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, July 14, 2011


Back in October of last year, I wrote about rocks in water in the sensory table.   Late this spring I set up a similar activity.  I set out rocks, sticks, and pieces of wood---this time in sand.  In the setup for October, the tray lay across the table.  For this setup, the tray was a bridge connecting the sensory table to a smaller table that held three boxes of rocks and sticks.

That is the extent of the apparatus: the sensory table, sand, a wooden tray as a bridge, and lots of sticks and stones. (Notice I have not included any implements such as shovels and containers.)  Finding rocks and wood is as easy as going to the river or woods for a hike.  I have collected most of the rocks I use on walks along the Mississippi River here in Minnesota. Some of the driftwood and sticks also come from the river.  Some of the branches, including a nice piece of bark, come from a dead maple tree we had to cut down last year.  What I have, then, is a little collection of natural elements for the children explore and manipulate.

What can you do with sticks and stones?

You can bury them in the sand.  Or you can look for the ones others have buried in the sand.

You can roll the wood pieces in the sand to see the interesting imprints made by the bark.

You can build with wood pieces of different sizes, shapes and textures.

You can stack rocks on a branch.  But how many?  Do they all have to be flat?

A piece of bark becomes an substitute shovel for digging and moving the sand.

That same piece of bark in someone else's hands becomes a slide for the rocks.

You can transport as many rocks as you can onto the tray.  And as you add to the pile, can you get them to balance?

You can sprinkle the rocks with sand.  (What a wonderful juxtaposition of actions and sound.  Moving the hard rocks onto the tray and then lightly sprinkling them with fine sand.)

Maybe you just want to carry a stick around until you figure out what you will do with it.

What kind of imagination do you have?  What could you do with these natural elements?  Chances are a child's imagination trumps yours.  Can you guess what this boy made?

It is a microphone.  He took a stick and propped it up in the table.  Next, he took a knot from a tree and put it on the stick through the hole in the knot.  Viola, he has a microphone.

In my blog reading, I have not found anyone writing about bringing sticks indoors into the sensory table.  I have, however, found bloggers who write about sticks as important outdoor learning tools for children.   One is Juliet from Scotland with a blog entitled: I'm a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here!  Two posts in particular to read are: Sticks in School and Making skeletons (using sticks).  Another blogger is Jenny from Australia who has a blog called: let the children play.  Two posts in particular to read are: ideas for adding natural elements and celebrating loose parts.  And one other post that was just penned earlier today is from teacher tom in Seattle called Bumps and Bruises.  Check them out.


  1. Amazing. As usual, I am completely inspired! I find that what happens in the sensory table tends to shape our curriculum. This would make for lovely conversations, as well as deepen our love for natural items. Please keep doing what you're doing!

  2. Gina, thanks. Believe it or not, we have no outdoor space in which to play so I am forced to bring in things from nature. I like to use them in the sensory table because I want children to handle them and explore them. They always amaze me with their explorations.

  3. I love this! I like to encourage teachers to watch what children are collecting while they are outside and bring that into the sensory table. Every fall here in Colorado we have these huge helicopter seed pods that can be opened to reveal perfect bean-like seeds. They are great for the water table too! :) Thanks for your blog.

  4. Love this idea! My nearly-two-year old would spend hours playing with the rocks and sand. :)

  5. I just spent four days in Orlando, FL visiting an uncle. I would walk each day and each day I would see something new that we do not have in Minnesota that would be great to use in the sensory table. Things like pine cones and palm bark. Hey, what else are walks go for?

  6. Hello Tom

    Thanks so much for the mention in your blog! Blush! I didn't realise you had no outdoor space. How frustrating for you as I suspect your creative approach to the sand and water areas would be multiplied tenfold outside. However, you rightly point out the value of bringing natural materials indoors.... hmm I feel blog post coming on about this.

    I continue to be inspired and enthused by your posts!

    Best wishes