place sandbags within your child's reach when a dam is leaking).
-Suggest challenges (i.e. "What will happen to the dam if we pull the chain?" or "How can we make the water go in a different direction?").

How Learning Comes in to Play - At-Home!
Take home the fun and extend your child's learning experience using the following Water Falls at-home activity ideas:

-Before bathtime even begins, place homemade boats in the tub and turn on the faucet. As water flows into the tub, encourage children to notice which direction the boats and floating items go. Safety Note: Make sure to supervise your child as he explores water at home.
-Experiment At-Home! Fill a heavy-duty sealable sandwich bag with water and invite your child to feel it, talk about what is inside and the properties of water (i.e. it is clear, how it feels, weight, etc.). With a dishpan or container underneath, ask your child the following questions:
"What would happen if I make a tiny hole in the bag?"
"What will happen if I make more holes? Will the water flow differently?"
(Source: "The Wonder of Sand & Water" Scholastic Early Childhood Today Summer, 2002. Volume 16, Number 8, Pgs 20-31).

Stay Tuned!
In our next post, we will take a closer look at DCM’s Bubbles exhibit in the WaterWays neighborhood. We will discuss the science hiding behind every bubble and the secret to great at-home bubble solution and activities!

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