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.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

SENSORY APPARATUS PART IV

I was asked last spring by another early childhood professional why do I build apparatus for the sensory table. That questions was a lot more thought-provoking than I had anticipated.  I have been mulling over my answer here and here and here.  In the first post, I said that early in my career children demonstrated their need to transport any medium out of the sensory table.  I began to build apparatus so children could continue to find ways to constructively transport.  An added benefit was that the children, given the chance to work constructively, demonstrated an ability to regulate their own behavior.  In the second post, I said that children recreated operations such as digging and collecting that harken back to a time when our survival depended on such operations. Those fundamental/primal operations are in our DNA and need to be expressed.  I build apparatus so children can recreate the ancient operations both in old and new ways and even create new variations of those operations.  In the third post, I stated that children create a dialogue with spaces.   It follows that if I can offer the children intriguing spaces by way of building new apparatus, they will create intriguing dialogues with those spaces.

This summer I read---and reread---a monograph entitled: Children's right to play.  It was written by Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell for the Bernard van Leer Foundation in December 2010.  Their starting point is Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child.  In that article, they specifically cite the right of the child to engage in play. For them it is a necessity of life for children.  It is not a vehicle adults use to teach children about the world, nor is it a way to make academics palatable to children.  It is an activity undertaken for its own sake that is wholly owned by the children.

They go so far as to cite research that children need to engage in play for their very survival and well-being.  They say: "Children's play can be seen as a self-protecting process that offers the possibilities to enhance adaptive capabilities and resilience. ... Play acts across several adaptive systems to contribute to health, well-being and resilience.  These include: pleasure and enjoyment; emotion regulation; stress response systems; attachments; and learning and creativity."

At one point in the paper, they reference a comment by Brian Sutton-Smith.  The comment states: "Play prepares you for more play, and more play offers a greater satisfaction in being alive."

Take a look at the following pictures from the sensory table to see if the children exude that "greater satisfaction in being alive."






According to the authors, the role of an adult is to provide for the space and time for children to play---not to direct it or manage it.  Building apparatus for the sensory table is a way to create that space and time in my classroom for the children to play.  Watch the video below.  It is poor in quality, but rich in what it communicates.  What they are doing is not nearly as important as how they are doing it.  


Here were seven children ages 2 to 5 creating an activity of their own choosing that has an immediate meaning for them. There are no adults directing or managing this activity; they are simply not around.  The adult role in the activity was to set up the space and time for them to pursue their own exploration or to create their own wholly owned activity.  Notice, even though there are no adults around, they are still working feverishly to complete a task that takes a whole lot of agreement and a whole lot of accommodation and a whole lot of negotiation and a whole lot of cooperation.   In other words, they are playing---which they have a right to do.

(p.s. I am done mulling over the question for the time being and will go back to playing next week. Thank you for your indulgence.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

SENSORY APPARATUS PART III

I was asked last spring by another early childhood professional why do I build apparatus for the sensory table.  That question was a lot more thought provoking than I had anticipated.  I have been mulling over the answer here and here.  In the the first post, I said that early in my career children demonstrated their need to transport any medium out of the sensory table.  I began to build apparatus so children could continue to find ways to constructively transport.  An added benefit was that the children, given the chance to work constructively, demonstrated an ability to regulate their own behavior.  In the second post, I said that children created and recreated operations such as digging and collecting that harken back to a time when our survival depended on such operations. Those fundamental/primal operations are in our DNA and need to be expressed.

This summer, I started to participate in a book study through the  Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota.  The book study used the Reggio publication entitled: dialogues with places.  The book examines how the children use all their senses and their whole bodies to investigate space and reflects on how children subsequently make meaning of a place through those investigations. Because their investigations were always new and fresh, it was not unusual for them to pick up on features such as holes in the ceiling or cracks in the floor that adults simply ignore. For the children, though, those were important features to animate.  Those were important features that were "invitations" for the children to enter into a dialogue with the place and to ultimately create meaning.

For me, the sensory table is such a place.  It is a place in which children enter into a dialogue with the apparatus.  It is a place in which children find those "cracks" and "holes" for which they create meaning.  It is a place in which they use all their senses and their whole body to investigate.

They investigate spaces with their eyes.
  
