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Exploring Sound on the Dam

child running

About this video

This video clip shows one kind of exploration that is possible when educators arrange outdoor experiences for young children. Tom, who is 34 months old, is on a field trip to a local dam with several other children from teacher Ruth Brewer’s home-based early childhood program. The children range in age from 11 months to 5 ½ years. Conversations between the teacher and other children can be heard from time to time during the video clip.

The road over the dam is closed to vehicle traffic and the children can safely cross from one sidewalk to the other. The video clip starts with Tom on one side of the dam where he has been looking through the bars of the railing next to another child. The sound of rushing water is especially loud on that side of the dam. The camera follows Tom as he crosses to the other side, where he stands listening and looking through the railing. Five-year-old Jamilah joins him, but Tom does not interact with her. He hunches over to look between the bars. He then turns around and runs back across the road to where he started, calling out as he runs, “I don’t want to hear that!” His tone of voice and facial expression suggest enthusiasm and engagement. Even though he seems to be saying that he does not want to hear the sound, he does not avoid it.

Tom begins to position himself to look through the railing with others in his group, but he does not stay long. He starts to cross the road again, but pauses purposefully for a moment partway across. He appears to be listening or thinking as he turns back, then returns to the railing to look through the bars again. He is clearly engrossed in what he is doing, and does not interact with the other children. After a few moments, he runs across to a place on the quieter side, several feet to the left of where he stood previously. He bends over, holding on to the railing, and peers between the first and second bars for a few moments. Turning around, he lets go and starts back toward the other side. He pauses at the edge of the sidewalk with his arms held out from his sides and looks to one side before stepping into the road. As he crosses again to rejoin the other children, he says something – to no one in particular – that is drowned out by the sound of the water. When he reaches the railing, he looks between the bars at the water below.

A short time later, Tom runs across the road again, veering from the path he followed before, heading more to the left. This time, he fits his head and shoulders into the space between a concrete structure and the end of the railing, holding the railing with one arm and looking downward.

In the final part of the clip, Tom is again on the quieter side of the dam. He holds a pair of yellow binoculars. He stands by the railing, looking toward the water with the binoculars for a few moments. He then turns away from the camera and announces, “It’s not too loudy.” The teacher rephrases that statement with more precise vocabulary, showing awareness of what he has been doing during his many trips back and forth, and providing him with comparative words with which to describe his experience: “loud” and “quieter.”

Throughout the experience recorded in this video, the teacher and the other adult provide supervision and a safe environment for Tom and the other children, who are then free to look, listen, and move about in order to find out more about this relatively unfamiliar outdoor space. The adults allow Tom to pursue his own interest without interruption, although they might instead have stopped him during his trips back and forth and to ask him to talk about what he was doing. (Some readers may feel strongly that the teacher should have involved Tom in a conversation as he crossed back and forth, while others may believe that doing so would have intruded upon the child’s own efforts to make sense of his experience, in his own way.) However, the teacher’s close observation of Tom’s behavior enables her to interpret and respond to his final comment, which in a sense summarizes his exploration. This teacher also regularly revisits video footage with the children, so it is likely that Tom will have a chance to say more about his experience with the sound at the dam.



You hear the sound of rushing water as Tom crosses the road from the noisy side to the quiet side, looks through the bars of the railing, then runs back to the noisy side.

Tom: (running) I don’t want to hear that!

Tom makes another trip back and forth across the road over the dam.

Teacher (to another child): Tristan, Tris, down.

Tom calls out as he returns to the noisy side, but his words cannot be understood.

Tom makes another trip from the noisy side to the quieter side of the dam.

Tom (standing at the railing on the quieter side): It’s not too loudy!

Teacher: It’s not so loud. It’s a lot quieter on this side.

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
6.D.ECb: Describe comparisons with appropriate vocabulary, such as “more”, “less”, “greater than”, “fewer”, “equal to”, or “same as”.
Tom seemed to be comparing the loudness of sounds. He briefly described the differences as “It’s not too loudy.” The teacher rephrased that statement with more precise language: “It’s not so loud. It’s a lot quieter on this side.”
11.A.ECc: Plan and carry out simple investigations.
Tom seemed to be investigating differences in the volume of sound on either side of the dam. This investigation involved frequently going back and forth between the two sides of the dam.
12.A.ECb: Show an awareness of changes that occur in oneself and the environment.
Tom showed awareness of the changes in the level of sound on the two sides of the dam. He frequently varied his own location, suggesting that he was also checking the variation in volume from place to place on the same side. He commented about loudness when he was on the quieter side.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECa: Exhibit eagerness and curiosity as a learner.
Tom’s body language suggested how eager he was to explore the sounds, as he crossed back and forth repeatedly.

Note: Video footage courtesy of Ruth Brewer, The Child’s Garden, Westerville, Ohio

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017