It did not rain for the entire month of September and into October. “Why do we have boots here if it doesn’t rain?” one of the children asked. “So we can go puddle stomping if it rains,” I replied.
Apparently the children kept my response in mind as a promise, for on the first rainy day, in mid-October, the children put on their raincoats and boots in great anticipation for puddle stomping. But it was only drizzling. The children hunted for puddles in the outdoor classroom, but, sadly, there were none. So they decided to make puddles. They collected as many sand toys and cooking pots (including, interestingly, colanders) to collect the rain, with the intention of making their own puddles to stomp in tomorrow.
The next morning we revisited the children’s plan to collect water and make puddles in the outdoor classroom. As we began a conversation about the plan, one child said that she didn’t think that we’d be able to make puddles, because the water would dry up.
“Where would the water go?” I asked.
C said, “It’s like my hair dries [after I wash it]. The next day it will be all dried up. And so will puddles.”
In the course of the ensuing conversation for the co-construction of theory about where water goes when it disappears, the children negotiated hypotheses that ranged from magical (Jesus and God) to perception-based (the water goes into the hair dryer…the pillow…the floor “wipe”) to a theory of cyclical transformation from water to air.
Teacher: Where will the water go?
LT: Into Jesus and God.
H: No! Back into the clouds. Because rain comes down from the clouds, but after they’re still empty, the rain goes back up to the clouds, and when they get too full, it rains again.
MM: The water can’t dry up, because the rain makes the puddles, and that doesn’t dry up on the ground. So we can make puddles and it won’t dry up, ’cause the rain doesn’t dry it up. —Is M focusing on the fact that rain makes things wet, not dry?—
EK: On the sidewalk I think they’ll still dry up, but our hair, it dries in our head somewhere.
Teacher: So you disagree that the water goes up into the clouds?
Crowd (everyone talks at once)
LM: I think the water goes into the towel.
Teacher: So when you dry your hair, the water goes into the towel. But then is your hair all the way dry?
LM: No. You have to let it dry until you get it all in the pillow, and the stuff goes inside of the pillow.
Teacher: So you think it goes into the pillow, but not in the clouds? (yes)
EB: The water can’t go in pillows. You just have to blow dry your hair.
Teacher: When you blow dry your hair, where does the water go?
Two voices: In the dryer!
T: Wait. Does air go into the dryer, or does it come out of the dryer?
Teacher: So how does the water go into the dryer?
EB: It blows the hair, but the water doesn’t get out. You have to blow it. Sometimes it’s all the way dry.
Teacher: But where does the water go?
LM: It blows back on the floor, and you could wipe the floor, and then it goes into the wipe.
AM: I took a bath last night, and it all came out of my hair, and it’s dry again.
Teacher: But where does the water go?
H: In the drain.
Mary: Into the blow dryer drain.
Teacher: So if we opened up the dryer, would we find water?
Children: No. Yes.
Teacher: Who else has a theory?
LW: You can’t see any water, because it went down so deep that you can’t see it. Deep into the blow dryer.
MM: It’s underground. It sinks.
LM: It sinks from your hair, and it sinks through the little cracks. The hair dryer is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the puddles. —We were talking about puddles, but in my opinion the little digression that came out of C’s analogy of wet hair helped the children take their theories forward —
Teacher: We were talking about the puddles. So some of you think that if we pour the buckets of water onto the ground, it will dry up. We were talking about where that water is going to go. H said that the water is going to go up into the clouds. Some of you think that the water’s going to go down into the sidewalk.
H: But it only goes up into the clouds outside.
EB: Rain can’t go up.
H: Yes it can go up.
Teacher: How can it go up, H?
Two children: The wind!
H: I think the clouds have some little sucker machine inside them, that they would suck it up.
AM: It turns into air.
LW: It dries up.
LM: It dries up because of the sun.
AM: And then it turns into air. It goes up into the clouds.
MM: And then it turns into a rainbow. And water goes to the rainbow and then to the gold.
Teacher: So you’re saying the sun makes the water turn into air, and then it goes up into the clouds, and then it goes into the rainbow, and then it goes into the gold [at the end of the rainbow]?
MM: And then it comes back up into the clouds.
Teacher: Are you saying that it keeps on going?
LM: Yes! Back into the rain!
AM: And then it rains again.
LW: Over and over and over and over…
H: The rain goes down from the clouds, then up, then down then up, then down then up…
LW: I agree!
LM: The rain falls into the rainbow, and falls into the jewels of the rainbow, and when they want it to rain, the air inside of the rain just blows it back up into the clouds.
Note the way in which the children co-constructed a theory that is not too far from accurate. Had we simply introduced the water cycle to them, chances are that they would have taken that information (for it is not knowledge until the receiver makes it so), and manipulated it to make it fit their existing mental schema for what happens when water evaporates. Beginning with Jesus and God (as agents of magic?), and stalling where the hair dryer collects the water, the children adjusted their theories in the face of challenges from the theories of others.
Later in that second rainy morning, we went outside to check on the puddle water containers. To the children’s delight, water had collected in the many vessels with which they had lined the borders of the sidewalk.
While some children began to dig holes in the sand for the puddle (Earlier in our meeting conversation the children had agreed that the way to make a puddle is to dig a hole. It made sense to me that they chose to make the puddles in the sand, since water-containing holes in the sand was already part of the alphabet of their experience), others began to consolidate the water into the biggest containers. It did not occur to them that there would be the same amount of water in a puddle if they poured small amounts right into a hole. Rather, since they wanted a big puddle, I believe they hypothesized that they needed to add large amounts of water at a time.
I found it interesting that the children did not jump in the puddles they made; perhaps they were too busy making them. But they did discover that if they stood in the deepest puddle, their boots got stuck in the bottom…really stuck!
To be continued….