 With their hands

With their arms

Even if the child cannot see the space to be explored

And even through barriers

They investigate spaces with their heads

With their heads and torsos

With their whole body by climbing on

Or into

Or even lying next to

And they will always find the space that an adult would never notice

In the Reggio book, places have "form, energy, and rhythm."  At the sensory table, each apparatus has the same.  The form, energy, and rhythm that emerge will look different as each child---alone and with others---creates a dialogue with the apparatus.  That is exciting and creates multiple opportunities to make meaning out of space. Since children are master explorers, there is no end to the process.  So I continue to build apparatus for the children to investigate and make meaning out of new and intriguing spaces.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

APPARATUS FOR THE SENSORY TABLES PART II

Last week I started to answer the following question another early childhood professional posed to me:  Why do I build apparatus for the sand and water table?  I gave two reasons in that post.  One was, when a bucket was serendipitously placed next to the table, children demonstrated their need to transport and to do it constructively by appropriating the bucket for their own purposes. The second reason was, by appropriating the bucket for their own purposes, they demonstrated their ability to manage their own behavior with minimal guidance or participation on my part.

The picture below illustrates both points well.  First, the children are transporting the water into the bucket.  Second, they are filling the bucket as full as they can and still being careful not to spill.
  Flood or no flood?

Those are important reasons why I build.  Another important reason surfaced from reflections on a book I read this summer: a child's work; the IMPORTANCE of FANTASY PLAY by Vivian Gussin Paley.   In the book, Paley talks about fantasy play as the children's agenda that spontaneously emerges between all the teacher-planned activities and projects.  Her first teacher told the undergraduates that children in the nursery school where they were observing were the only age group that was constantly busy making their own work assignments.  Because Paley provides the time and space and respect for children's fantasy play, she sees the children creating and recreating dramatic themes that span human history and that are reflected in the great works of literature and drama.  She says: "Words, words, words, where do they all come from?  It sounds like the poetry of a child's soul, nothing less, but the children are imagining vivid drama that must be acted out." (p. 32)

After reading the book, I began to construct a parallel between fantasy play and sand and water play. All the operations the children recreate in and around the sensory table span human history. I have often wondered why children dig, pour, fill, and transport as soon as they see the sand or water. Maybe the children are recreating those operations from a time when they were important to our very survival.    Not only are they recreating those primary operations, but they are using contemporary implements to create new and novel operations.  Those elemental operations must come out.  (Additionally, those operations around the sensory table often lead to a good deal of fantasy play, especially with the older children.)

Below is just a sampling of those operations.  Some operations involve just the hands and arms, and others use various implements.  Some are straight forward and simple, and some are more complex.








After reading Paley's book, I now see that I build apparatus at the sensory table to create time and space and respect for those fundamental operations that must come out.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

WHY APPARATUS FOR THE SENSORY TABLE?

This past June, another early childhood professional asked me: "Why do you build apparatus for the sensory table?"  Even though I have been doing it for over 23 years, I did not have good answer. I have been thinking about that question a lot ever since.

My answer at this point harkens back to the second post in this blog from July, 2010.  The post was about the lowly 5-gallon pail that you see below.
A mother, who worked at a fast food restaurant, brought in this dill pickle pail and asked me if I could use it.  Maybe she thought since I had such a small room, I could use it for storage. Instead---and because I had no place to store it---I put it next to the table.  What happened next was transformative for my practice as an early childhood teacher.

You can read the first transformation in the post about the 5-gallon pail referenced above.  The gist of the post is that the children use the pail to transport in a constructive way (Axiom #1 in the right hand column).  As a consequence, my communication with the children becomes much more positive about operations of transporting around the sand and water table.  In other words, instead of always saying: "No,! No dumping on the floor, I can now say: "Put it in the bucket."  That positive communication completely changes the tenor of communication around the table.

Something else happened in relation to the pail that transformed my practice.  I no longer felt like I had to manage the children around the table.  Rather, I began to see the children as capable of managing their own actions in the environment.  Instead of managing, I was able to observe.  By taking the time to observe, I started to notice how the children were able to manage even more of their own actions.  This whole process is now a wonderful, virtuous circle that carries the day throughout the classroom.  

That may seem like a lowly bucket, but it started it all.  The bucket afforded a chance for the children to figure out a constructive way to do what they needed to do: transport.  Since then, almost every apparatus incorporates opportunities for children to discover new and constructive ways to transport.  

Though I have not answered the question to my full satisfaction, it will do for now.  And I will keep building.