I filled the sensory table with snow, and set out small bowls of colored water. I handed children paintbrushes, thinking that they would paint the snow with the colored water.
It turned out that wasn’t what they were interested in at all.
Some of the children used the paintbrushes to stir or scoop up the snow, but otherwise abandoned them while they explored the more enticing items – the containers of colored water.
They poured the water from one container to the next, then dripped the water into a steady stream onto the white snow, watching as the colors spread. Once the water was all used up, they asked for more.
Seeing that the focus of the activity had changed, I quickly filled two small bins with colored water and put them on either side of the sensory table. The children raced to scoop out the water and pour it into colorful puddles in the snow.
Soon the snow was a multicolor patchwork, and later as it melted, a mass of brownish ice.
The next day, now that I knew what the children’s plans were for using the materials, I set up the area differently. I abandoned my idea of paintbrushes and provided craft sticks, which would be easier to stir the snow with. I added scoops that were easier to manipulate and pour from. And of course, bins of colored water at either end of the table, since the children had made it clear that pouring water and mixing were the most important aspects of this experience.
Through the morning the snow changed from white to yellow and blue, and eventually to shades of foamy sea green. Giving up my original idea in favor of following the children’s lead brought a whole new dimension to their play, in a beautiful way.