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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, September 29, 2011


Last week I wrote about connecting a big box to the sensory table.  With any apparatus, there is not just one configuration.  The main elements may be the same, but how it actually takes shape can vary quite a bit.  Here is BIG BOX II.

Like the previous big box apparatus, it is a big box with holes that is connected to the sensory table. One of the holes is a window facing the table and the other three holes are on the other three sides of the box.

Unlike the previous structure, this apparatus has a much larger window adjacent to the table.   In addition, this big box apparatus is partially embedded in the table.  If you look below you can see two of the legs of the sensory table resting inside the box so that the table itself is eight inches inside the box.  The box is duct taped to the embedded legs for stability.

In addition, tubes were set up to transfer the material from the table into the box.  There were two tubes: one was clear plastic and the other was a cardboard tube.  I cut out a small section of the clear plastic tube on one end so the children could more easily pour material into the tube.  I did several cut-aways on the cardboard tube so children could see the material slide down that cardboard tube.

The tubes are taped to a crate which is taped to a tray that spans the table.  The tubes are also taped to the lip of the sensory table to give them a second point of stability.  With this configuration there is a nice slant to the tubes, which facilitates the flow of material---in this case, pellets---down the tubes.

One of the things the tubes do in this apparatus is connect the two spaces.  That connection can be seen clearly in the picture below.  Two boys are pouring the pellets down the clear tube and the girl is catching the pellets in the box below.

There are different ways to put pellets down the tubes.  In the short video below, three different children use three different techniques.  The boy in the red scoops them directly from the table with a metal scoop. The girl in pink first filled her bucket and is scooping the pellets from her bucket which is resting on the crate.  And finally, the girl in the purple uses her hands to put pellets in her little plastic cup before pouring them down the tube.  How many more ways could there be?  Only the children know.

There is not just pouring; there is also catching.  Catching may seem simple and straight forward, but it is not.  First, you have to  wait for someone to pour the pellets.  Then it takes perception both to see and hear the pellets sliding down the tube.  And finally, it takes some coordination to position your container in the right spot to catch them.  And it takes a bit of wonder to appreciate it all.

With this particular apparatus, the children got to the point in their play where they wanted to fill up the tubes.  To do that, they had to block the tube in some way.  The child below, uses her hand.

Did you notice that the girl is basically in the box?  Only her legs below her knees and her feet are outside the box.

The pictured below shows a boy who completely crawled inside the box to do his blocking.  He used a little pail to block the pellets.  The picture shows him immediately after he pulled the pail away from the tube.  He is watching the pellets drain from the tube into the box.  The wonder of it all!

(I do believe that this operation makes a good corollary for Axiom 6 in the right hand column.  Namely: Whenever possible, the children will completely block the flow of medium.)

Blocking the tubes and filling the tubes is at least a two  person operation and often times it involves more than two.  How does it get decided who does the plugging and who does the filling? How does it get decided when the plug is pulled so the pellets drain?

In the video below, the children say the tube is full.  The girl holding the tube counts before she releases the pellets.  Watch and listen.

Did you hear how high she counted?  She counted to eight.  Why eight?  Right before she releases, her brother says something and grabs the tube as if to tell her enough counting already. Right after he puts his hand on the tube, she releases the pellets.  Was she reading her brother's cues or did she decide on her own to stop at eight?  Did you note the reaction when the pellets were released?  It was a collective: "Wo-o-o!"

In the next video, two boys communicate when the tube is full.  One of the boys foreshadows that it is almost full by simply saying that it is almost full.  A couple of more scoops and it is full.  The full tube is signaled by a exclamations and those exclamations are the signal to let 'r rip.

Pretty impressive teamwork.  Did you notice where the boy in the red shirt got his pellets?  He did not get them from the table.  Rather, he stepped down from a little stool, reached around the box and into one of the windows of the box, scooped pellets from the box, jumped back up on the stool and poured them into the tube.  Does he realize that the pellets are going right back into the box from whence they just came?  I don't know.  This boys operation to scoop and pour the pellets was first and foremost a physical pursuit; those big motions feel right for this age child.

In the last post I talked a lot about space and how it feels.  I want to leave you with three pictures of children relating to the space created by this apparatus.  Put yourselves in their shoes and try imagine how the space feels?  And what types of interactions does this space foster?

Did you notice that in and out got reversed?  At the beginning, the children were out of the box reaching in.  The last picture shows a child in the box reaching out.  Maybe we can call it thinking both inside and outside the box.


  1. This is one of my favorites I think. Where did you get the clear tube? That's exactly what I have been wanting to find.

  2. Thanks Cave Momma. Since I have been building things for the sensory table for many years, people now bring things they think I might like to use for a contraption. That was the case with the clear plastic tubing. There is a store in St. Paul, MN that buys discontinued industrial products and components---they call what they purchase precious crap. If I were to look for more clear plastic tubing, I would look for a store like that.