Feedback From the Fish Tank

Posted December 21, 2022
The fish tank – our humorous classroom barometer of chaos

Feedback From the Fish Tank

By Jen Andrews

In the Winter Room at Inver Glen, with the toddlers, we have a fish tank. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve sometimes found toys at the bottom of it at the end of the day. We’ve jokingly measured the engagement in our class by the number of toys we find in the bottom of the tank. After a long series of no-toy-in-the-fish-tank days, we suddenly had a 3-toy-in-the-tank day. In addition, we were observing some play that wasn’t usual: dumping out toy baskets, running around the classroom, and tossing toys. Sometimes, as the running occurred, by-standing children were being bumped or runners were slipping in their socks. Not only was our play more disorganized than usual, but it was also getting to be unsafe.

I confess I was finding myself being drawn into what I’ve called, “correcting, not redirecting,” meaning I was spending more time than I like saying versions of “no,” and less time finding ways to engage the children in alternatives.

At this time of year, when social calendars fill, when obligations add up, and time feels short, it’s easy (and human) to fall into this pattern at home as well. At school, we have the opportunity to stop, reflect, and problem-solve. We know that when “boredom behaviors” increase, that is feedback; the children are showing us in their own way that something needs to change. We want to harness the power of working with the kids, rather than against them.

As the teachers in the room, when something isn’t working, we take it upon ourselves to look and think again. Sometimes, a simple change to the environment can make a big difference in how the children engage in play. In this particular situation, we took one of the most problematic baskets of toys, the object of a frequent “dump and run” scenario, and modified it. Instead of numerous small vehicles in a basket, we placed about six larger construction vehicles on the low table with a few ramps.

High engagement with a new twist on an old favorite

The change led to even better results than we expected! There were hands on the trucks for almost the entire play session. They were used in concert and individually. There was experimentation with the ramps, and then the trucks began to tour the room in the most interesting ways. They went to the nearby playdough table and were loaded and unloaded a number of times with squishy hauls of dough. Then the vehicles were also driven over to the sensory table to shovel and carry snow. Eventually, they even made it into the loft, where a parking lot was designed. In short, it was a pretty big win! We went from children dumping, yet not playing with items to being engaged and creative for almost an entire hour with one kind of toy used across the entire classroom.

Creative play where there used to be fleeting interest

This was achieved not by instructing the children how they had to play with a certain toy, but by making some small, simple adjustments in what was provided to the children and how it was offered. We went from a “3-toy-in-the-tank-day” back to “no-toys-in-the-tank-days.” The kids and the fish are pretty happy again.

Toys on the outside looking in – to their and the fishes’ delight