About Me

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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Combining apparatus allows one to exponentially vary the configuration of any given apparatus.  That is especially true if you keep in mind all the dimensions mentioned in the right column of this blog.  Here you see a cardboard tube embedded in a cardboard divider.

Note that this is another version of the cardboard dividers(see previous post) in which the panels are low.

A hole is cut in two of the panels on one side. The cardboard tube is threaded through the holes and taped.  A section of the tube in the middle has been cut away.   Now besides the open spaces created by the vertical walls of the divider, the tube creates both horizontal and closed dimensions to the apparatus.

In another version of this combined apparatus, an additional plastic florescent light cover is embedded in the divider.  This configuration is a little different because the table is used to support one end of the tube and channel and both the tube and channel extend over the end of the table so children can push the sand out of the tube and channel into the tub below.

Little construction vehicles are added because they fit nicely into the tube and channel and create a different type of play with moving the sand with front loaders and bulldozers.  

If you look at dimensions to the right again, the cardboard divider is an open apparatus with vertical walls.  The tube in the apparatus introduces a horizontal and closed dimension and the plastic channel adds an horizontal and open dimension.

What does that mean for play?

It offers opportunities for focused play in an individual space on a different level with a different dimension.  The child below is playing with the truck and bulldozer on a level six inches above the bottom of the table.  Now he can play on two levels in the same space.  In addition, he is operating on a  horizontal open plane.  That naturally restricts his motor movements on that plane.
The child below is scooping sand with her hand from the tube.  This is a horizontal plane that adds a closed dimension to the apparatus.  How far can she move her hand when she scoops the sand?  And how far into the tube can she reach to scoop the sand?  She, too, can operate on two different physical levels. Actually, there is a third level with the tube when you see the tube as two separate levels: in the tube and on the tube. Both the channel and the tube offer motor experiences on a horizontal plane.  The tube also offers motor experiences that are altered by the open/closed nature of the tube.

If also offers new challenges for transporting the sand both through the window and through the tube.

It also offers new opportunities for social interaction.

And it offers new opportunities for role play.

Children will explore all the spaces you give them.  Their exploration lays the groundwork for knowledge of spatial relations.  It almost sounds like math!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The cardboard divider facilitates some types of play that other apparatus in the sensory table do not.  For instance, transporting takes on a whole new dimension with the divider.  Look at the picture below.

A child is transporting through the window into the opposite space.  To do that, he has do several operations.  First he has to scoop.  Without trying to spill, he has to lift the spoon and open the window.  He then has to stick the spoon through the window and then turn his wrist to dump.  The divider has added more layers of complexity to transporting.  What is interesting about this operation is that the child does not see where the material is going.  It is blind transporting where something just disappears.  That in itself is inviting for the child.  This is a good illustration of AXIOM 5 of sensorimotor play seen on the right column.

Here is another example with a little twist.

Note that this divider is a little different than the others pictured so far. When I built this one, I did not have a box with large enough panels to completely divide the areas.  In this picture, one panel is lower. That is not an issue for children.  They will still come up with their own challenges.  The boy in the green is pouring through the hole, but in this case, he is actually reaching over into the middle space on the opposite side where you see the girl in the scarf.  He has skipped a space in his work.  That is probably his attempt at making the work a little more challenging by seeing how far he can stretch(a good example of trunk extension).

This transporting takes on yet another dimension when a child watches where the material goes.

Here the child is actually watching himself pour the sand through the hole.  He has given himself a target (the pail) into which to pour the sand. Now think about the hand-to-eye coordination task this child has set up for himself.  He is pouring the sand through the hole watching from around the divider.  The divider cuts off the visual connection between his arm and his hand.  He is forced to complete his task by filling in or constructing the pouring motion without a complete visual connection between what he is doing and the result.

Here is another example.

The child in this picture does not have a target, but what is striking is that his action is connected even through the divider. He is pouring from one side and on the other side he is using his other hand to help finish the action. He can only watch on one side and he chooses the side where the action is being completed. Though there is a divider, his body action is all connected.  Children often do operations like these at a divider between spaces.  Very interesting, no?

Take a look at this video for yet another variation of the transporting that takes place with this apparatus.

David opens the window, puts the cup through the window and hangs a measuring cup by its handle on the window.  (This hanging of the measuring cup was first introduced to me by a child several years ago and now I use it as a prompt for play.) He takes a scoop of pellets, reaches through the window and pours it into the cup. He opens the window, lifts the cup and pulls it back through the window. He brings the cup around the divider and dumps it in the opposite space.  He finishes by showing me his empty cup---maybe proof of all the work he has done?  So why would a child go through all the operations to move the pellets into the opposite space when he could have just opened the window and dumped the pellets into that space? It's all about transporting and the need to transport and find as many ways to do it as possible.  And in the meantime, he is working on eye-to-hand coordination and other small and large motor developmental tasks.

