Water and Wonder

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Kindergarterners help design a new water feature
From the Spring 2009 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

 Kindergarteners' models of teh water featureWater, water everywhere! If you walked into the kindergarten this year, you’d see 34 glass jars of water, collected by each student. Near the doorway, a picture graph showed the 42 cups of water wasted if you run the water while brushing your teeth. Diagrams of storm drains showed children’s thinking about pipes and water systems. Drawings of families at the beach or in rivers told stories about how children love to play in the water.

All this thinking and learning about water was sparked by a gift from a former Beehive parent, who left its final use up to the teachers. Their inspiration was the delight a water feature in the outside courtyard would provide for their students.

“The best thing about this gift was that we were given money to dream and invent something we had always wanted for the Beginning School. We wanted a project that would be interactive and imaginative. This will be a classroom learning project for years to come,” says the kindergarten team of Joanne Dreier, Betsy McCormick, and Sue Henry.

Kindergartener's drawing of water feature ideasSo began a brand-new teaching project for these three, evolving over several months of daily discovery. They wanted the children to be involved in the water feature from the beginning, so they told them about the gift and asked for their ideas about bringing water to the courtyard. In further exploration of water Joanne, Betsy, and Sue taught sophisticated concepts such as fluid dynamics, the water cycle, displacement, filtering, and conservation. “To experience these things as young children, when scientific concepts are yet to be developed, brings a sense of exploration, challenges assumptions, and sparks wondering,” the teachers say.

The kindergarten team began the journey by asking the students and their families to provide a memory of family fun in the water. Further activities included collecting water in the small jars, which brought in samples from Mt. Hood snow to bubble bath water. Soon the children became campus “water detectives,” seeking out water and figuring out where it comes from and where it goes. Each child designed and made a clay water catcher to collect water drops, because rain water will be the main source for the water feature. They experimented with displacement, finding out to their surprise that grapes sink and squashes float. They learned how to make water go uphill. Small groups of children collaborated to create models of possible water features, from ponds to waterfalls to streams to mazes to fountains.

The final design of Little Eagle Creek incorporates students’ ideas and invites them to do what they love to do with water: dam, splash, play, and learn. Best of all, the construction was done before the end of the school year so that these ingenious kindergartners—and their ingenious teachers—could enjoy the embodiment of their ideas and their common explorations.

 K teamThe kindergarten team: SUE HENRY, BETSY McCORMICK, JOANNE DREIER
Sue, Betsy, and Joanne have been working as a team for more than 20 years. Joanne and Betsy are classroom teachers, and Sue is in charge of projects. They are quoted collectively here because their ideas spark from one to the other, and it’s hard to say where one stops speaking and another begins. They are that united, and they are quick to say “although we each bring different things to the table, we all have a serious commitment to young children. We are all instinctively able to recognize what young children love to do. We’re sort of like the children ourselves.

“We’re committed to teaching the basic skills of math and literacy, but equally important, our job is to listen, question, and set up a thought-provoking environment. The kindergartners’ job is to make sense of their world.”

Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller and director of publications and public relations.