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Using Talking Tubs with a Toddler

Farm talking tub at How we Montessori for Otto at 22 months 2019

Have you used a Talking Tub before? I only recently found out about them and loved the idea so much I'm trying it with my toddler (22 months old). 

I attended a Talking Tub webinar (How Do You Use A Talking Tub To Stimulate Talking and Thinking) by Claire Warden at Mindstretchers. After loving her webinar on the Floor Book approach I knew this was something I really wanted to do. As with the Floor Book approach, Talking Tubs have been designed to use in Early Learning Centres with groups of children. But I can see the value in using them one-on-one (or with siblings) and slightly adapted, at home. 

Talking Tubs are more than a treasure basket or language basket, they are more than an invitation to play. The reason I love them so much is because the focus is on a multi-sensory experience using real materials. It feels really in line with a Montessori approach (at home). 

What is a Talking Tub?

A Talking Tub is a collection of materials that stimulate learning around a particular topic or theme. The focus is on hands-on learning, providing an environment that is rich in communication, rich in conversation, talking, thinking, and that promotes divergent thinking.

The idea is that the materials and how the children interact with them, the questions they ask or answer about them will assist in picking up lines of enquiry. This can take us to the next points of interest and assist in developing new lines of enquiry like what activities or books to present next!!

We want to widen the child's knowledge and we must carefully consider the items we want the child to explore through play and activity. The Talking Tub is a part of child centred planning and reaching the child's high order thinking processes. We want to identify a link between the objects in the tub and the children's individual realities, this is much easier to do one-on-one at home but perhaps more complex in an Early Learning Centre. 

In Early Learning Centres the children use the tub as a group, the tub is passed around and each child takes an item from the tub. The teacher my ask metacognitive, open-ended questions about the objects. "It's about using thinking and provocation and enquiry learning to help them learn the bigger scientific concepts" - Claire Warden.

What do we put in a Talking Tub?

We put an intentional collection of tangible things into the tub. The items have to be real and authentic. We use the contents of the talking tub to challenge stereotypical thinking and ensure we use diverse imagery. We use 2D and 3D objects. This is where I found this approach SO interesting. In a Montessori language basket we would generally use mini objects or model objects. While model objects are used in a Talking Tub, various real objects are encouraged and printed objects too. The items must be as real as possible, real things for real interaction. If we show photographs we can use local settings or make them relatable to the child as possible. Some examples may include:

2D objects - maps, photographs, photographs of natural environment or people, different graphics, line drawings.  

3D objects - multi-sensory objects (touch/smell/sound), feathers, flags, model animals, mini clothing, artefacts, rocks, minerals, fossils, tools, real accessories, seeds, flowers, natural objects like seedpods, pinecones.

One of the examples given was a tub about pets/animals and included a small bird feeder and dog collar, I would never have thought to put such real items into a basket for the child to explore like that. 

Farm Talking Tub at HWM for Toddler

What is in our Talking Tub?

Our first Talking Tub has a Farm Theme, it is summer time and we are seeing a lot of tractors on our roads and a lot of harvesting in the fields, we often visit farm shops, we have recently visited a pick-your-own berry farm and over the weekend we visited a children's animal farm. My toddler, Otto, is engaged with farm machinery and animals so the 'Farm' theme fits. We have included in our Farm Talking Tub:

  • Model farm animals including the animals we've seen locally and their babies, Pigs, Sheep, Cows, Ducks, Chickens and Rabbits. 
  • Model farm tractors. 
  • Bunch of real dried wheat. 
  • Mini bales of real hay. (I love these and will use them again in farm role play) 
  • Sheep wool/fleece.
  • Chicken feathers collected while visiting the farm.
  • Sunflower, the farm we visited had a lot of sunflowers with bees on them. 
  • Photographs from our farm visit (printed at home) including photographs of our family interacting with the animals and a few of Otto spending time with the animals. We know children relate well to images of their own experiences.

I hope I have covered the multi-sensory approach with touch/smell/sound. There is a lot here for Otto (and perhaps Otis 8yrs) to interact with. I will be listening to Otto and using the Talking Tub with him. His vocabulary is still quite limited but I will be listening to any questions he has and following his interests using non-verbal cues.

How do we use a Talking Tub with a toddler at home?

This isn't an item I want to put on the shelves for Otto to use on his own, communicating with him is key. I invite Otto to use the tub with me or I put it on a table or on our floor mat and wait until Otto shows an interest and then use the tub with him. I observe what he does with the objects and follow potential lines of enquiry. 

Farm talking tub at How we Montessori for toddler Otto 22 months

This isn't a comprehensive summary about Talking Tubs, these are my personal notes and points of interest. My approach to using a Talking Tub has been adapted for our personal use. For further information on Talking Tubs please see Mindstretchers.

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