There is another type of unique play that occurs with the dividers that needs to be highlighted.  That is peek-a-boo.
It happens every time the cardboard divider comes out and is a source for lovely social interchanges.  That is especially true when the child on the other side is not a usual playmate.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


One day several years ago, I was watching children play in the sensory table.  On this particular day, I couldn't help but notice how one child's play impinged on another's.  My question became: Is it possible to make smaller, divided areas in the table?  The answer: cardboard dividers.

This was the first cardboard divider I made.  It is in an old sand table I inherited when I took over a new classroom.  It is a metal square and less than a foot off the ground.  (I actually liked it because it was simple and allowed me to build and add my contraptions to the table.  There was only one problem: it would not hold water.  If I wanted water in a table, I had to have a second table.  My room was small, so I ended up getting one table that would hold both sand and water.

The cardboard divider is very easy to make.  Take two flat pieces of cardboard.  Cut the pieces so they fit into the table.  Next,  make slits in the middle of each piece approximately equal in length.  One piece is slit from what will be the top and the other is slit from the bottom.  They are then slipped together at the slits.  Tape the joint that is made by the intersection of the two pieces of cardboard and then tape it in the table.

Since my current sensory table is larger, I added an extra panel of cardboard to create six smaller spaces.

These spaces can facilitate some focused individual play.

Or provide another space into which a child can transport or collect objects.

Though I wanted to create individual spaces, I also wanted to allow for social interaction.  The solution for that was to cut various holes in the walls.  Some are outright holes and some act like windows that can be open and shut.  Here are four children, each in their own space.  The child in the top right is pouring pellets through the window into the cup of the child in the bottom right. He is observing the action and waiting for the cup to be filled by the hand coming through the window.  The boy in the top center is pouring his pellets into the space directly opposite, while the girl in that space is pouring pellets into the lower right space.

The running joke in the room is that this apparatus is preparing the children for the world of work with each of them toiling away in their own little cubicles.  You be the judge.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Experimenting with the cardboard chutes is experimentation with gravity.  Children see, hear, feel, and smell what slides down the chute.   Of course, the seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling is all initiated by their actions of pouring material down the chute.  They use cups and scoops; they use their hands and their bodies.

Depending on the material used in the sensory table, the experience is different. Sand has its own sound and feel as it flows down the chutes.   Sand also has weight.  Look at this series of three pictures as Elliot and Sonja discover how a pot of sand poured down the chute feels.

The experiment begins with Elliot pouring sand down the chute from a pot.  His pot is not full and he pours the sand evenly down the chute. Sonja is catching it.  At this point she is only using one hand.

Next, Elliot gets a full pot of sand and now with gusto dumps the sand all at once down the chute.  Sonja has switched to using two hands to hold the bowl.

What happens is that the sand races down the chute with such force that it knocks the bowl out of Sonja's hands. The result of the experiment was the pure joy of creating and feeling a force that produced an unexpected outcome.

In this set of photos, two things other than experimenting with gravity took place. One, the chute provided a physical connection between the actions of Elliot and Sonja.  That naturally involved some communication---verbal and non-verbal---and some coordination of actions.  In addition, there was plenty of large muscle exertion and coordination.

Look at the clip below with the same apparatus, but with a different material. Instead of sand, the table has fuel pellets.


Henry is pouring the pellets down the chute.  Pellets down the chute sound different and fall at a different rate than sand.   Kaisa is catching the pellets in her container. Again, there is some communication and coordination going on between them. Kaisa changes the play when she says: "Now, let me try."  Pouring pellets is not as exerting as pouring sand because the weight is different.  Nevertheless, Kaisa has given herself a new large muscle challenge: stretching to both pour and catch.

Besides pouring and catching there is also stopping.

Three children are stopping the pellets with cardboard dams.   Children will use just about anything including their arms and hands to stop flows down the chute.  Here, though, they have been provided with cardboard pieces cut in the shape of a V.

Three children are essentially doing the same action.  That means a new set of communication and coordination actions.  Who gets to be the one on the top, or in the middle, or on the bottom?  When does the first one let the pellets pass and so on?

Besides the material sliding down the chutes, children soon discover that almost anything can slide or roll down the chutes.




There is really no end to pouring, sliding, and rolling of material and objects down the chutes.