On a sunny afternoon this past week, I observed several of the children spontaneously revisiting some experimenting we've done in the past with a long, black tube and various small objects that can fit inside. Earlier that day, a couple of the children had worked to drag the tube out onto the pavement before moving on to other activities. After our picnic, I noticed LC and LT collecting small cars and racing over to the tube, which LC propped up on a few steps.
"I will hold it at the top and you can hold it at the bottom." LC
"I wanna put it in!" LT says as she races over to the end LC is holding up with her tiny car at the ready. They agree to help each other hold the tube as LC places the car inside.
AJ notices their work and immediately stands at the other end of the tube: "It's comin' out! Comin' out!" she shouts gleefully as she receives the car on the other end. The children negotiate turn-taking so that all three of them are able to fulfill each of the roles in their experiment -- holding the tube, putting the car in, and waiting for the car at the other end. When LT runs to go get the car she put in, she makes sure to collect everyone else's cars too, and brings them back to the group to pass them out.
Their experimentation happily continues, filled with negotiating, excitement, encouragement, and observations. They alternate holding the tube just a little bit off the ground and sometimes as far as they can reach off the ground. Sometimes the tube slides down the steps and lays flat on the pavement. They notice that this doesn't seem to work for getting the car to come out the other end. They quickly readjust the tube so that it's at an incline.
"This is a little slide that..." LC
"It's comin' out! Oh... I can't see it!" AJ
"I'm gonna put this in after I raise it!" LC
"Put it from the bottom!" LT
At this point, LP and MH have finished eating in the backyard and make their way over to the steps where the work is taking place. "What you guys doin'?" LP asks, and moves close to the tube to observe. MH and LP sometimes touch the tube, and eventually each of them collect a car for themselves. "I want a turn!" MH exclaims. He moves to the high end of the tube. LC and LT initially protest, as they are in the middle of dropping a car in already. MH pauses to let them finish and then reiterates his request. Everyone makes space for MH to try. LP continues to observe.
Eventually the children who initially started this work move on to the exciting water play happening across the pavement. LP takes the opportunity to investigate the tube more closely. She picks it up from either end, rolls it a bit, and eventually puts a car through. She pauses for a moment before picking up a piece of chalk and attempting to put that through. It takes some work of raising the tube as high as she can, but it comes out! LP smiles quietly and then asks me where the watering can is. We search the yard and find it. LP brings it to the big tub of water and fills it up before heading back to the tube, which is being held by another child so one end is off the ground. LP walks up to the high end and pours water through the tube before moving on.
I felt so much joy as I observed the children that afternoon. With no intervention from me, they calmly and clearly negotiated roles and turns during an exciting series of experiments they devised completely of their own accord. They cheered each other on, suggested alternatives when it wasn't working as they'd anticipated, and made sure that everyone had access to the materials they needed. When others joined, they felt confident asking for a turn or observing, each as they saw fit. When the tube was totally available, LP expanded on the work she had observed by introducing new materials, clearly satisfied by having the chance to explore this activity with plenty of space.
This is one of the many beautiful moments of free play that we are so fortunate to observe everyday at the Infant House.