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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, April 28, 2011


What kind of play would you expect to see with a dinosaur mountain?  Dinosaur play, of course.

Dinosaur play can be boisterous.  What's appealing about this clip is that it shows girls want to be and can be boisterous, too.  There is something to be said for a productive outlet for this type of play for both boys and girls.

Not all play is boisterous, though.  Take a look at this clip of Alex at the Dinosaur Mountain.

You saw the first set of actions by Alex.  He scoops up some bedding in his cup.  It is overflowing, so he shakes it gently to level off the cup.  Where did he learn that gentle shake to top of his cup?  He goes around to the other end of the table, steps up on the stool, and dumps the bedding on the corner of the Dinosaur Mountain. Now what do you think he will do next?  Notice he has a dinosaur in his right hand.

Did you guess what he was going to do?  I did not.  That is why I followed him.  He did it several times, which gave me the chance to follow him.  All his actions looked planned and purposeful.  First he would transport the animal bedding with his cup; dump the contents on the corner of the apparatus; and then use the dinosaur to scatter the pile.  Why does he transport the bedding from basically one end of the table to the other?  He could have just got animal bedding from a closer point. Maybe there is something about physically moving in and around objects and obstacles that motivates a child to action.  After piling the bedding, why does the dinosaur knock it down?  Is that what dinosaurs do?  Did you see his face?  It was like he was in dinosaur character.  And then why does he stop, look a bit surprised, and then look around inquisitively?  Maybe he surprised himself when he and the dinosaur knocked some of the bedding on the floor.  Nobody seemed to take care, so the dinosaur finishes the job of obliterating the pile.  Flop, flop, flop, flop goes the dinosaur.  Like I said, he did it several times.  Why this scenario?

I don't know how Alex came up with his scenario with the dinosaur.  Some time before the scenario, though, he was piling and moving the bedding with his hands. Take a look.

It is so fascinating to watch as he reaches through two holes in the Dinosaur Mountain to pile the bedding.  Once he has done that, he tries to knock it down off the ledge.  He reaches through the two holes and starts to flick the bedding with his hand.  To reach the bedding, he puts his shoulder up to the hole so now he cannot see what he is doing.  He has to do some contortions and is now doing it all by feel. He decides to check on his progress, so walks around to see what is left of the pile. He finishes the job.  

Children have a need to transport---everything.  I am always captivated by the scenarios that children come up with for transporting.   Here is another scenario that happened at the Dinosaur Mountain which had nothing to do with dinosaurs.

Addie scoops the bedding from the bridge and puts it in her little container.  That is no easy task because bedding is not easily scooped because it is light and ends up pushed around more than scooped.  

When she fills up her cup to her satisfaction, she walks over to the Dinosaur Mountain and steps up on the stool.

Once up on the stool, she empties the container into the hole.  

And, of course, she has to check her work and anything that did not disappear down the hole, is now pushed down the hole with her hand.  Job done and let's do it again.

Addie's transporting is pretty straight forward compared to Alex's.  If you stretch your thinking, you might even say the first girl in the video is transporting the dinosaur. What is common between all the play highlighted in this post is that children are the agents of their actions.  When children are agents of their own actions, boisterous or not, they feel good about themselves and are free to create their own scenarios.

Note: if you have been following this blog, you know I usually post on Thursday. There will be no post next Thursday because I will be getting ready for my youngest daughter wedding on Friday.  See you in two weeks.


  1. I've got to work on getting more levels on our sensory table. What do you do when the children want to move the added chutes, tubes etc. I've had some who get frustrated because they seem to think the material to scoop is no longer there when they can't see all of it! So far I've gone with allowing them to remove it if that's what they want to do. The trouble is they never actually move past this, because this seems to be their solution to find more material under rather than using the holes and openings to find it! So...I'm stuck! (oh- and I think a wedding...especially your own daughter's wedding...is a very good excuse for not writing a blog post! How exciting! :)

  2. Pam, I think of the apparatus I build as mini-installations. (In a future post I will talk about what I mean by mini-installations and what it means for play.) Because of that, I have figured out ways to make the apparatus pretty secure so even if the children wanted to move them, they can't. Oh, but they try. One thing that does happen a lot for which I haven't found a solutions is that the children like to empty the table. When that happens, they move on to another part of the room. One of the levels I always use is the floor next to the table. I use it by connecting a tub or simply have a pail next to the table. Inevitably, some children start to transport material back into the tub. I am very visual, so if you email a picture of the apparatus, I might have more ideas.

  3. I did try using a tub on the floor- but didn't have the tube extending far enough. I think I may just need to work on improving the apparatus and making it a bit more "permanent" to solve this problem! I'll keep brainstorming ideas! I may e-mail you a photo when I have a design I like to see what suggestions you have. Thanks!

  4. I'm so glad to have found your blog! It is really refreshing. I look over at the sensory table and sigh sometimes - but now the ideas are flowing.

    I especially love the clip where Alex continues his bedding arrangements amongst the boisterous play you documented at the beginning. I find that some children really focus and concentrate, even when there are superheroes and bad witches running through their space.

    Again, thanks!

  5. Allie, thanks for the kind words. The apparatus I build are my creative outlet. The real fun begins when the children make it their own. I am always amazed at the their inventiveness and imagination. I, too, am astonished at the ability of a child to concentrate in a storm of activity.

  6. Tom- I linked up to your blog today. I love how you challenge us to pick it up a notch with levels and planes of sensory play. After some reflection and your inspiration, I opted to add a window to the design for our sand and water wall. Thanks!

  7. Amy, thanks. I don't see it as a challenge. Rather, I see it is an invitation to think about expanding possibilities of sensory play. It is so much more fun and rewarding when we all bring our ideas to the table :-)