One thing we all seem to be watching in an early learning environment, after the children, is our budget. Just like every other industry, we want to maximize product output (which for us is learning) and minimize spending. But are we sometimes so focused on one, that we lose sight of the other?

Here is an example of something I observed that might look like the wasting of material to some, but might look beneficial to others.

Miguel grabbed a purple piece of paper and a glue bottle. He poured the glue onto the paper slowly for roughly 15 minutes. Other children told him he was wasting glue.

I watched Miguel make swirls and drizzle patterns with the glue, both into a large blob and onto bare paper. During this time he would have been able to see how the glue held its shape momentarily before flowing into the bigger blob as well as see how the shape can hold its form on the paper. This allows him to work on his observational skills. I asked him to hold a pipe cleaner in an attempt to expand on the activity, he dipped it a couple of times but returned to his initial activity quickly.

This held his undivided attention for a long period of time. He was clearly experiencing something beyond just dumping the glue out. This is an example of his wonder developing. 

Miguel talked about how he thought that the swirls looked like a tornado. Like most artists, he is using his imagination to determine what is happening on the page. This is an example of his creativity developing.

He asked me “Is there oxygen in a tornado?” My response was “Yes!” thinking that a tornado is made of air which is oxygen, so there has to be. Upon looking it up later I found out that the centre of a tornado has freezing temperatures and a lack of oxygen. While this was a missed opportunity for me to explore with him, it is a great example of his cognition developing.

Miguel pouring the glue. You can see the swirl patterns that he is leaving behind on the paper.

When he finished, Miguel picked his paper up, walked it over to a shelf with other papers, and placed it on the shelf. He left behind a trail of spilled glue. 

Without being asked he walked across the room (using his spacial awareness to avoid stepping in the glue), grabbed a piece of paper towel, wet it and began cleaning the floor. This is an example of his personal care skills developing. He cleaned up some of the glue before going back to re-wet his paper towel. He seemed to discover that that didn’t work the way he wanted, so he got another piece, wet it and went back to cleaning. This is an example of him using trial and error successfully.

Miguel independently cleaning the trail of glue he left as he transferred his art.

His focus on cleaning eventually ebbed, but this would have been after about five minutes of self-directed cleaning. At this point, I stepped in to direct his focus back to cleaning. I got him some dry paper towels and we quickly finished the cleaning together. Working with me, and choosing to sit with me in the first place, is an example of his social skills developing.

This whole activity lasted about 20 minutes. Children need power and attention to have their emotional needs met. Letting him continue his activity inhibited, by his own agency, and being alongside him as he did it gave him the power and attention he needed at that moment. 

What thoughts do you have about activities like this? As an educator or parent, what similar opportunities are you missing out on in an attempt to avoid wasting money or resources?  What are ways that you can make sure the children in your care are getting the power and attention that they need?

It can be easy to get caught up in counting the $2-3 price of the bottle of glue against the lack of any lasting artwork, especially when compounding that with other resources used in the same way. Each child and program or household are different and only you know your budget, but it is important to ask yourself: What does a child gain when we recognize all of the benefits of an activity like this, especially compounded with more activities where they have power, attention, and freedom to explore?