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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.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


This past weekend, I gave a conference presentation on ways of expanding play and learning in and around the sensory table.  During the presentation, someone asked me how do I handle the situation when a child is hoarding the materials or objects in the sensory table.  My answer to the question was not very good.   In fact, I can't remember what I said.   I can only remember the question because I have been thinking about it ever since.

To be honest, the reason I first built the Cardboard Dividers over 20 years ago was to cut down on the conflicts between children over the materials.  Today, though, those dividers are not used to separate children from each other or to reduce conflicts.  Rather, they allow children to focus on what they are doing in a small, walled-off area and at the same time to make novel social connections between the small, walled-off areas.

Today, I expect conflicts in the classroom.  I do not shy away from them.  When they arise, I use them as opportunities for learning how to handle emotionally charged situations.  Take a look at this picture I took just two weeks ago in my classroom and then posted on my blog on Closed Cardboard Chutes.
Someone might think that Caleb is hoarding both the pellets and the containers. When I saw Caleb filling and arranging the containers, though, I thought he was engaged in some serious work that takes all kinds of skills such as persistence and balance.  Another, younger child came along and started to take one of Caleb's containers.  Caleb did not like it and he yelled out: "Hey!  don't take that."  Of course, that did not deter the other child.  Viola!  We have a conflict.

My first reaction was not to tell Caleb he had to share.  Nor was it to tell the other child to stop taking Caleb's containers.   Before I was to lend my weight to help resolve the conflict, I wanted to make sure that they each had a part in resolving said conflict.  I also wanted to protect Caleb's work because I was impressed by his industriousness.

The first thing I did was to tell the younger child to ask Caleb if he could play with him.  Since the younger child was not as verbal, I helped him ask Caleb, but Caleb was having none of it.   For me, that is ok.  The younger boy then took another one of Caleb's containers.  Again Caleb yelled at him to stop.  Then I told the other child to ask Caleb if he could have a container.  Again, since the younger child was not as verbal, I immediately turned to Caleb and told him the other child wanted a container and asked him if there was a container he could have.  Almost immediately, Caleb looked over his store of containers and actually handed one of them to the other child.   Viola! No conflict.

If I were to tell Caleb to share, he knows exactly what that means and it does not mean share.  Rather, it  means give it to the other child.  Through experience with adults telling him to share, the child knows the adult is now telling him to hand it over.  It is no wonder children put up a fuss when adults tell them to share.  Sharing is an action that comes from the inside, not an action that is forced from the outside.  When I pointed out that the other child would like one of his containers, Caleb now had a real choice.  Given the choice, he accommodated to the other child's wishes and willingly shared---in the true sense of the word.

Not all conflicts are so easily settled; some take much more work and negotiation. By going through the process of each child having a part in resolving the conflict, they begin to gain the necessary social and emotional tools to settle conflicts on their own.  Not a bad skill to have in life.

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