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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 7, 2011


This horizontal channel apparatus that rests on top of the sensory table lends itself nicely to play with cars and trucks, especially construction vehicles.

The children will fill up the dump trucks, drive them to the edge of the ramp, and then dump. Did you notice there are four sets of hands in this small space?

Spoons, scoops, and containers are always available, too. Sometimes the children will use the spoons and scoops to fill up the dump trucks, but many times they will use them to fill up containers for their own purposes. The picture on the right illustrates this point. It is also a reminder that play happens on another level: the floor.  Children have no compunction about getting down on the floor to play.  In other words, even the floor is an important space to utilize at the sensory table.

Here is a five-second video that shows quite nicely the different types of play children discover around this apparatus.

Did you catch all that?  The boy in the stripes on the far end is driving a vehicle in one of the channels.  The boy in the red shirt is using his hands to scoop sand from the channel closest to him to bury vehicles in the middle channel.  The girl in the white sweater is using a front loader to move sand down the ramp.  The boy kneeling next to the tub is driving a front loader down the ramp.  The girl in the red shirt is filling a measuring cup with a scoop.  The tall girl in gray is driving her dump truck in the channel underneath the pipe.  The last child is using a yoghurt container to transfer sand from one channel into another.  Remember, this is a space is approximately 8' X 6' and still, this many children seem to have very little trouble negotiating their spaces.

Since these are horizontal channels, children are the agents that make the vehicles go.  In the short video below, one child has cleared a channel and is driving his vehicle back and forth with abandon.

One thing to note that is highlighted in this video is that a channel, once it is cleared, is like a track that directs a back-and-forth motion without having to worry about running off the track.  For this child, it allows him to make those big motions, which in turn, frees up his focus so he can also do something else---like sing. Those big motions must be so liberating.

When playing with this apparatus, some children go so far as to empty all the channels into the tub.  When the older children put their mind to it, they can do an amazing job. But how do you get the last little bit out of those pesky cracks?  You use what you have: your fingers.

Once  you have gotten the stragglers free of the cracks, it is time to bring in the heavy equipment!

It takes a lot of work to clear those channels.  Take a look and listen. (Remember, the YouTube suggested videos have nothing to do with this blog.)

Before I started video taping, I heard Sophie comment to Theresa how much work it was to clean all the channels.  As the video starts, Sophie is asking Theresa: "Is your back sore?"  At the same time she makes a lovely gesture as if to rub her back.  Theresa doesn't answer, but keeps right on working. Sophie wants Theresa to know she empathizes with her by adding: "When I do hard things---yeh, my back is really sore."  

The work was hard.  It took a goal, a plan, adjusting the plan, a certain amount of negotiation with others, and persistence to see it through.  The children take great pride in their work and well they should.  And it must feel good get a little recognition in the form the empathy, too.


  1. Oh my! There is SO much going on in this one small area! It is wonderful how this helps the children all engage at a much better level and with much more interest and intent than if the sensory table were just filled with sand or rice! (I'm still working on my horizontal channels- can't wait to finish them- I have one little guy that I KNOW will want to play there every day!)

  2. It took me many viewings of the video to see all the work the children were doing. Without the documentation, I would have thought they were "just" playing.