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.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Many years ago, I found a scrap piece of five-inch diameter PVC pipe with holes. Even though I had no idea what I could use it for, I picked it up because I am not one to pass up a valuable piece of junk.  I decided to make what I call: Large Plastic Tube with Funnels.  How is that for catchy and original?

Since the tube already had holes, I decided I would duct tape funnels into some of the holes.  I then set the tube on an slight incline with the lower end extending over the lip of the table.  That way when the children poured water into the funnels, it would empty out the end of the tube extending over the table.

There is, of course, a big tub to catch the water that the children do not catch. Notice a new level a play is created by having the water flow over the edge of the table.  It is actually a continuum of levels because as the water flows, a child can catch it anywhere along the flow---or scoop it from the tub itself.  

This apparatus takes a couple of tools to make.  First, unless you can find a scrap PVC pipe the right length for your table, you will need a hacksaw to cut the PVC.

If your PVC does not have holes, you will need a drill to make holes in the PVC. We used a 3/4 inch drill bit to make our holes.

Watch out for the kick when the drill pierces through the PVC!

Finally, tape the funnels in the holes.

There is nothing to hold the funnels in but the tape.  Taping the funnels down securely involves first taping strips that connect the funnel and the tube and then wrapping tape around the strips.

There is a story I tell about the potential of this apparatus.  One year I had a child in my classroom who had been reading since age three.  When he came into the room at age four, he headed right for the book area and spent most of his time reading. His mother was concerned because he was not playing with other children.  The day this apparatus was set up, he wandered over.  He began pouring water into the funnels. He would watch the water come out the end of the tube into the tub at the side of the table and then scoop water from the tub and pour it back into the funnels. It is important to understand his actions in a sequence between levels from one end of the tube to the other.  He starts high by pouring into the funnels; he watches the water come out of the tube into the tub; he actually bends down to scoop water from the tub; finally he completes the sequence by lifting the cup of water back over the funnels and pouring again.  He kept repeating that for several minutes.  All of a sudden he turns to me and says: "Tom, this kind of reminds me of the carbon cycle."  Being a bit flummoxed, I said: "Henry, I am a little rusty on my carbon cycle.  Why does that remind you of the carbon cycle?"  He explained it in terms of the loop the water was making as he poured and scooped.  That sounds like the carbon cycle, right?  (For the rest of the term, Henry usually spent some time at the sensory table playing with other children, often times raising the level of imaginative play.  His mother was very pleased.)

You know it is a good apparatus when children can enter play at their own developmental level both physically and cognitively, whether that means simply pouring water into the funnels or mentally representing the carbon cycle.

You also know it is a good apparatus when it accommodates over half the children in the room---a cadre in blue---totally engaged in both individual and group play.


  1. Tom -

    I love the added dimension and planes of play you always add with your apparatuses with simple, inexpensive materials. Thank you for continuing to inspire!

  2. Thanks, Amy. As I observe the children make the apparatus their own, they are always showing me dimensions and planes I did not or could not have envisioned.

  3. This is something I NEVER would have thought of. Your creativity is amazing. You should write a book! :) Thanks for sharing. I don't have a drill, but I am going to invest in one after reading this. This looks like fun!

  4. Gina, thanks. Before you invest in a drill, look at a larger hardware store for the large PVC pipe already with holes. I think it is used for drainage. The one I found had holes on two sides and I just duct taped the extra holes. That is easier than drilling.

  5. This is wonderful. Your blog continues to inspire and challenge me. Thanks Tom!

  6. Thanks, Scott. I would never have imagined that a discarded piece of pipe would be a catalyst for really amazing exploration and play.

  7. Isn't this great! Now I need to search for some pipe!! :)

  8. LeeanneA, the fun is in the searching. Enjoy.