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Remote Reflections 4: Designing a Curriculum - Exploring Inclines and Motion

Perhaps the most important question an early childhood educator can ask regarding curriculum is “why?”. Why I am offering this material, planning this experience, reading this book, asking this question, or documenting this moment?

Asking “why” lies at the heart of intentional teaching; and the answers are based on our knowledge of child development, our philosophy of teaching and learning, our goals and values, and our understanding of the children with whom we work.

As I considered the "what" and "why" of the experiences that would shape the curriculum for my remote preschool class, another question arose – “how?” How could I adapt these experiences for remote learning? Minimal changes were sufficient for some, while others required more extensive modifications to both the materials and the process.

The examples of Choice Time experiences that I describe here and in the next three posts – including the “what”, “why” and “how” of each – vary in their content focus, but share the goal of fostering creativity, curiosity, and experiential learning.


Experimenting with Inclines and Motion


Piaget concluded from his research that children construct knowledge of the physical world by creating, testing, and refining their ideas through active experimentation with objects. Children are innately intrigued by how and why things move, and their ability to effect motion by acting on an object. Actively exploring the relationships among inclines, objects, and motion enables children to construct an increasingly complex and accurate understanding of basic principals of physics.

What and How…

The idea for a cardboard-tube ball run evolved from an experience I offered in my class for 2-year-olds and parents / caregivers last year.

I did not have large hollow blocks, whose ramps are perfect for young children’s explorations of inclines and motion, and I could not use marbles or other small items that presented a choking hazard. So, I created a large ball run using plywood, industrial-strength Velcro, and carpet tubes. While the children needed adult help to move the pathway sections, they delighted in dropping the ball and watching it zigzag down the path.

Classroom Ball Run

Similarly, the children in my class this year did not have hollow or unit blocks to explore inclines at home. However, cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper could create a miniature version of my classroom ball run. Since they are small, lightweight, and free, they fit my criteria for Learning at Home materials; and the children could easily move them on a wall or large piece of cardboard to create ever-changing pathways for small, light-weight balls.

The materials for this experience were simple.

I provided:

  • Cardboard tubes and chutes (from paper towel or toilet paper rolls).

  • Small lightweight balls (similar to ping-pong balls)

  • Ball Run Instructions (printed and laminated)

The families provided:

  • Small bowl or box to catch the balls

  • Tape (packing tape, masking tape, or regular transparent tape)

  • Scissors, ruler, and pencil

  • Additional tubes to expand the ball run

I save cardboard tubes as part of my recycled materials collection, and had enough to give each child a “starter set” of six tubes. I had asked families to save various recycled materials (including tubes) at our first meeting, so they also had some to contribute. My only expenses were the laminating pouches for the Ball Run Instructions and the balls I purchased at my local “dollar store”, which cost 50¢ per child.


I introduced the experience at Morning Meeting by showing the children a ball run I had created, and facilitated the children's process of creating their own ball runs during our Choice Time meetings.

The children shared their ball runs with each other during Story Time, watched intently to see if the ball would stay on the path until it reached the bottom. While the children could not work together as they would in a classroom, there was still the important give-and-take of ideas and insights.

The ball run I used to introduce the exploration

During the following weeks, the children and I continued to revise and extend our ball runs.

I invited the children to add color to the chutes with paint, markers, or oil pastels, and posed questions in the weekly Choice Time experiences that provided new challenges for the children and their families to consider:

  • ·How can you place the chutes to make the ball move quickly? move slowly?

  • ·Can you create two paths that go to the same place?

  • ·Can you make the ball roll uphill?

Adding color and new pathways

The children had creative ideas I would not have considered, like using tubes in addition to chutes. And they were not the only ones who revised their theories during this exploration.

When one child placed two chutes vertically on the wall, I was certain that the ball’s speed would cause it to bounce off of the horizontal chute below - creating a teachable moment for her. To my surprise, the ball stayed on the pathway and precisely landed in the bowl at the bottom -creating a teachable moment for me!

Replica of a child's ball run

That moment illustrates why teaching remains as intellectually stimulating for me today as it was 25 years go. Every day is a new adventure and an opportunity to learn with and from the children.


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