Welcome to a Moment in the Exploratory Lab

by Head of Early Childhood Beth O'Brien
The Exploratory Lab in Early Childhood is a space where play intersects with elements of art, science, design and engineering. A place where children ages three to six are invited to explore materials, test hypotheses, discover connections and construct knowledge.

It started with a simple piece of printer paper and a question. “How can we transform this material using only our hands?” Later, a second piece of paper was offered to the children, a small square of tissue paper. The same question posed. Conversation ensued as children discussed similarities and differences between the papers; they ripped, folded, and watched, as pieces floated or dropped to the ground eagerly sharing their observations with one another. Listening closely and asking skillfully placed questions to extend thinking, Carin Walden, the Creative Materials Specialist, documented the children’s language and experience, through photographs and video. Upon reflection, Ms. Walden noticed a common thread. The children were fascinated by the paper’s ability to move; without knowing it, they were intrigued by aerodynamics. Rising from their seats, the children joyfully experimented with the scientific properties of lift, drag, velocity, and speed. Enter Cyndi Vitti, the Early Childhood Science Specialist, and a conversation between these colleagues began with the essential question, “How do we deepen and extend the children’s curiosity about the movement of material?” 
 
In a follow-up experience with Mrs. Vitti and Ms. Walden, the children are prompted to discuss their previous encounter with paper. Adding an unexpected piece of equipment, a wind tunnel, to the conversation ignited curiosity from the children. “Is it a dryer? I see a fan on the bottom.” I think when the fan points up, the air goes up.” Do you think we can use this machine to experiment with the movement of paper?” inquires Mrs. Vitti. Choosing from various pieces of paper, the children took turns testing the wind tunnel. This leads to a collective discovery. They notice the flat pieces of tissue travel the highest and the printer paper moves slowly, due to its weight and density.
 
Welcome to a moment in the Exploratory Lab - a space where play intersects with elements of art, science, design and engineering. A place where children ages three to six are invited to explore materials, test hypotheses, discover connections and construct knowledge. Children become Material Scientists in the lab. By distilling an experience to its essence, we offer small groups of children the chance to discover the potential of materials in transformational ways. In doing so, we allow the child’s voice, their point of view, to rise to the forefront.  While working with various mediums such as paint, clay, wire, and paper in concert with balance scales, ramps, light tables, and shadow screens children come to see these materials as tools for exploration, construction and self-expression. In the Lab, children and teachers are co-constructing meaning, purpose and direction. The Exploratory Lab is a space where we honor the contributions of the individual and we celebrate the discoveries of the collective. 
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