The Water Project

A Project by Three- to Six-Year-Old Children at Illinois State University Child Care Center, Normal, Illinois

Length of project: 3 months
Teachers:  Pam Scranton, Stacy Berg, Mary Ann Gottlieb

Phase One—Beginning the Project

The water project emerged from an investigation of ice and snow.  Each classroom (of three that worked together) webbed according to the interests of the children.  Preprimary 1 focused on aquariums and water life.  Children represented their interest through drawings and block construction, eventually creating a model of an aquarium.  Initial experiences included dissection of fish, dismantling the classroom aquarium, and listing information known and needed.  Preprimary 2 studied water purification after seeing aerial photographs of the Peoria water treatment plan.  Initial experience included creating a block replica of the plant which they used for dramatic play.  Primary 1 investigated water around the house.   Initial experiences included study of homes and exploration of a dollhouse.

Phase Two—Developing the Project

A water department serviceman explained how meters work, showed shut off valves outside the school, and left meters for investigation.  A water treatment engineer explained the water cycle and purification process.  A plumber brought tools and talked about his career.  After dismantling their model aquarium, Preprimary 1 constructed a walk-in aquarium.  Problem solving included reaching a consensus on design, finding appropriate-sized nails and wood, making the proper paint mixture to adhere to plastic, and assigning tasks.  During construction of the water plant, children in Preprimary 2 sketched plant designs and combined features before construction.   Each day additional aspects of the plant emerged as children restudied aerial photographs and a video of a working plant.  Dramatic play began and children added wooden figures and vehicles.  As play diminished, the group began a large mural of the plant.  Primary 1 children examined and sketched a real dollhouse before coming to the conclusion that they could make a house using cardboard boxes.  Problem solving included several attempts to connect the boxes, construction of the roof, creating the furniture and appliances and creating the water and soil pipes.  Interest in laundry facilities led the group to study and represent the school's washer and dryer before the children built their won laundromat.

Phase Three—Concluding the Project

The project concluded with a field trip to the creek and pond.  Some children experimented with boats, some sketched the pond, and others collected pond life for later exploration.  Almost all of the older children had opportunities to explore the pond.   A multi-age group worked with a naturalist searching the creek for waterlife samples and a fording place, and collecting water samples.  Follow-up activities included murals, reports to other groups, and the making of a video explaining the operation of the water treatment plant.


This project is an example of how one topic or theme can be selected by a group of classrooms or a school and still follow the children's interest in individual classrooms.  Ten teachers and associates were able to work together and support each other in webbing, sharing resources, and planning over the three-month period.  In addition, the teachers were able to facilitate a smaller, multi-age project group with children from all three rooms by sharing responsibility for facilitating and working with the larger groups.  This group investigated theories of sinking and floating.  They constructed and experimented with several types of boats.   They also investigated pond and creek life and then assisted in the construction of an ornamental creek bed in the center court of the school.  Documentation includes integration of portfolio collection and observations for a developmental checklist, which are part of the assessment and monitoring system of the center.

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Project Summaries

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