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Vn034.01 Candle Fire Crackers 6/23/77

We usually dine by candlelight. We enjoy making candles and
using them, and the ill distribution of light in our dining area makes
this practice a useful enjoyment. Having agreed that he will not play
with fire, Robby has the responsible job of candle man: he brings the
candles to the table, lights them, and when the penny candles in old
bottles burn down, he replaces them. Having made a 1 stick candelabrum
in school (a ring of cardboard with pasted-on, brightly painted maca-
roni shells), Miriam after giving it to the family as a present reserves
its use to herself and the responsibilities pertaining thereto (lighting
it and blowing it out).

For some reason during the dinner Robby blew out a candle (per-
haps to replace one burned dowm). Miriam took this as her cue to blow
out hers. To minimize the air pollution Gretchen wet her fingers and
doused the smoke producing embers in the wick. Shortly thereafter, when
she attempted to re-light her candle, Miriam heard the sputtering
crackle made by the flame on the wet wick. “That sounds like a fire
cracker!” Questions immediately arose: what makes the candle sputter?
why doesn’t it light? It does now? Oh. Why didn’t it light before?
Because Mommy spit on it, the water. Miriam, Seymour, and I had just
been discussing the Piagetian experiments done earlier in the project.
I allowed that I thought Miriam most enjoyed the conservation of con-
tinuous quantity experiment because of the water play in pouring the
liquids from one container to another. (Miriam corrected my misappre-
hension: she most enjoyed the experiment of constructing tracks [cf.
Miriam at 6]). Thus it was a natural continuation that we indulge in
a little water play, even at supper. Seymour asked Miriam if she
thought she could make it happen again. I got her a small glass with
water in it. Miriam took her candle and inverted it inside the glass
slightly above the water. It went out. When she brought it to the
flame, the candle lit immediately without sputtering.

Miriam Hey! Why didn’t it work?
Seymour Did it go in the water?
Miriam It went out.
Seymour Try it again, just to be sure the end goes in the water.

Miriam dunked her candle in the water and upon the attempt to relight
it sputtered and crackled before catching fire. Miriam tried the
dunking again and it still worked. She remained curious as to why
the candle went out at first. Robby suggested that with the candle
inverted, the flame wanted to go up, but had no place to go, so it
went out. I suggested we make sure it wasn’t the water by holding the
candle about 2″ above the surface. Miriam did so, watching carefully.
“It’s the wax that does it!” Seymour asked, “Does it need to be in the
glass at all?” Miriam proved that it did not by inverting her re-lit
candle over a napkin.

This vignette highlights the role of engaging phenomena, e.g.
the surprising crackling sound from a candle, and the supportive
milieu in leading a child into those discoveries that constitute his
knowledge. The rich environment is less one rich in objects than it
is one rich in surprise, in the stepwise exploration of which the
child confronts alternative plausible explanations of those phenomena.
Obviously, since this surprise derives from the child’s ignorance,
what engages one child need not engage another.

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